Tyler Hamilton: Oral Histories of Surveillance

Amazon is sort of an interesting case. They track everything you do. Like, when I first came in joining… I started working there, one of the, they had sort of their ambassadors, like, showing people around, showing you “Here is the workstations.” One of the things that people will normally notice or point out, is that at your workstation there’s a camera above you just pointing directly at you for the whole time you’re there. Everyone notices, “Yeah, there’s a camera literally directed right at you,” and there’s one for every workstation. So like it starts pretty early where everyone realizes they’re just being watched.

—Tyler Hamilton


Our Data Bodies (ODB) is excited to present a series of oral histories from organizers, writers, and cultural workers whose work has been steeped in resisting discriminatory surveillance technology and racialized surveillance capitalism, and has illuminated strategies for abolition and abolitionist reform. This oral history features Tyler Hamilton, a worker organizer based in Minneapolis.  Note that the transcript, which has been slightly edited for clarity, follows below.



Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: How would you describe the work that you do? 


Tyler Hamilton: The work at Amazon is basically the kind of factory work that used to exist in the United States and all around the industrialized world for a generation or two before it disappeared in my parents’ generation. It’s not producing, you know, it’s not manufacturing widgets. It’s the transportation, the warehousing, a work environment where everyone is doing very similar tasks for long hours. The working conditions are not necessarily the best—same with compensation—and it’s really a factory kind of environment, but back in the day, because workers organized, factories became decent workplaces where people could [earn enough to] raise families or own their homes, and none of that really exists anymore. But part of that is because the workplaces like that just disappeared and everything that was left were places where it’s a lot harder to do collective bargaining or anything like that, you know, a restaurant with 10 people compared to a warehouse with 2000. 


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: In terms of the work that you were doing specifically, can you describe that for me? 


Tyler Hamilton: I’ve been in two departments. When I started, I was in what’s called the stow department. Almost all of the stuff you can buy online on Amazon where it says “fulfilled by Amazon,” and you get it in two days or whatever from Prime is in there. So there’s a giant warehouse with all that inventory and the stow department basically stocks the inventory. So lots of stuff comes into the building and stow gets it off of trucks and puts it on pallets and gets it to the storage areas and stores it. And in any given shift, you can easily have 50, 70, 100 or more people doing that. A lot of it is very repetitive work; you’re doing the same motion for 10, 12 hours at a time. I worked on a reduced time shift, where it’s three 12-hour days instead of the normal four 10-hour days. I’d be on my feet for 12 hours at a time and you’re just doing the same motion, like, you’re picking up an item and you’re stowing it in the pod and you’re picking it and you’re stowing it—pick, stow, pick, stow—for the whole time. And of course, you’ve got to scan everything, which is how they track your work. 


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: Can you talk a little bit about your first encounters with surveillance in either your community or in the course of your work? 


Tyler Hamilton: In terms of work, Amazon is sort of an interesting case. They track everything you do. When I first started working there, they had sort of their ambassadors showing people around, showing you the workstations and one of the things that people will normally notice or point out is that at your workstation there’s a camera above you just pointing directly at you for the whole time you’re there. Everyone notices, “Yeah, there’s a camera literally directed right at you,” and there’s one for every workstation. 


So it starts pretty early where everyone realizes they’re just being watched. In terms of my community, I grew up in East St. Paul, which is sort of like the poor area of St. Paul, and I don’t know if my experience would necessarily be that different from anyone else I’ve really encountered in my community. Generally, community wise, surveillance is police, neighborhood watch, and things like that. I’ve never really had helpful experiences with police. Like, people have stolen from myself or my partner or family and they don’t really solve property crimes most of the time. When I was a kid growing up, we had a really bad neighbor who was honestly horrible to my mom, just a disagreement between neighbors and my mom left a note and her doing that was not taken very well. It eventually evolved into her needing a restraining order from him because he would literally verbally shout out and abuse her on the front lawn because of frustrating stuff, and the police were no help for that, they didn’t really do anything for that. He abused his spouse, he was doing all sorts of iffy things immediately next door when there were kids around—my mom used to have a daycare…


