“I don’t think targeting Amazon is a successful political strategy,” one member of the Seattle City Council tried to helpfully suggest last week.
But to some, it’s just so much fun.
At least that was the impression I got after going to Kshama Sawant’s “Tax Amazon” rally — at once a victory party for Seattle’s inextinguishable socialist, an organizing conference for future political action and a jeremiad against Jeff Bezos and his diabolical minions of South Lake Union.
“Who is the taker in our town?” one speaker exhorted the crowd at Seattle’s Washington Hall Monday night. “Amazon!” they shouted back.
“That’s right,” he said. “We’ve had enough of Amazon taking from us and hurting our people.”
Other speakers talked about Amazon’s “bullying behavior,” how it divides and colonizes, and how the company is so massive and capitalistic that it’s all coming down to one last stand, right here right now, for the soul of Seattle.
“It’s not about revenge,” Sawant, newly reelected to the City Council, told the crowd. “It’s about our right to our city … There is no magic solution to avoid a clash. The only way to beat Amazon is to build a fighting movement.”
Personally it seems ludicrous to label a company that has created 50,000 high-paying jobs in Seattle as a “taker.”
But after the debacle of the company’s heavy-handed spending in the last election, the terms of the debate have definitely shifted. It has tilted enough that Amazon may end up wishing it could go back to the “head tax” it protested so vigorously in 2018.
As the political cliché goes, elections have consequences. This new reality, Amazon, is yours.
That 2018 tax, which got repealed after Amazon shut down work on two skyscrapers in protest, was a total of $47 million per year, lasting for five years. Amazon’s share was to be about $14 million annually.
But Sawant says that offer is no longer available. She called for a new business tax that would bring in $200 million to $500 million per year, with no sunset. That’s four to 10 times bigger.
“Their share of this tax will seem like a big number to the corporate media,” Sawant predicted. “But in reality it will be pocket change to the billionaires.”
I’m guessing it will seem big to more than just the media. The largest tax levy ever in Seattle was the Move Seattle roads measure, which is currently collecting about $105 million per year, for nine years. So Sawant’s idea is two to five times bigger than the historical biggest.
In a handout, Sawant said she would seek to tax only the top 1 or 2 percent of businesses by revenue — about 150 to 300 businesses. Missing at this point are many details on how the money would be spent. Sawant said it should generally go to “social housing and vital services,” and has called for a series of “action conferences” where the public can help craft a spending proposal.
I’m on the side that taxing big business or the wealthy to help ease the homelessness crisis should be on the table, but also that there’s no need to demonize Amazon to do it. Bashing people usually breeds hostility and defensiveness, not deal-making. But I could be wrong: After her death-defying elections in recent years, you have to admit Sawant is pretty skilled at this whole political organizing thing.
“We will not fool Jeff Bezos by calling our big business tax something else,” she said Monday. “They’re going to fight us tooth and nail regardless of the name.”
So how will Amazon react this time? Is it going to be fight or flight or … maybe something else — like offering up some ideas of its own?
That would be new if it did. Last fall the New Yorker magazine had a profile on Amazon and Bezos that rehashed the 2018 head tax fight. A Bezos friend was quoted that it played out the way it did because Bezos is a libertarian.
“He’s donated money to support same-sex marriage and donated to defeat taxes because that’s his basic outlook — the government shouldn’t be in our bedrooms or our pocketbooks,” the unnamed friend said. “But there’s an empathy gap there, something that makes it hard for him to see his obligations to other people. Seattle is filled with business people — Gates and the Costco founders and the Boeing leadership — who have invested in this city. But the one time Amazon could have pitched in, on the homelessness tax, instead of taking the lead, Jeff threatened to leave. It’s how he sees the world.”
The election suggested Seattleites see the world quite differently, and we haven’t heard a peep out of the company since then. Seems like it’s your move, Amazon.