“Say No to Amazon” graphic designed by Bad Barcode.

Culture Workers Protest Plans for Amazon’s Queens Headquarters

A group of New York–based culture workers banding under the name Bad Barcode have published a “research dossier” to challenge Amazon and its controversial plans to build a new corporate headquarters in Long Island City in Queens, New York. The retail behemoth’s announcement—made after months of secret bidding between cities—sparked outrage last November, when over two hundred politicians, union organizers, and community members rallied in protest near the proposed site for “H2Q.”  

“We, as artists, critics, teachers, curators, administrators, writers, poets, artisans, editors, and other cultural workers of New York, will never accept Amazon’s instrumentalizing tactics, nor concede to false promises meant to sweeten the deal for us producers of culture,” reads the dossier’s introduction, which accuses Amazon of maintaining precarious working conditions and exacerbating gentrification while pushing an artist-friendly agenda. “This is a company that collaborates with repressive police agencies, and actively fights against affordable housing for their workers and those living in the communities they disrupt.”  

The document, published on e-flux, is meant in solidarity with and to provide a resource for numerous other activist groups in the city already working against the corporation’s plan. These groups include Decolonize This Place, the Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network, the CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities–Chinatown Tenants Union, and the Queens Anti-Gentrification Project, among many more.

When the deal was first announced, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called Amazon’s decision to come to Queens “a giant step on our path to building an economy in New York City that leaves no one behind.” While Amazon pledged to employ at least twenty-five thousand people, fund community infrastructure-improvement initiatives, and raise New York’s tax revenue by over $10 billion over the course of the next twenty years, details of the agreement Amazon reached with Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and de Blasio have left many residents stunned.

The city offered the company $1.3 billion in tax breaks in addition to the $1.5 billion it will receive from the state—money that activists believe should be invested in public schools, housing, and the overburdened transit system. It also promised to give Amazon secure access to a helipad, presumably for the use of the company’s founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos.

Bad Barcode declared that it will continue to update its dossier as news about the headquarters develops. It has also cosponsored a pledge by the Artist Studio Affordability Project and the People’s Cultural Plan. “We reject any outreach from Amazon including residencies, studio or performance space or exhibitions,” the pledge reads. “We don’t want to help art-wash or culture-wash a dirty deal by Amazon with any ‘Sub-Prime’ offers to artists and we won’t give the city and state any cover by participating in any of their blatantly undemocratic, closed-door deals. What’s bad for the community of LIC, the working poor and the working class is also bad for artists.”