I took this photo in early 2012 and have had it on my mind ever since. I first saw it as a complement to https://richardbuchananii.com/blog/standing-up-is-the-first-step/, a way to further reinforce how the middle class and poor suffers at the hands of the rich, but knew that generalities wouldn’t serve that message. Standing Up is The First Step covered so much about the beautiful idealism and crushing downfall of Occupy Wall Street, and I didn’t want to retread that ground.
When the New York Times’ bombshell expose on amazon’s abusive practices extending to their corporate employees came out, I knew the real target of this work. amazon was already frequently (and rightfully) villainized for their terrible treatment of warehouse workers, but learning that they disrespected workers across the board pushed me over the edge.
I resolved myself to boycott the site for to how it chose to station ambulances outside of warehouses to treat workers for heat exhaustion instead of install proper HVAC, and forced warehouse workers to use nearly all break time to simply walk to and from the warehouse bathroom (and be penalized or fired for tardiness). I was already disgusted by warehouse workers developing RSI from package handling quotas, but hearing of a cult-like and obsessive work culture that encouraged white-collar workers to work excessive overtime, uphold cutthroat inter- and extra-team competition, brutalize themselves with unsustainable performance metrics, and disregard any personal crisis – including cancer and miscarriages – for fear of being fired was beyond the pale. And in trademark bezos fashion, the white-collar workers even had to pay for their own supplies.
And yet, the New York Times expose was just as overwhelming as it was motivating. amazon’s ghastly practices continued to come to light, and nothing seemed to change. More buyers gave their loyalty to the company, and more job seekers found employment in amazon corporate offices and warehouses. I began to question the burning fury I had – not for its purpose, but for its usefulness. If proven facts in journalistic publications did nothing, then what could I hope to accomplish with art? I dwelled on that idea for years, and eventually forgot about this photograph.
Looking through my old work these past few weeks, I found this image and had that same harrowing question come to mind. I just as quickly had it shot down with a hearty “fuck that!” I’m tired of amazon getting a cultural pass simply because it offers a convenient shopping experience. I’m sick of bezos being revered as some wise benefactor because he perfected worker exploitation. I’ve lost patience with quiet acceptance. All the horrors that amazon perpetuated can be faithfully retold, and the response is typically jokes about still shopping at amazon, unwillingness to consider alternatives, tepid complaints of bezos doing no social good with his riches, tone-deaf declarations that warehouse workers can simply “get another job,” or just patronizing the site as usual.
I am not going to judge others among the middle class and poor for patronizing that site, since I don’t know their means or situations. I will not, however, give in to apathy and squander a chance to apply my work to social good, especially now that amazon has graduated to union busting, encouraging reckless delivery driving, and turning a blind eye to general scams. If all the world were aflame, would bezos and other amazon execs save themselves or stop to grab the burning pennies? I don’t enjoy having to earnestly ask that.
Legitimate alternatives to amazon can be found with quick online searches. They aren’t all as cheap or as able to offer the same comprehensive benefits, but they respect workers, which in turn respects the middle class and poor. To those who want to join me in boycotting amazon, I welcome you. To those who hope to do so in time, I’ll save a place for you.
Some more articles that drove me to write this:
The surface of a decorative vase.
Minolta MD 75-200mm f/4.5
Ilford SFX – ISO 200