On the 22nd of May, a wide spectrum of community organizations held a town hall meeting at St Stephens Church to begin organizing strong opposition to proposals to locate Amazon.com’s “HQ2” in DC, Montgomery County, MD, or in Northern VA. One of the speakers revealed that the sudden push to close the homeless shelter at DC General may be to clear the site for Amazon to build there.
Closing the shelter at DC General for Amazon would be a repeat of why the original hospital there was closed back in 2001. Activists opposing that closure found maps related to former Mayor Tony “the Rat” William’s failed bid for the 2012 Olympics, which he wanted to attract to DC. The maps showed the Olympic archery range where the DC General building still stands. The hospital was closed over furious community opposition but the building was never demolished, and at the moment is a low quality but still very much needed shelter for homeless families. Of several possible locations for Amazon’s HQ2 in DC, the most likely is the DC General site, known as Reservation 13.
Both the Olympics and the Grand Prix were successfully stopped by community opposition from taking over the Kingman Park neihborhood surrounding the DC General complex. The Grand Prix was run once and never repeated, the Olympic Selection Committee encountered severe disruption from activists when they visited DC and responded by removing DC from the short list of cities in the running for the 2012 Olympics, which eventually went to London instead.
One lesson of the sucessful campaign to stop the Olympics vs the failed campaign to keep out Wal-Mart is that bids by cities to attract megaprojects work best (for developers) when the public is prevented from knowing of the existance of the bid until after the decisions have already been made. Heavy community opposition can deter a corporation from coming far more easily than it can drive off one that has already committed to the area. In this case, either Amazon did not realize the importance of concealing the entire process, they tried and failed, or something in the nature of bidding cities against oneanother may have made it impossible.
During the initial presentation, it was revealed that MD, DC, and VA are all offering billions of dollars in “incentives” and tax breaks to compete for Amazon’s HQ2. At the same time they are seeking to conceal as much as possible of their bids from the public, with Freedom of Information Act requests for documents in some cases getting only 100% redacted documents. MD is known to be offering $8.5 billion in “incentives” to locate in Montgomery County (at White Flint), but even there much is being kept secret.
Beyond the DC General shelter issue, speakers had a huge variety ofvery strong reasons why Amazon should not be allowed to come here. Several mentioned Amazon’s ugly record of aggressive corporate tax avoidance. Also repeated raised was Amazon’s ugly record of driving gentrification in Seattle. Seattle has extreme problems with rent hikes and transportation issues created by the existing Amazon headquarters there. Amazon has elsewhere been compared to “Wal-Mart on steroids.” DC under existing law offers tech companies like Amazon a $5,000 per worker tax credit to relocate their existing workers to DC instead of hiring people who already live in the city. One speaker reported this as being even higher, at $7, 500 per employee. If Amazon brings 50,000 non-local employees to town and a significant fraction of them are high-paid management or programmers, the result will be big rent hikes as landlords evict local residents and replace them with higher-paying Amazon workers. Kingman Park would probably suffer a complete population replacement, Anacostia across the river from DC General would be gentrified, and the rent hikes would ripple outward at least as far as Metro reaches.
A location at White Flint in Montgomery County, MD would probably block traffic for most of the day on Rt 355 and surrounding road. Mostly likely Amazon and Montgomery County would rely on the now under construction Purple Line for transportation and encourage out-of-area Amazon workers to move into Langley Park on the opposite end of the Purple Line. That could explain the sudden interest in cracking down on alleged “gang activity” in Langley Park. For Amazon’s workers to move into Langley Park, the established Latinx community must first be moved out. Again like the Olympics, a mega-corporation like Amazon would bring intensive policing to neighborhoods targetted for population replacement, what has happened in Langley Park may be the beginning of this.
Sponsors of the Town Hall included Sponsors: Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America, Empower DC, ONE DC, Fair Budget Coalition, Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, DC Reinvest, Bread for the City, UFCW Local 400, Movement for Black Lives DC, Stop Police Terror Project, SURJ NOVA, SURJ MOCO
Video highlights of the town hall plus author’s observation on historical precedent of hospital closure for failed Olympic bid
FOIA requests for information on “taxpayer incentives” for Amazon to come to DC/MD/VA get near totally redacted documents