The surveillance state didn’t do anything for our safety, but me taking the bus downtown, going elsewhere and having cops everywhere, having those cameras to—I don’t know—deter crime, apparently? I’ve been pulled over by police and I can’t really say I had any kind of positive improvement or outcome for my security. They pulled over my mom when I was a kid while she was taking me to school because we had a shitty car. It just looked bad. They pulled us over and they said our tags were expired and our tags weren’t expired. I’m pretty sure they were just profiling the vehicle and saying, “Okay, we should look at this vehicle because it looks really sketchy.” They could have cited us for the cracked windshield which we couldn’t afford to repair, like, I’m pretty sure that’s a violation, but they just didn’t care. They just made something up. They said our tags were expired when they clearly weren’t. I’m from St. Paul, Minnesota, and when the George Floyd protests happened and me, my friends, and family were going to those the police or any of the surveillance weren’t making us safe, but they were there. They’re there for someone else: people with money, people with properties to be protected. Doing volunteer work—volunteering for local candidates, city council, school board, whatever—knocking on doors. It is crazy how many houses have the Ring doorbells now. It’s more common for me to see them than to not see them.


So there’s lots of surveillance. As I’ve grown up, it’s increased over time. You notice the police more. You notice surveillance cameras more, partially because you’re more aware, but there’s also just so much more surveillance now than when I was a kid.  


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: What moved you to first organize against surveillance? 


Tyler Hamilton: There are many different intersecting and overlapping issues that relate to each other, and surveillance is how people that have money or power act on all of those other issues. With a good surveillance apparatus, if you care about the environment and your boss, your corporation, your Governor—whoever—disagrees with that and they want people to keep polluting, they can use surveillance in their toolkit. If you’re a worker who believes in improving your working conditions, trying to work on your compensation so people don’t have to work two or three jobs, surveillance is the tool that especially Amazon uses to try and get their way.


Someone like me doesn’t really have the ability to use surveillance as a tool. How exactly am I supposed to surveil my employer? It doesn’t really make sense. It’s not plausible. It’s not feasible. But for an employer with all of that extra money and power over their workers, they can install cameras. They can use big data to analyze all of this data that they collect and use it however they would like to use it.


There have been things in the news about them hiring intelligence specialists to monitor labor movements at Amazon. So surveillance is really like a tool. And it was back in March of 2019 when I suppose I got the first taste or first experience with pushing back against that at work. They had announced a slate of changes in my department, and none of them were positive changes. They were things like you have to stow faster, the quotas are going up, your quality expectations—how many mistakes or defects you’re allowed to make—is lowering. If you don’t make productivity quotas or you make too many defects, you get written up until you get fired.


So, naturally, that made a lot of us uncomfortable and sort of worried for our job security. There were issues of safety with heavy boxes not being labeled properly, so people were more likely to hurt their backs or throw out their backs. All of these different issues—temp workers being hired on, and they weren’t really addressed by management and leadership. And we just got frustrated until we just walked out, because the whole open door policy of “talk to your manager” just doesn’t work. It didn’t work, and we had heard of one instance in a different department on a different shift, they walked out and so we could do that, right?


Honestly, it was terrifying. I was shaking the whole time walking around when we were gathering people up to go, but after you initially take an action like that, it gets easier each successive time and for other people who maybe didn’t participate the first or second time, it becomes more normalized. So that’s how I initially got involved, certainly at work, when it became very evident, very obvious how much of an issue it was.  


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: You mentioned that you worked in two different departments. One was the stow department, what was the other one? 


The other one is the pick department, which was a similar experience. In the stow department, you’re storing things into the inventory. The pick department is just the reverse. People buy things, the orders come in, and you pick them out of inventory. 


