NYT: Activists Build a Grass-Roots Alliance Against Amazon

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SAN FRANCISCO — Amazon flourished over its first two decades with little opposition and less scrutiny. A new coalition and a report unveiled on Tuesday make clear that era is over.

The coalition, Athena, comprises three dozen grass-roots groups involved in issues like digital surveillance, antitrust and working conditions in warehouses. The goal is to encourage and unify the resistance to Amazon that is now beginning to form.

The report, from the Economic Roundtable, a nonprofit research group that focuses on social and economic issues in Southern California, delves into the largely unexplored topic of what Amazon is costing the communities where it has warehouses. The short answer: a lot.

While the simultaneous arrival of Athena and the report are a coincidence, they are linked by their attempts to understand and ultimately influence Amazon’s push into almost every aspect of modern life. The internet conglomerate hired 97,000 employees over the summer, nearly the total employment of Google. The report is bluntly titled “Too Big to Govern.”

“This is a company functioning at a scale that was previously left to government,” said Tom Perriello of the Open Society Foundations. Founded by the billionaire George Soros, Open Society is providing some of the seed funding for Athena. The coalition is raising $15 million to cover its first three years.

“It has incredible impact,” Mr. Perriello said of Amazon. “Who could possibly shape its future and direction?”

Amazon, like Facebook, Apple and Google, has drawn the attention of Washington regulators, state attorneys general and at least a few politicians in the last year. The central question being asked about all of the companies: When does a tech platform become too big and powerful, ultimately hurting the society it once dazzled?

In Amazon’s case, the situation is particularly complicated. Its aspirations long ago exceeded online retail to encompass fresh groceries, devices that connect your home to the internet, front-door and neighborhood surveillance, professional services like plumbing and contracting, health care, government procurement, internet infrastructure and Hollywood entertainment. Just about everything, really.

Amazon declined to comment for this article.

Athena springs out of several unexpectedly successful grass-roots efforts to rein in Amazon’s power.

Last fall, the retailer was forced to begin paying a $15 hourly minimum wage nationwide. In February, it abandoned plans to establish a new headquarters in New York after opponents mobilized against Amazon and the politicians who had approved the deal. This month, an attempt to stack the City Council in Seattle, the company’s hometown, with members more acceptable to Amazon backfired with voters.

Read the full story on the New York Times. 

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