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Anti-Amazon protesters in Arlington County, Virginia were outraged Saturday after the county board dismissed outright their concerns over the corporate giant’s decision to build a headquarters in Crystal City—voting unanimously to approve $23 million in tax incentives for the company.
The 5-0 vote followed hours of testimony by Amazon representatives, supporters, and opponents of the plan, with critics arguing that the trillion-dollar company has no need for financial incentives and that its presence in Crystal City will negatively impact lower-income residents and public services.
One resident, Chelsea Yu, called attention to Amazon’s actions in its current hometown of Seattle, where in addition to contributing to skyrocketing housing prices, it has actively fought against a corporate tax that would have funded affordable housing.
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“You claim Arlington is a place for all, for immigrants, for equality, [and] clamor for the attention of a company that does the opposite,” said Yu. “Never have I seen a company so reviled by the city it occupies.”
Opponents also decried Amazon’s work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to develop facial recognition technology and said that its presence in Crystal City would accelerate gentrification, which has already pushed many black and brown residents out of Arlington County.
Protesters held up signs reading “Schools and housing for us, not Amazon” and “Advocate for us, not Amazon.”
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“This vote today is about racial justice,” organizer Danny Cendejas told local news station WRC-TV. “We have been talking to folks in communities of color, immigrant communities. We have been hearing consistently the concerns about gentrification.”
Amazon claims it will bring 25,000 well-paying jobs to community members as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue when it builds its headquarters in Crystal City, which it has been permitted to rebrand as “National Landing.”
The company made similar claims in November when it announced plans to split its new “HQ2” between New York and Crystal City, after a 14-month-long “race to the bottom” in which Amazon pitted American cities against one another to see which governments would offer it the most enticing tax breaks.
Last month, however, Amazon withdrew its plan to build a campus in Queens following pressure from progressive organizers and the New York City Council.
Protesters in Arlington County hoped the county board would heed their warnings and allow opponents to question Amazon representatives directly at Saturday’s hearing, potentially resulting in a similar outcome—but the board and Amazon officials left the room when protesters began shouting at them as the vote neared.
“You all should be ashamed of yourselves,” said one opponent. “Where’s the money, why don’t we give it to the richest company on this earth, that is destroying the planet, destroying workers’ rights left and right… How dare you?”
Cries of “Shame!” were heard in the hearing room as the vote was cast.
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