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: It sounds like the first experience that you had with organizing was sort of spontaneous—would you say that’s correct?  


Mm hmm. People underestimate how much organizing and walkouts—a lot of it is pretty spontaneous. People don’t just challenge their employer because they feel like it, like, “Hey, it’s Christmas, it’s time to challenge our employer again.” I think there can be a misperception about that, because employers don’t like it. They clearly don’t like it, and they’re the ones with giant public relations departments. And then in mass media, national media, it just doesn’t really get told. The story that normally gets told is that of the employer, like, “Oh, there’s this union or this group coming from the outside and trying to cause trouble,” but that’s not how it works. Usually workers are just fed up. That’s how it’s always been. Unions are made of workers. Like in our case, we haven’t even had any kind of union involvement. We’ve had the Awood Center, which is a very helpful resource but they’re not a union. They can’t act as representation if my employer is coming after me, it’s not a union steward who’s nearby over here to talk for me or to figure out what’s going on, they just provide education and information about our rights. And, honestly, it’s surprising how big of a difference it can make; people just understanding that they’re allowed to walk out or strike or talk about their working conditions and pay, because we’re not raised being told that. It’s not in our schools and parents usually don’t pass that information along to their kids, because they don’t know. So providing that information, ultimately, is what empowered us to take this spontaneous action because we realized, “Oh, we can do that, and even if it’s not a perfect tool, it can work.” 


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: Would you describe the position that you’re in now and the work that you’re doing now as organizing? Like, less spontaneous, there’s more of a plan? 


At this point, I’d say organizing is just something you do. In a way, before the strike in March of 2019, I was organizing, but organizing just means relationship-building. When you’re in a warehouse with someone for 12 hours a day, to stay sane you should get to know them. You spend 12 hours with them, you’re going to be so bored and so devoid of human contact if you just don’t talk to people or you don’t get to know them. It just makes work and life better, human connection. And just having that connection, talking with people, like, how are their kids doing? How is their family? What kind of foods do they enjoy? Having potlucks, you know, bringing and sharing something. Human connection is what organizing is. And using that organizing doesn’t always happen, but when a negative change happened, we knew each other, we understood each other, and we knew what kind of problems we had in each other’s lives, what barriers we had. And because we already knew each other, in a sense we’d already organized and built those relationships, so a negative change happened and we were able to rely on each other and work together. So most of organizing is just building those relationships, and even if you’re not on the left, even if you’re not a political person—if you want to live a good life, you should be organizing anyways. You should understand and know your community, be involved in your kids school or in your local book club or civic organization or something. 


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: Can you think of a story that explains the value or the asset of organizing? 


I would say there’s probably maybe two things to keep in mind or to think about when it comes to how organizing works or why it’s a helpful thing. One of them is when you have problems or there are issues—things that should be improved or that should be fixed—the people directly impacted by them are the most likely to be able to come up with decent solutions to fix them. When the Coronavirus pandemic hit this year, naturally we’d been dealing with this for what seems like forever. In our case, people on the front lines, essential workers, we had the understanding of what we needed to keep ourselves safe and we were asking for it and agitating and organizing for those safety precautions for weeks, months before any of those were implemented. So things like temperature checks, mask-wearing, social distancing. They seem basic, yet it was us workers organizing—giving feedback to management, doing petitions, handing out flyers, walkouts, talking to the media, those things to apply pressure—that helped get those things implemented and get them implemented as fast as we could to protect people’s lives and to protect people’s families.


So one of the principles is: people directly impacted by issues, whether it’s at work or in society, can come up with solutions the fastest. And they can come up with some of the best solutions. The second is just implementing. Ultimately, to get things done if you want to change things, you’re going to need some combination of people, money and ideas—people and money, especially. Now, I don’t know about you or the average person, but I don’t have that much money. I have bills to pay. I need to pay my rent, my utilities, my car. So I don’t exactly have, like, $100,000 I can just drop to hire staffers to do a campaign to change something. I don’t have that.


