Amazon built its iconic “biospheres” as a gathering space for its 50,000 employees and an anchor to the Seattle neighborhood that the tech giant has called home for two decades.
But increasingly, The Spheres are serving an unintended purpose.
They’ve become the backdrop for protests, a place where politicians and activists can shout their frustration with the company in the hopes of reaching the ears of Amazon executives working in the towers above.
Seattle City Councilmembers, candidates, activists, and Amazon workers gathered in front of the Spheres for that purpose Thursday. They were speaking out about Amazon’s $1.45 million in donations to the Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee, the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE).
Amazon announced a $1 million donation last week, on top of previous contributions to CASE. The money could give a boost to the seven business-friendly candidates CASE is backing for Seattle City Council. On Nov. 5 voters will cast ballots for seven of the nine City Council seats in an election that could dramatically alter Seattle’s government.
Amazon’s last-minute cash infusion has elevated the Seattle City Council races to the national stage. A few hours before the demonstration, Sen. Bernie Sanders endorsed several of the candidates running against CASE’s picks in a tweet.
Bezos and Amazon dumped over $1 million into Seattle’s elections to defeat @d1forLisa, @TammyMoralesSEA, @VoteSawant, and @ElectScott2019—progressives who want corporations like Amazon to pay their fair share and end the city’s homelessness crisis.
We must defeat this greed. https://t.co/wzppnpk0i0
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) October 24, 2019
It’s unusual for a senator from another state, much less a presidential candidate, to make endorsements in a distant local race. But it’s not the first time Amazon’s involvement has turned a local issue into a national one. A similar phenomenon occurred when Amazon went to battle with the current Seattle City Council over a short-lived tax on big business to fund affordable housing and homeless services. Amazon’s dealings with municipal governments also turned into a media spectacle when the company was searching for a second headquarters city.
“The country is watching what happens in Seattle,” said Tammy Morales, a candidate running in District 2, during the demonstration. “The country is watching how we deal with corporations that are attempting to muscle in on our local democracy and muscle in our local government. Let’s show them that we put people over profits and we put democracy over corporate domination.”
“It’s not about ideology – it’s about results,” said CASE director Markham McIntyre in a statement. “Voters aren’t fooled by stunts like today’s demonstration. They have a choice this election between change and the status quo, and the candidates participating today made it clear that if elected, they’ll just bring more of the same. We encourage folks to get out and vote for a new direction.”
Lorena Gonzalez and Teresa Mosqueda, the two City Councilmembers whose seats are safe, showed up to show solidarity with the candidates in the running. Gonzalez has introduced legislation that would limit the amount corporations can donate to PACs in Seattle elections.
“The reason we have honest elections is so that the people can be heard, so that elected officials like me are talking to you, not to the people on the top floor of these buildings,” Gonzalez told the crowd.
Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, whose seat is contested, also spoke at the demonstration. Sawant is one of Amazon’s most vocal critics. This week she penned an op-ed in Teen Vogue titled “I’m a Socialist Taking On Amazon and a Corporate Onslaught in Seattle.”
“Seattle is a test lab as far as the billionaires are concerned,” Sawant said during the protest. “If we allow them to buy this year’s election, it will not stop here. They are trying to see what they can get away with.”
Two Amazon workers spoke during the event, criticizing their employer over the PAC money. City Council candidates Shaun Scott and Morales also delivered remarks, stressing the importance of this election in Seattle and beyond.
Update: An Amazon spokesperson reiterated previous comments in a statement when asked about the demonstration.
“We are engaging in this election because we care deeply about the future of Seattle,” he said. “We believe that it is critical for our hometown to have a council that delivers results for all of its residents on issues that matter, like homelessness, transportation, climate change and public safety.”
Several of the speakers namechecked progressive politicians at the federal level who have spoken out about Amazon’s contribution, energizing the crowd. In addition to Sanders, Rep. Pramila Jayapal and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have also spoken publicly about Amazon’s spending on the election.
“When we say that we’re going to be unapologetically standing up for candidates who will stand with workers, we know it’s good for the economy, it’s good for our health, and frankly it’s good for the entire country to fight back,” Mosqueda said before leading a chant: “Seattle is not for sale.”