For eons we have heard murmurs, then shouts, of post offices closings. No problem, we thought, as we skimmed lists of closings in towns we couldn’t find on a map. Not our problem – we’ve got e-mail; we can buy stamps at any big box or grocery store; we’ve more delivery drop offs than mailboxes; we pay the bills online. Folks just need to get with the times.
It wasn’t till I learned that four postal unions (the National Association of Letter Carriers, the American Postal Workers Union, the National Postal Mail Handlers Union and the Rural Letter Carriers’ Association) are joining forces for a Day of Action on Friday, November 14, that I paused to consider the enormity of the cuts, the hardships on real people and real communities.
A story from my youth came to mind – the story of my beloved and appropriately named Aunt Nell Mahling, the ebullient postmistress and information hub of Randall Minnesota.
I thought, too, of something Winona LaDuke once said:
Post office closures in the Dakotas and Minnesota will impact many communities, but the White Earth reservation villages, and other tribal towns of Squaw Lake, Ponemah, Brookston in Minnesota, and Manderson, Wounded Knee and Wakpala (South Dakota) as well as Mandaree in North Dakota will mean hardships for a largely Native community.
Then I remembered a piece I had read not long ago in the Rural Blog about the flawed data-driven decisions to close rural post offices; the fact is that USPS rests its service studies on electronic scanning equipment on its automated mail sorters. Because rural newspapers mail to their readers, and because many newspapers are not sorted on these machines, those transactions simply don’t count when decisions are made about post office closings.
As with almost any issue, the more I thought the more complicated the questions grew – and the more resources I found. A quick search soon led me to Save the Post Office, an extraordinary site edited as a labor of love by an independent blogger, Steve Hutkins, who is by day a literature professor at Gallatin School of NYU. (http://www.savethepostoffice.com)
In no time I was immersed in the stories of historic post offices; I found amazing slides showing beautiful public art and grand buildings being retrofitted as posh shopping malls and eateries. (http://www.savethepostoffice.com/resources-on-historic-post-offices)
I learned about the push for and purpose of VPO’s (Village Post Offices) and the multiple roles of the small town post office where the spirit of Aunt Nell lives on!
And I discovered ideas for income-producing projects that post offices could, but have not, even tried. I pondered a thoughtful essay by Ralph Nader that expands both the context of the issue and the creative options waiting to be tested.
Granted I have not been paying sustained attention to the issues – I doubt I am the sole denier. It is both timely and necessary for those who are closer to the hub of the problem, including the union members, to speak out on November 14.
My hope is that the press, especially the urban media, take heed and that we the people listen and learn. We all have skin in this game… It’s not just remote rural towns that are at risk – this is an issue that affects the economy, the flow of ideas and information, our collective concern for the public good.