Canvassing against Amazon in Queens

A few hours after a new Quinnipiac poll was released, showing some mixed messages on New Yorkers’ opinions about Amazon coming to Queens, a band of Democratic Socialists of America canvassers gathered to knock on doors and rally residents against the tech behemoth.

New Yorkers favor Amazon’s arrival 57 to 26 percent, according to the poll. But the poll finds a close-to-an-even split between those who are happy and upset about the billions in tax breaks and other incentives the state and city have offered.

The second finding made more sense to the canvassers, who listed reasons that they were against Amazon: the company’s union issues, the bad working conditions in warehouses, the way it bullied smaller companies, the likelihood that these Queens jobs wouldn’t go to the locals who need them most . . . they were just getting started, and they thought that the more that New Yorkers found out about the company, the angrier they’d be.

The canvassers pored over the poll numbers in the Bagels Plus on Woodside Avenue. Then they went out into the cold to knock on doors and talk about Amazon.

Moajza Shahab, 23, was one of the doorknockers. A recent college grad from Elmhurst who majored in psychology at Stony Brook, she had canvassed the borough for Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez earlier this year. She had a soft-sell way of getting people to pay attention — as she handed out a flyer advertising a Dec. 10 town hall about Amazon, she’d say some version of, “if you want to go. You don’t have to!”

People tended to take the flyer, even if they didn’t also write down their names as those interested in organizing around rent control.

Then there was David Lee, also 23 and from Elmhurst, who also worked on Ocasio-Cortez’s and other progressive campaigns. Lee carried a well-underlined copy of “Zoned Out,” a book about the dangers of rezonings in NYC.

He said he wished he could get into “corporate fascism” with people, “but it’s a lot to swallow in two minutes.”

Still, the canvassers in their separate ways had successes. A resident in an apartment building said the new headquarters was “going to be a nightmare.” When questioned further, he said: “You ever been on the 7 train?” Then there was traffic on Skillman Avenue. He took a flyer.

A woman who answered the door at a Woodside house said she wasn’t sure about the tax break stuff. The jobs were good, she said, but she would have rathered the jobs go to a city that has more need.

Another woman at another door: “Oh I love Amazon. I ordered something Monday morning, and it came at 6 o’clock. Monday morning,” she emphasized.

Shahab said Amazon’s delivery was great and all, but how did the woman feel about the limited information on who would get the new Amazon jobs in Queens?

The woman thought about it for a second. “The first thing is they should hire within” the neighborhood, she said.

Some people refused the flyers or said they were too busy. Shahab said she understood the impulse. People might not have time for activism. Her dad’s an immigrant, had once told her about wearing shoes made of tires — he was a thoughtful guy but didn’t always want to talk politics. Maybe the people who refused flyers just want to skip a town hall and spend time with their families.

They should bring their families to the town hall, Lee said.

It was very cold, and there were plenty more doors as the DSA crew did the slow work of building a conversation about and maybe even some resistance to Amazon in Queens. But even still, the canvassers stopped at one point on the sidewalk to discuss political economy and the DSA’s rose symbol, also housing, the cost of food, living.

“Does everything have to be for sale?” Shahab asked with a small smile. Somehow she did not seem to feel the chill even though she only had a light jacket and clutched her flyers without gloves.

“I feel like I’m in college again,” Lee joked. An older man in a Mets cap walked by but the canvassers were (for the moment) too engrossed in conversation to hand him a flyer.

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