By Nate Jackson
Reverend Angela Ying, a 99%er, stood up in the middle of the Amazon Shareholder meeting and asked the billionaire CEO Jeff Bezos point blank, “Why are you still supporting the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)?” Bezos passed the question to an Amazon lawyer, Michelle Wilson. Wilson in as many words told us that the giant online retailer is dropping their support of ALEC.
“This year, we’ve decided not to renew with ALEC, and it’s because of positions they’ve taken not related to our business,” said Wilson.
Positions not related to their business? The real reason Amazon is dropping ALEC is because of the consistent public pressure from the 99%. Nationally the 99% has persuaded more than 15 corporations to leave the right wing, extreme organization, Amazon was the 16th.
The message was spread out from inside the shareholder meeting by text and twitter messages and the 99% raised a cheer both outside the shareholder meeting and across the country.
The 99% had been gathering signatures, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, to bring public attention to ALEC’s lobbying for tax loopholes for big corporations, Stand Your Ground legislation, and voter suppression laws.
Amazon under consistent public pressure decided to end their affiliation.
These promises came at the annual shareholder meeting in which CEO Jeff Bezos, looking nervous, answered questions posed by the 99% who just so happened to hold a share of the giant online retailer.
Meanwhile on the outside of the shareholder meeting, under the watchful gaze of the Hammering Man, we gathered hundreds strong to send a message to the executives of Amazon.
Deana Knutsen, a Washington CAN! activist stomped around the stage revving up the crowd.
“We came here to say one thing,” she said shaking her fist. “Amazon you need to pay your fair share!”
Amazon using a combination of tax loopholes had an effective federal income tax rate of 2.6%
“We pay our taxes, we don’t abuse loopholes,” she said. “It’s time for you to do the right thing!”
She led the group in chants getting louder and louder as we all raised our voices. Onlookers snapped photos and took video as the bull horns blared out “Pay your fair share! Pay your fair share!”
The crowd was getting bigger by the minute and we displayed signs, held banners and even floated a thought balloon over the Hammering Man’s head. The 16 ton structure representing working people agreed with us, his thought bubble reading “I wish Amazon paid their fair share.”
Maribel Peralez grabbed the microphone and pointed out the glaring differences between the beautiful buildings in South Lake Union and the warehouse conditions the workers faced across the country.
“Hey Jeff Bezos!” she shouted looking over her shoulder to the Art Museum. “You are worth billions of dollars and you pretend you can’t afford to install basic air conditioning in your warehouses? Shame on you!”
We took up the chant and Peralez waited for us to quiet down.
“These warehouses got up to 100 degrees and instead of putting in air conditioning you brought in paramedics?” she asked. “Shame on you!”
We weren’t just outside sending our message, many of us had actually gotten inside the meeting as well. We were shareholders in the truest sense.
Inside the meeting, shareholders were shown a PowerPoint presentation that went over the profits, “tax liabilities” and other business information. The most interesting thing amongst the presentation was a video showing a helicopter dropping in a new air conditioning unit amongst one of Amazon’s warehouses.
An Amazon warehouse in Pennsylvania had reached temperatures in excess of 100 degrees while workers were forced to keep up quotas, even if they were in threat of heat exhaustion.
Amazon having taking hit after hit from public pressure pledged to spend tens of millions installing basic air conditioning in their warehouses.
We wanted to ask more questions about Amazon’s tax dodging, but the shareholder meeting was stopped short. We were cut off and escorted out of the meeting by police who seemed eager to do the bidding of the big corporation. Uncharacteristically Amazon CEO Bezos didn’t even take any questions from reporters. It was a hasty retreat.
The Amazon executives including the CEO heard our message and they had prepared to address our concerns. After all we, the 99%, had been raising these questions on the street, online, and across the country.
We’ve had a huge victory. Amazon dropped ALEC and started taking responsibility towards the basic needs of their warehouse workers, air conditioning is a basic starting point, but they’ve failed to address their tax dodging. Now we just need the biggest online retailer to take another look at its tax responsibilities. It’s time for them to pay their fair share.
Headlines across the country are following the peaceful protests that are making a difference and getting under the skin of the 1%. No longer, if we keep up the pressure, will the 1% get to do whatever they desire without the 99% taking notice of their irresponsible behavior.
The 1% is worried. They are not used to the 99% standing up and demanding justice. Too bad. We’ve gotten the taste for it and we’re still hungry. We’ve had a great appetizer with Amazon dropping ALEC and agreeing to invest in the basic upgrades to their warehouses, but the main course is still ahead.