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The Amazon Deal Was Not Brought Down by a Handful of Politicians

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Last week, on a bright, brisk Monday afternoon in New York City, about 30 people huddled together on a street corner in the heart of the Queensbridge Houses, a sprawling public-housing community in Long Island City, at the edge of Queens. It was a diverse crowd of local residents—people of different races, ages, and ethnicities—who had come together for a single purpose: to celebrate.

One after another, the people there approached a makeshift microphone in the middle of the sidewalk to rejoice in the news that Amazon, one of the world’s most powerful corporations, had ended its bid to build a new headquarters in their corner of the city.

“People say that they are surprised that Queens is such a force, but I say that we have always been hot, because we have women power, we have immigrant power, and, most importantly, we have people power,” said Tania Mattos, an organizer with the grassroots community group Queens Neighborhoods United, of Amazon’s retreat. “This is a new day for Queens and for New York City. And it feels good to be on the right side of history.”

The crowd roared in response, “Queens is not for sale!”

Until a few days earlier, that basic fact had been in some doubt. Last fall, after closed-door negotiations that failed to allow for public input, the city and state of New York had announced a deal to lavish Amazon with roughly $3 billion in grants and other subsidies to incentivize the construction of a new corporate headquarters in Queens. Though the deal promised to generate tens of thousands of new jobs in the city, the prospect of a tech giant moving into Queens sparked immediate and ferocious pushback from a broad cross section of local grassroots groups, unions, and others who feared the company’s presence would raise rents, displace longtime residents, and give a corporation notorious for exploiting workers far too much sway over local democracy, among other concerns.

Amazon’s stunning February 14 announcement that it would abandon its plans to build a headquarters in New York was, above all, a response to this pushback, which saw organizers, workers, and tenants like Mattos wage a relentless multi-month campaign. The company’s retreat was not, as some reports have suggested, simply a response to the actions of a handful of Amazon critics in Congress, the state legislature, or New York’s City Council. It was not the work of a single, high-profile individual—or of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Twitter feed, though right-wing groups are eager to lay the failed deal at her feet.

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