OPINION: COVID-19 Has Escalated Seattle’s Problems. It’s the Responsibility of Our Institutions to Escalate Their Response. Tax Amazon!

by Wesley Stewart

Five years ago, I was living in San Francisco as a homeless young adult. My experiences being homeless are formational to the person I am today.

I currently work at The Mockingbird Society as a veteran of homelessness, fighting to uplift the voices of homeless youth and young adults, and advocate for legislation to end homelessness altogether. Although we do not provide direct services to our homeless neighbors, my work has me engaging with the community, service providers, and officials at the city, county, and state level.

I know the Tax Amazon legislation is critical for Seattle’s unhoused population as well as the social workers who sacrifice their health and safety to serve the community. Amazon is a Seattle-based company and as such, has the responsibility to protect and maintain the well-being of its community like any other Seattleite. For too long Amazon has extracted labor from our neighbors, purchased and occupied Native lands, and manipulated our local government with bottomless buckets of cash

Amazon contributes to the homelessness crisis by employing thousands of moneyed folks, raising median rental prices, and displacing Black and brown communities that have lived in Seattle for decades. Amazon directly escalates the wealth inequality in our area by buying politicians, depleting municipal budgets, and impeding effective crisis intervention by our government. 

But for me, Tax Amazon is not about retribution, it’s about community solidarity. A small tax on this multi-billion-dollar company could provide monthly checks to low-wage social workers on the front lines of the housing and homelessness crisis. Like health care workers, social workers are public servants fighting COVID-19 in our community with limited personal protective equipment and no space to social-distance. In addition, the tax could be expanded to provide funds for homeless folks to afford food, housing, and lifestyle goods — thus stimulating the local economy and rescuing small businesses.

The federal government has responded to COVID-19 with a one-time check of $1,200 to “some” Americans. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin appeared to suggest this money could sustain folks for 10 weeks. That is a monstrous assertion. For homeless or recently housed young people, they will not receive a check because they did not file their taxes last year. They can’t get a job because of stay-at-home orders. They can’t safely quarantine, nor can they access health services, so the virus will continue to ravage their under-nourished and over-stressed bodies.

As the Trump administration throws pennies at working people, Amazon spent millions lobbying congress for additional benefits. The Guardian reports that Bezos himself has seen his personal wealth grow by $24 billion since the COVID crisis began.

Knowing these facts, and allowing young homeless people to continue living in destitution, is grossly unjust.

On May 5, I voluntarily participated in a virtual town hall, bringing my personal experience and professional expertise to be heard. Present in the town hall was my city district’s council member, Andrew Lewis. I voted for Councilmember Lewis because I believed he was a young, labor-supporting progressive that the city council desperately needed.

During the meeting, Councilmember Lewis shared that he agreed with the big business tax, but had some reservations on specific details or wording, and therefore was uncommitted. I acknowledge his careful thought. I also acknowledge the compounding suffering I see in my community. I hope he, and the Seattle City Council will come to recognize the urgency of the moment and commit themselves to stand with the working-class, low-wage social workers, and our unhoused neighbors. The time to act was yesterday.

COVID-19 has escalated the problems in Seattle. This public health crisis will escalate issues of wealth inequality, racial inequality, and homelessness across the county. It’s the responsibility of our institutions to escalate their response. I believe this crisis is an opportunity for Seattle to meet these challenges with bold anti-oppressive, pro-working class legislation, and a progressive tax code.

Taxing Amazon is politically and morally correct.

Wesley Stewart is 23 and a veteran of homelessness. He currently works as a youth homelessness advocate at The Mockingbird Society — changing legislative policy at the Washington State and local King County levels. He is a member of Seattle DSA and a Green New Deal supporter.

Featured image: courtesy of Seattle City Council.

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