A week after the 2018 midterm election, Amazon announced it would spend over $5 billion – matched by billions in tax breaks from Gov. Andrew Cuomo – to build an East Coast headquarters in a working class neighborhood in Queens, NY. Some of the city’s most influential labor unions enthusiastically supported the deal, along with what looked like most of New York’s political establishment, as did many of the neighborhood’s working class tenants, initially. And yet over four months, a small coalition of basebuilding organizations stuck to their “hard no”, and derailed the country’s most powerful corporation.
In this episode, we’ll hear about deciding not to negotiate (12:02), quickly mapping out their opponents and key leverage points (15:09), countering Amazon’s & Cuomo’s PR machine “on the doors” in Queens (27:17) and being willing to struggle with their own members on the issue (29:15), how AOC’s recent primary victory influenced their targets “flipping” on Amazon (32:02), the influence of this fight on their current campaign against Innovation Queens (47:40) and learning more deeply the resonance of Bernice Johnson Reagon’s quote, “coalition isn’t home” (49:05).
Sasha Wijeyeratne is the Executive Director of CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities. Most recently, CAAAV kicked Amazon’s headquarters out of Queens, helped pass New York’s historic 2019 rent laws, and is currently fighting for a community-led rezoning that would intervene in speculation and displacement on NYC’s waterfront. Sasha has also been part of various kinds of queer and trans organizing, racial justice organizing and political education projects, including the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA), DC Desi Summer (DCDS), No New Jail Coalition in Dane County, Asians for Black Lives and hotpot!.
Check out a writeup on this campaign at our website and at The Forge. This campaign was run by a coalition of many neighborhood-based, city-wide, and state-wide organizations, including CAAAV - Organizing Asian Communities, Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), Central Corona, Queens Neighborhoods United, Make the Road New York, New York Communities for Change, ALIGN, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, and others.
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