But I do have my time. I do have my body. I can organize, I can go places, I can talk with people, and if there’s something you’re already involved with in your community or your family or whatever it might be, like just talking with people with similar interests and values, you can work together to do something. It could be something simple, like, “Oh, I love video games and this video game developer made a really dumb decision and people are upset about it,” and then organizing online to try and get something changed for a video game. Pretty innocuous and not at all political, but that’s organizing. Boycotting or petitions online—bring back the McRib sandwich!—or whatever it might be, that’s organizing. So getting people together and having a lot of people working in concert, that is one of the ways you can actually get things that you would like to see happen to happen. Otherwise, you’re just going to be an innocent bystander just watching life pass you by. You’ve got to do stuff, what are you doing? Just keeping your head down? 


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: Has your experience with surveillance technologies, either in your community or in your workplace, made you more cautious about organizing or changed something about the way that you would organize? 


Tyler Hamilton: I’m definitely cautious in more ways, like taking basic precautions to protect myself or others in case there were to ever be retaliation. But in a way, with organizing in and of itself, separate from surveillance, you have to grow a backbone. I’m gay. That’s just a part of who I am. And for a lot of people like me, you have to come to accept that, because a lot of society for so long has not accepted that and you just have to realize that you can’t give a shit about what other people think. You can’t let it get to you. You can’t let it bother you because if you do, you will always be bothered and frustrated and stressed out by it. And, honestly, that probably helped me early on when I was starting to organize deliberately; you just can’t care about what other people think because there’ll always be people who disagree, and if there’s something that you know is right or something you believe in or something that’s important to you, just prioritize that. 



Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: You mentioned retaliation—do you feel like you have experienced any in your work life because of your organizing work? 


So for myself, I try to—what’s the expression?—I try to keep my nose clean, like I try to do things by the book, by policy, so that if or when retaliation were to ever happen, I have a backstop to try and protect me. I’m sure there have been instances of retaliation. I’ve had over 10 different managers in the three or so years I’ve worked at Amazon and I definitely have suspicions of some of them although, honestly, if I just allow myself to be frustrated and bogged down and focused on things that have happened six months ago or a lot longer—this thing with this manager, this thing with that manager—as long as they don’t do something major like try to fire you or move you or something, I can deal with it. I feel bad for some of my coworkers, though. A couple of them were definitely fired or had issues with management that really set them back. 



Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: In terms of their professional progression? 


Tyler Hamilton: I mean, as of now, not really. So, I was a stower for a year and a half. Then I was a picker for a year. As of right now, I guess I’m a single rung above the bottom rung. I’m considered a “tier three”—a trainer in the robotics department, essentially. I just train people and show them how to safely work with robots. I would assume things with organizing would be more likely to be a barrier beyond this point, because I’m still hourly, I still have labor protections in my current position. If I were to move one rung further up the ladder where I am salaried, an L4, some kind of manager, all of my worker protections would disappear. And anything above that, there’s zero protection whatsoever and I don’t really know that there’s anything that you could do to try and protect yourself at that point. 


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: In your experience, is it common to have so many supervisors? 


Tyler Hamilton: Oh, it’s very common. Anyone who’s been at Amazon for any amount of time, you ask them how many managers they have, they’ll start counting off on their fingers, like 7……15! Like, it’s very common. They just cycle through a lot of people, especially when they hire so many people straight out of college into managerial roles; people just burn out. And they cycle. 


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: So they’re cycling out of the organization, not being promoted or anything? 


