The Astroturf park seemed an oddly appropriate location to protest the effects of Amazon’s growing influence over the city of Seattle. In the artificial park, part of the campus which includes the Amazon Spheres, Socialist Alternative held a rally to “Tax Amazon,” in support of a City Council bill designed to tax large businesses to fund housing programs, largely targeted at Amazon.
A number of musicians played traditional protest songs to warm up the crowd, which grew to about 300 at its peak. Also watching were some Amazon employees, taking photos and videos from their high vantage points in the Spheres themselves and the Day 1 building opposite the park from them.
A number of speakers were present, representing various different union groups, as well as several from the Socialist Alternative organization, but the headline speaker was Seattle City Council member, and former SCC instructor, Kshama Sawant. “We are not here just as individuals, we are here as a movement that is getting organized, not only for housing justice, but to make this city truly welcoming and livable for all of us,” she said to a receptive crowd.
A number of signs could be seen in the crowd, some hand-made, but the majority in the now familiar red of Sawant’s Socialist Alternative organization with slogans like, “Unionize Amazon/Tax [Amazon owner Jeff] Bezos,” or, “Tax Trump’s Rich Friends.” A large “Fight Trump and the Billionaire Class” banner was held by two volunteers behind the podium.
In her speech, Sawant referenced that in the south end, until recently a relatively affordable neighborhood, home prices have tripled since 2012, and that the average home price city wide has topped $800,000. She also spoke of the recent Republican tax cut law, that will give Amazon a $789,000,000 tax break at a time when their profits are soaring. “When was the last time you or I got a tax cut?” she put to the attendees. “Never!” was roared back from the crowd.
“The tax that we are demanding,” she explained, “$150,000,000 a year from the largest five to ten corporations, is pocket change for corporations like Amazon. It’s pocket change for these billionaires. So, let’s not waver one second, in our demand that the City Council pass a tax of $150,000,000 on the biggest corporations so that we can build… 750 affordable housing units every year, and dramatically expand housing and homeless services.” The crowd applauded and cheered the proposal with fervor.
“But why build a movement?” she asked the crowd, “why don’t we ask the City Council and the Mayor nicely? They should be doing the right thing, right?” Several in the crowd scoffed. “Well, City Hall… is dominated by corporate politicians. Last year, during the mayoral elections, Amazon alone threw down $350,000 for Mayor Durkan’s campaign, so do you expect Mayor Durkan to fight for you?”
The resounding “NO!” from the crowd had to be some solace to Cary Moon, Mayor Durkan’s progressive opponent in the 2017 mayoral election, who was watching the proceedings from the periphery.
Sawant’s criticism of Mayor Durkan didn’t rest solely on her ties to Amazon, “just a few days ago, Mayor Durkan announced that, very soon, they are going to be charging us a toll to drive through downtown,” she said referencing a proposal the Mayor made in an effort to balance the city budget by tolling some downtown roadways. Sawant then went into detail about how this proposal is likely to hurt working class people, who are being forced to move further and further from their work in the city center due to the changing housing market, while suffering the results of a public transit system that has been increasingly unable to keep up with demand. “We oppose these regressive taxes. We demand taxes on big business,” she concluded, to loud cheers from the crowd.
A petition was circulated, urging the City Council to address the proposed bill, and Socialist Alternative has planned another rally for April 23rd at 5pm at the 4th avenue City Hall Plaza to urge city lawmakers to take up the bill in committee.