Commentary

Commentary: A Modern Retelling of David and Goliath

I see the signs. Do you? The package of cardboard boxes with the trademark smile connecting “A” to “Z” waiting at Central Services, the website on people’s laptop screens in Lower Left with the cart full of items ranging from popcorn to umbrellas, the sprawling campus of its warehouses that you can see on the outskirts of the boundaries of smaller towns— these are all examples of Amazon.com in the flesh.

Originally established by Jeff Bezos in 1995 as an online bookstore, Amazon destroyed its own inviting semblance of conformity by transforming into an economic titan, a sort of contemporary Goliath. Today, the company has positioned itself at the center of our activities, economy, and lives. Thus, on February 14, when Amazon announced that, due to the hostile environment caused by protestors, it would not be moving forward with its plan to build a second headquarters for the corporation on Long Island, many began to tout this as an unexpected victory for activism.

I disagree. I believe Amazon and New York played a dangerous game that resulted in no concrete winner. It has made no one richer or more secure. Rather, it has highlighted the incapability to progress that is being entrenched in American society.

As a response to its growth, in September 2017, Amazon announced its plans to open a second corporate headquarters (HQ2) in the United States, with its location being determined via bids from cities. With 238 cities vying for the spot, the response demonstrated the magnitude of Amazon’s appeal. Finally, Amazon decided on Queens, New York as the spot to build one of their second headquarters. They promised to bring over 25,000 jobs to that area in exchange for 3 billion dollars in tax subsidies.

However, a rising number of state and local politicians, along with ordinary citizens, were outraged that the company had enacted the deal without public input. It had been negotiated through a process utterly devoid of scrutiny as it did not go through the traditional public approval process surrounding developmental proposals in New York. According to Senator Jessica Ramos (D), “This is a deal that wasn’t done with us and wasn’t for us.”

Community organizations such as Queens Neighborhood United, Make the Road, Voices of Community Activists and Leaders and New York labor unions began to mobilize out of the fear that the 25,000 promised jobs Amazon was to create would lead to gentrification, as well as a strain on housing and transportation services. Because they believed that low-income families would be pushed out of the neighborhood, the groups fought Amazon’s entrance into the New York corporate world through staging marches, sit-ins, and public hearings. In an official address, Amazon cited this lack of support as a main factor in its termination of its plan for HQ2.

If the company had persisted in its goal, Amazon would have had a chance to address, to engage, with the rising anger surrounding economic inequality. By talking earnestly with the community, the company could have forged a new template that could have served as a precedent to demonstrate how Amazon would approach communication with critics and opponents. Instead of repudiating the fears of economic insecurity, Amazon could have spoken directly to the community to develop sustainable solutions, which would empower the two sides to join as a united front. However, when Amazon stumbled into the stark world of New York politics and met its first wave of resistance, it jumped ship. By abandoning its plans, not only was it a financial defeat and a set back in its agenda to expand and imperialize the global online economy, but it also served as a monument to the company’s hubris.

On the other hand, the introduction of Amazon would have ushered in a new era for New York City, built on a diverse economic future and less Manhattan centered industries. The city had the potential to become a revolutionary tech hub, one with the ability to try and rival Silicon Valley. And despite all of the current hope-filled sentiments of triumph, Amazon’s departure exposed a vulnerability in New York’s plan, as the city has not proposed any alternative strategies that would create the huge amount of jobs and growth Amazon would have brought.

And thus, the modern retelling of David and Goliath ends not with David leaving the scorching battlefield as an underdog victor, but with he and Goliath lying paralyzed on the ground, dead due to the consequences of self-inflicted wounds.

Sophia Hlavaty is a new Lower from Basking Ridge, NJ. Contact the author at shlavaty21@andover.edu.

Feb 23, 2019