Tyler Hamilton: I mean, some people get promoted. Although part of burnout, it doesn’t necessarily mean you leave Amazon altogether. There are many people who will, but in a warehouse when you’re one of the managers, you come straight out of college—your first job—and you’re put in charge of the safety and the livelihoods of 30 people, 50 people, maybe more, that’s a lot of stress to put on a person. And I don’t think most people are ready to just do that right off the bat. That takes its toll. A new manager coming in from college and dealing with that for, I don’t know, six months—or a year if they’re sticking around for a while—they burn out. They get tired, they get cynical, they get frustrated, and usually they’ll try to transfer. Transfer to a new warehouse, maybe try to get into corporate to do an office job, but they just try to get somewhere else that isn’t where they are right then. 


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: There have been lots of news reports about the sort of solidarity between tech workers and people in Amazon warehouses. Do you feel like that has any kind of impact on your work organizing against surveillance technologies? 


Tyler Hamilton: To an extent, yes. There are natural limitations to how much you can do when you’re not in the exact same place, but solidarity is just about trying to bridge that however you can. Human solidarity— supporting one another, caring for one another—you don’t have to be in person. Things that are symbolic or things involving morale can make a very large difference. We have had office workers and tech workers come from Seattle or from Europe or elsewhere, though, who have actually attended meetings and showed up for the planning or brainstorming or discussions with coworkers. So, they have shown up, they have been present and there have been some limited impacts from that, but a lot of the direct change you can have is with the people that are closest to it and that’s people in the warehouse itself. 


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: Do you feel like organizing has changed something about you and the way that you interact with either your community or work? 


Tyler Hamilton: The biggest, most noticeable change for myself in terms of personal growth and development has been just growing a backbone. So not being intimidated as easily, whether it’s by superiors or people considered societally higher than you, and just having more of a backbone and being more comfortable talking to people, even complete strangers. Being able to talk with them, have a conversation, see how they’re doing, what their interests and their values are, whatever. That’s probably been one of the biggest changes. If you were to have met me out of high school, there’s no way we’d be having a conversation like this right now. But now, it’s no big deal. 


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: Is it because I’m a stranger or because you just don’t feel like you would have had anything to offer? 


Tyler Hamilton: Well, of course, being a random stranger [laughs], but it’s more so about speaking truth to power. The idea of confronting someone more powerful than yourself, for almost anyone, is terrifying. People just going up and doing public speaking, having a little speech for your class in high school or having to speak in front of coworkers, most people get very nervous or very anxious and that’s usually for peers. Now, for someone who’s higher than you—whether it’s a boss, it could be a police officer, it could be anything like that—that’s very intimidating. It’s hard to have an opinion counter theirs and to try and talk with them or to disagree with them and it’s really that speaking truth to power. 


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: Would you say that having that confidence has made you more likely to be involved in your community and in your workplace? 


Tyler Hamilton: Oh, yeah, absolutely. No question. 


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: Can you think of anything that stands out for you that you wouldn’t have done before having organized? 


Tyler Hamilton: I’ve spoken with a variety of reporters and the media—usually they don’t really want to do television interviews or what you would stereotypically think of, but they might be doing a background story trying to understand Amazon’s warehouse conditions—and anything with the media would have terrified me before. I would have had no idea how to talk with them. I would have just been a stuttering, mumbling mess. In my community, it’s definitely had an impact. Being able to go door-to-door, talking to people about politics when a lot of people do not want to talk about that under any circumstances. Anyone who’s ever done canvassing can tell you you’ll run into people who are angry or upset. I remember the first time I ever tried to phonebank, calling people to talk to them about politics—the first year I ever voted was 2016 which is when Bernie happened and all of that, so young person, “Yay, Bernie.” And the year after that trying to get involved with local elections and stuff—and when I was just calling people, not even physically present, I would be holding the phone, like, shaking. That’s not really so much a thing anymore. I guess a very prominent example would be I tried running for city council in my small suburb, which didn’t really work because of the pandemic and everything, but there’s no way I would have done that, especially against my better judgment telling me, like, ‘Don’t do that.’ 


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: Is your better judgment still telling you not to do that kind of stuff? 


