The following editorial from The Transmetropolitan Review discusses the role of Amazon in Seattle, and its connection to gentrification, displacement, and political repression.
No one really saw it coming. There were more immediate issues to face. The federal government had forcibly gentrified the Central District through its Weed and Seed program, pushing out black residents and installing childless Microsoft employees with high salaries. These mostly white colonizers caused the schools to shut down for lack of students and altered the neighborhood beyond recognition. No one suspected that Amazon was an even greater threat lurking at the northern edge of Beacon Hill.
“This was simply too much for Jeff Bezos. He threatened to relocate Amazon from Seattle if the local authorities didn’t suppress this growing rebellion.”
In 2007, Jeff Bezos announced that Amazon had signed a new lease with Paul Allen, the local tech-baron of the Microsoft empire, and would move from its perch above Elliot Bay. In 2010, the company moved into four shiny new buildings in the ex-industrial South Lake Union neighborhood that would eventually become HQ1. By this point, the first changes had became visible in Seattle. Entire blocks were torn down for high-end apartments that none of us could afford. The “alternative press” began to make very overt and public alliances with “new business owners” who arrived to set up their high-end shops. Our familiar dive-bars, storefronts, cultural institutions, and meeting places began to disappear, replaced with terrible and expensive boutique shit that no one could afford. A hybrid “yuppie/creative/techie” began to appear in the lobbies of luxury apartments or the tables of expensive restaurants. They were young, hip, plugged in, and ready to colonize.
Meanwhile, the local police went on a murder rampage. In 2010 alone, the cops executed six people in the Puget Sound region. It was only natural that luxury housing started to get vandalized, riots broke out in the streets, police cars got smashed, cops were assaulted, banks were trashed, newsstands were torched, and rebellion spread through the city. All this energy kept building throughout 2011 and into the Occupy Movement. The port was shut down with barricades, banks were vandalized and set aflame, houses were publicly squatted, the streets were taken from the police, and a massive demonstration was set for May Day, 2012. Everyone built towards this goal relentlessly, although no one knew what was going on behind the scenes.
Jeff Bezos and Paul Allen were in secret negotiations for Amazon to purchase the South Lake Union campus and solidify the HQ1. Since he signed the lease in 2007, Jeff Bezos had witnessed a massive rebellion overtake Seattle and come within blocks of his shiny new buildings. On May 1st, 2012, thousands of people filled the streets, corporate property was attacked indiscriminately, a federal courthouse was smashed, the police were physically assaulted, and the city was placed under a “state of emergency.” This was simply too much for Jeff Bezos. He threatened to relocate Amazon from Seattle if the local authorities didn’t suppress this growing rebellion. In less than two months, the federal government and local police conducted armed raids on houses in Seattle, Portland, and Olympia, after which they issued multiple subpoenas for a Grand Jury investigating the smashing of the federal courthouse. That was feeble their excuse, at least, although it was nothing short of a witch hunt.
(Current Mayor and former Federal Prosecutor Jenny Durkan, Amazon HQ1, 2018)
Like in the burning times, the authorities forced people into their halls and compelled them to testify against the accused witches and sorcerers. If they refused to answer the questions of the Grand Jury, these people were thrown into the dungeon until they spoke. Just days after Jeff Bezos announced he’d purchase the South Lake Union property, the first anarchists were imprisoned at the federal detention center in Seatac. By the spring of 2013, the witch hunt had ended but the local rebellion was crushed. Then the real changes hit Seattle. What we experienced in 2010 was nothing by comparison. Cranes filled the air, thousands of “Amazombies” moved to the city, and rent began its long climb beyond our reach. Everything we loved began to vanish. There was no opposition to this blitzkrieg of construction and displacement. No more building takeovers, no more beating the police, no more fires. This is how capital restructures a city. It crushes the opposition, forcibly if necessary.
In 2010, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment was around 1,000 dollars in Seattle. In 2000, it was around nine hundred dollars. Little changed in those years, even during the first tech-bubble. However, between the years 2010 and 2018, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment rose to over 2,000 dollars, if one is lucky to find something that cheap. Many luxury apartments are currently listed for 4,000 dollars a month, with some over 10,000. Renting a four-bedroom house is still possible for normal people in Seattle, with each resident paying around 700 dollars a month, although purchasing a house is impossible for all but the rich, with the average home price now at 720,000 dollars. Seattle is on track to join San Francisco and Vancouver in being the most unaffordable luxury shit-holes on the West Coast. Meanwhile, the homeless populations keeps increasing. Between 2012 and 2017, the number of unhoused individuals living on the streets of Seattle doubled from around 2,000 people to almost 5,000, with another 6,000 living in shelters. The problem will only get worse.
As you can see, Amazon wanted the rebellion crushed before it bought its own HQ1. Once the deed was done, the local capitalists enacted their pathetic orgy of short-sighted greed and pointless gluttony. Now the city is covered in their luxury boutique shit, everyone is a techie, traffic is horrible, money is everything, and everyone is a fucking hypocrite. Jenny Durkan (the federal prosecutor who presided over the Grand Jury) is now the Mayor of Seattle, Jeff Bezos is the richest man on earth, and this nightmare won’t end until we destroy Amazon and end capitalism forever. We wish there was better news for Seattle, but at least you have a chance. If Amazon is moving into your city with its new HQ2, do everything you can to stop it. We did our best before their future took over. Now that it’s here, don’t let them do it to another city. Stop them before it’s too late. Without exaggeration, this is your only chance. Don’t waste it. Learn from of our mistakes and try not to make any of your own. Together, we can do this.
Your friends in Seattle