As a resident of Long Island City, Queens, I’ve started getting flyers from Amazon that espouse all the benefits of the megacorporation’s plan to build a new headquarters just a few blocks from my rent-stabilized apartment. Last week was no exception: I opened my mailbox to find what first appeared to be yet another flyer from Amazon, urging me to call my state senator and tell him that I support the company’s development proposals.
But at second glance, I realized something was off. The flyer was almost identical to what I’d received from Bezos’s company the previous week, but this one was marked up with red letters. It was from my New York state senator Michael Gianaris.
“Dear Neighbor,” said a note from the senator. “You may have recently received this mailing from Amazon. Surprisingly (not) they got the details wrong. I fact checked some of it so you don’t have to.”
The rest of the mailer looked like a grade school teacher had corrected it, with lines crossed out, clarifications added, and news sources cited at the bottom. Gianaris had scratched out what Amazon had written–“Delivering everything under the sun and 25,000 new jobs”–and replaced it with, “Costing us more than $3 billion without any subway fixes, school seats, affordable housing.” A childish drawing of a face that has an upside down Amazon logo as its mouth was presented as an alternative to the Amazon logo drawn over the top of the Unisphere, a monumental globe sculpture in Flushing Park, Queens. “Get your logo off our landmarks!” the flyer declares.
It’s effective information design, though simplistic and very much DIY. The senator came up with the idea of putting the reality of what Amazon will do to Queens right next to the company’s claims.
“Like so many others I’ve been getting barraged with their misinformation campaign,” Gianaris says. “And as I was thinking about what the best way to rebut that so people are truly educated about what’s happening, I thought an effective way to communicate that would be to mark up their mailers so [people] can see [Amazon’s] argument and the rebuttal at the same time.”
Currently, Gianaris is on the front lines of the local fight against Amazon, which made a deal with New York governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio to build a headquarters in Queens–in exchange, New York would provide a $3 billion tax cut. But while the deal’s been struck, it hasn’t been approved. Gianaris, who is one of the deal’s biggest opponents, was just nominated for a spot on the Public Authorities Control Board–the three-person entity that has to unanimously give the go-ahead for Amazon to move forward (he still has to be approved by Cuomo).
Gianaris has made his position clear: Amazon’s proposition is a bad deal for Queens residents. Amazon claims on this flyer that its HQ2 will bring 25,000 new jobs over 10 years to Long Island City and that it will hire people with different educational backgrounds from across the city, but Gianaris uses his red pen to point out that the company has agreed that just 27% of tech-sector jobs will be local hires. “There’s a lot of fear–fear of people struggling to afford the neighborhood even now and expecting that it will be worse,” Gianaris says. “People are aware in Seattle that street homelessness increased 150% over five years. People who commute to work already can’t get on the 7 train.”
The visually messy design, especially the red, handwritten type, is a powerful way to point out all the things the Amazon flyer leaves out. “It happened to be a very eye-catching way to make a point, which is what we wanted to do,” Gianaris says. So far, it seems to be working. Gianaris says that he’s gotten a lot of feedback about the mailer, both through direct calls from people who overwhelmingly oppose Amazon and on social media. Amazon did not respond to Fast Company‘s request for comment.
— Armando (@ThatArmandoMC) February 1, 2019
The flyer is a glimpse of the ways that local political battles are traditionally fought, with things like grassroots mailing campaigns, protests, and local committee hearings–though this time, the battle is of national interest because of Amazon’s much-hyped PR campaign to choose its secondary headquarters. Gianaris’s design looks homespun in stark contrast to the slick, shiny campaigns of the billion-dollar corporation he’s up against. In some ways, it’s a microcosm of politics today, where local activists and politicians are fighting against the corporate-backed policy decisions that are made at the top levels of government.
As to whether Gianaris plans to send out any more chastising mailers, he says that it depends.
“Whatever it takes, I’m going to make sure that the people of this community are fully educated and aware of what’s happening and not going to fall for Amazon’s propaganda,” Gianaris says.