Tyler Hamilton: I just wish things would work. I wish I could just stay home. I wish I could play video games. Like, I’ve been quarantining for the last, I think, three weeks at this point, because I tested positive for Coronavirus, which is honestly not that surprising after working at Amazon for so long. I was just waiting to see when it would happen. And for the first time in a long time, I was just at home, no responsibility, just taking care of myself, you know? And, actually, I’ve been playing video games for the first time in who knows how long.


Honestly, it’s been great, but it just doesn’t feel right sitting at home not doing anything when my coworkers, my friends, my neighbors are still in danger of catching Coronavirus at work like I did. Or if they don’t necessarily know where their next paycheck is coming from, if they might lose their job. Here in Minnesota, housing affordability is still a huge thing. We’ve been staying ahead of the curve compared to the coasts which have screwed themselves because of their stupid zoning laws, but in Minnesota because of organizers working on housing and zoning, we’ve preemptively been fixing or trying to fix and mitigate the housing crisis. But there are still people without a home right now in the winter and until that gets fixed, as much as I would love to just take the lower stress option—focus on myself, maybe work out more, be in better shape, play video games—so many things in our society are so broken. 


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: I’m glad you’re seemingly on the mend from COVID. Was it just you who got ill or was there a group outbreak?  


Tyler Hamilton: Well, it wasn’t the positive test itself that was sort of the red flag, it was a day I just woke up and I didn’t feel very good. Initially, when I woke up, I was shivering like crazy. I was so cold and I assumed it was because I was using a lighter blanket like, oh, I just didn’t use my comforter. I’m gonna take a warm shower and warm myself up and then get back to bed, go back to sleep, because it’s noon, and I gotta get to work today. So I took a shower, I warmed myself up and then the shivering sort of mostly went away, I went back to bed and then I woke up a couple hours later and I was just super hot and burning up, like, so warm. And then I realized, “Shit, this isn’t good. I’m sick. Hopefully it’s not coronavirus.” So I went and checked my temperature and the first one was like 101 point something degrees. I was like, okay, that’s not good. I checked a couple more times and got a range from 101.5 to 102.5, so okay, fever. I can’t go to work, I don’t want to get people sick. Even if I didn’t care about other people and I went to work, I couldn’t go in because of the temperature checks. Shivers, fever, headache, my body was aching, and so I had to call the HR line. I messaged my manager to tell him I’m sick and not coming in and I was quarantined—unpaid—for about five days at a base to try and go get tested. I got tested the next day and then it took two or three days for the test to come back.


And I was literally playing video games with my boyfriend and our roommate and one of our other friends and it was almost the end of the night and I picked up my phone just checking my email and it was like, I’m positive. What? No. And literally everyone was like, “No, no. What do you mean you’re positive?” And I was like, “No, no. I am positive for COVID-19.” So, I’m sure me, our roommate, and my boyfriend all got it. I tested positive and my roommate tested positive. I don’t know how—even though we sleep in the same bed, we kiss and everything—my boyfriend has not tested positive somehow, although we’re fairly sure he did get it. There’s probably at least a couple of people at work who either gave it to me or I might have gotten it from, but I know them and they’re very good friends, so we have each other’s phone numbers. One of them did test positive. The other one, I don’t know if they’ve gotten tested or not. But they had fevers, loss of taste, stuff like that. 


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: Do you know if your employer told any of the people that you work closely with, or that you had a shift with, that you got COVID?  


Tyler Hamilton: Well, from everything that I have seen and heard, Amazon does not have a set contact tracing procedure. If someone tests positive their manager is supposed to figure out if that person was in close contact with anyone and it’s up to them to try and figure it out. But their big surveillance apparatus is not really for our well being, it’s to either deter theft and to deter organizing, so it’s not like they’re really using that to contact trace in their warehouses. In my case, I basically just did the contract tracing myself. Like, who have I been in close contact with? They should quarantine and they should get themselves tested. Because I tend to keep the amount of people I’m in close contact with fairly low, I just sent that information to my manager for him to go talk to them and I also messaged them directly.  


