Following a Monday on which the Academy announced its Oscar nominations (and Twitter had its requisite meltdown), many a slighted script writer should be casting their bloodshot eyes on Seattle, where a classic three-act battle between the progressive Seattle City Council and Amazon has been neatly unfolding for the better part of two years.
On June 12, 2018, the council repealed the controversial head tax on corporations grossing $20 million or more per year in the city. The annual $275-per-employee tax had been passed unanimously less than a month earlier, aiming to raise $47 million for affordable housing, predominantly, as well as other services. But blowback from businesses and those fearing job losses led the council to reverse course, nixing the legislation amid concerns that voters would guillotine the head tax on the November ballot.
“This is not a winnable battle at this time.... The opposition has unlimited resources,” council member Lisa Herbold said on the day of the repeal.
Amazon had been squarely in Socialist Kshama Sawant's and other head-tax supporters' crosshairs. So, when the 2019 city elections arrived, it wasn't surprising to see the tech giant throw $1.45 million behind pro-business candidates, including Sawant's opponent, Egan Orion, through a Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce-backed political-action committee. Yet, only two of the seven races went to politicians funded by said PAC. Among other progressives, Sawant prevailed.
Which leads us to Monday night, when Sawant devotees and media members packed Washington Hall for an inauguration event plainly titled, "Tax Amazon 2020 Kickoff." Sawant told reporters that she's seeking $200 million to $500 million in tax revenue from large corporations to help combat the city's housing crisis. She'll push the rest of the council to consider her proposal this year, but if they're hesitant, she'll try to advance a ballot initiative, putting the tax in voters' hands. An "action conference" on January 25 at Washington Hall will further outline what that legislation could look like.
Though questions about the tax's specifics are sure to be raised, speaker after speaker on Monday seemed certain of Sawant's ultimate triumph. In celebrating her November victory, activists and political leaders cited not her actual opponent but her shadow foe, Amazon. They criticized founder Jeff Bezos, sometimes referring to him directly, other times giving him the He Who Must Not Be Named treatment, calling him "The Richest Person in the World." (Amazon reserved comment on Sawant's yet-to-be-finalized plan.)
Hours earlier, the council had struck the year's first potential blow against Amazon, passing legislation that may make it more difficult for "foreign-influenced corporations" to financially impact city elections. (Critically, PAC contribution limits won't be voted on until a later date.) Mayor Jenny Durkan expects "legal challenges" to the bill, promising more drama as the grudge match between progressive council members and Amazon plays out in the coming months.
It won't be a strictly local contest. One of the speakers at Sawant's event was Susan Fitzgerald, a Socialist from Ireland. Fitzgerald stressed that the world was watching as Sawant was reelected and that it would be continuing to monitor her fight against Amazon.
Maybe Hollywood should pay attention, too.