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: If you had a song to describe the vision you have of what you’d like your community and work to be/what you’re working towards, what would it be? 


Tyler Hamilton: Hmm. I don’t know that I’m enough of—not necessarily in a bad way—but I’m not enough of a hippie to have a go-to song. Like, honestly, I just want things to work. As long as things work.  


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: That’s a good summary line, “I just want things to work.”


Tyler Hamilton: I just want things to work. I want people to have housing. I want people to have food. I want people to be able to raise their families and hopefully at least have some time for decompressing. Some time maybe to go on a vacation every year, every couple of years or whatever. I don’t want much. It’s not like you have to seize the means of production and all the workers blah, blah. I don’t care about that, I just want things to work. Like, health care, let’s say. Health care is so utterly broken in America. It is just tragic, heartbreaking. And it could be a single-payer system—if that works, awesome. I think that’s probably one of the most likely to work. But if it’s something else, if it’s a market-based system that’s regulated and that works, fantastic. If it’s like Britain, where the government owns everything, as long as it works, that’s fine by me.


But it doesn’t work. Workplace protections and labor laws, they have provided some protection but usually they just don’t work very well in today’s society. Privacy protections, your data when you go online, the way there’s so many cookies and trackers and stuff—like, there’s no protections for that. There’s no more expectation of privacy or anything. In theory, we have a fourth amendment, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, blah, blah, blah. But that only protects you against limited forms of government surveillance. You still have the NSA. You still have social media companies. There’s no expectation of privacy anymore. There’s so many things, you could go down the list. I wish we had good public transportation and it doesn’t work. None of it works.  


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: Is there something you would point to as the single biggest reason things don’t work? 


Tyler Hamilton: There are two different answers I could give, depending on if you would want a historical perspective or a more contemporary perspective. I would say the number one reason why things don’t work from a historical perspective is the failure of Reconstruction. Because after the Civil War we didn’t fix and unify our country, we have reaped the negative effects of that for generations and because America is such a ‘superpower’, we have exported that brokenness to the rest of the world. So from a historical perspective, that has been horrible for so many people.


From a contemporary perspective, why things don’t work… It’s just been a breakdown of the civic communitarian communal consensus. Everything is being so focused on individuals—what do I need, you know, MY rights—and there’s less of a focus on, you have rights but what are your responsibilities? Sure, you can do something, you have a right to do something, but what effect does that have on other people? It feels like it’s been a satire how with anti-maskers this has become a thing: “This is my right, my responsibility, I get to do what I want, you can’t tell me what to do or you’re oppressing me,” blah, blah, blah. And it’s basically the ridiculous accumulation of all of this over time of people not caring about each other that has led to this. And if people just paid more attention to how their decisions affect other people, how public policy affects other people, and there was less of a focus on, “Oh, you did drugs,” or “You made a bad decision, you should be punished for it. You shouldn’t be given welfare or food stamps.”


I’ve heard my grandpa talking about stuff like that. Terrible. The idea that because people might make a mistake, or because they might not be in the best part of their lives, that they deserve for bad things to happen to them has destroyed our society. That there are people who are undeserving or, “Oh, they’re not an American citizen,” or, “They don’t care about hard work.” The people I work with at Amazon, I’d say a huge portion of them immigrated to America within the last five years. Many of my coworkers are practicing Muslims. They’re Black, they’re African, they’re Latino, they’re from Asia, even a lot of people who are white there immigrated from Europe. And those people, they have families just as much as I have a family. They have responsibilities just as much as I do. And they work hard. They’re smart. Just because they’re different maybe physically or, like, in some kind of superficial way doesn’t mean they’re worse people. If people weren’t so scared of difference and quick to judge people for the differences, we would be in a better world. 


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: Awesome. Thank you for chatting with us.