Residents rally to bolster the public postal service



Speakers at a Greensboro rally for the US Postal Service highlight the need to fight off attacks — allegedly led by Wall Street — on the public-service institution as well as the need to expand the postal service’s role to keep it relevant.

 The only critiques of the US Postal Service during a “Greensboro field hearing” on the subject last week came at the end, during a public-comment period. And even then, the audience members couched their criticism in the context of a broader assault on the agency, laying blame at the feet of Congress and the upper class.

Resident Jack Jezorek outlined several service problems he’s encountered as a postal customer, but said he knows it isn’t the fault of postal employees. Shortly after, walking up to the microphone in the auditorium at the International Civil Rights Center & Museum on June 29, Councilwoman Marikay Abuzuaiter echoed Jezorek’s remarks, adding that the problem is that “there is a bigger conspiracy to get rid of all unions.”

The event, organized by a group called a Grand Alliance to Save Our Public Postal Service, served as one of five regional “field hearings” across the country to discuss the importance of public —as opposed to private — postal service. But the evening functioned much more as a rally for the cause, with three of four members of the “field hearing officer panel” expressing support for protecting a public postal service well before speakers concluded their comments. Indeed, the Rev. Anthony Spearman said while introducing himself as the moderator that if anyone had individual concerns or gripes with the postal service, an expert in the back of the room could address those issues separately.

But the event excelled as an educational meeting or rally, with rousing testaments to the historic and continued importance of a public postal service and thorough explanations for why the public postal system could be seen as struggling.

US Rep. Alma Adams, fresh off a widely publicized sit-in action on gun reform with some of her colleagues, kicked off the speakers for the evening. Growing up, people in her community wanted to work for the postal service, she said, viewing it as a path to the middle class for black families in particular as well as women and veterans. People “cherish” the public service, the congresswoman said, adding that it connects soldiers abroad to their loved ones, helps seniors receive prescriptions and exists to “bond” the nation together and serve all communities.

Like other speakers, Adams decried the Postal Accountability & Enhancement Act of 2006 that “compels the USPS to pay approximately $5.5 billion per year to fund future retiree healthcare costs 75 years in advance,” in the words of a handout from the event, placing an undue burden on USPS with the aim of ultimately privatizing mail service. Privatizing the service would drive down wages, among other negative effects, Adams said.

“When you do that, you really take authority away from the people,” she said, adding that the public postal service puts people before profit, “so it’s the people who profit.”

A panel of supporters — including Councilwoman Sharon Hightower, local NAACP first vice-president Viola Fuller, firefighter Fred Erwin and retired economics professor Larry Morse — offered up softball questions to presenters. Hightower went further in her initial comments, expressing her strong support for USPS and saying privatization would create a greater income divide and diminished quality of life rather than posing a question to Adams, who she said explained her defense of the postal service clearly.

The most affecting endorsement of the evening came from John Jones, the president of the Renaissance Community Co-op grocery store in northeast Greensboro, who explained how he relies on the postal service to deliver his medicine after a couple surgeries. He’s used mail-order prescriptions for several years now, he said, and it saves him considerable time and money. Jones and other residents are establishing the grocery co-op in a food desert after years of lacking access to fresh food, and he said he’s concerned that if the postal industry went private, “postal deserts” would pop up, eliminating accessibility for countless people like him around the nation.

Speaking from the floor towards the end of the night, Katina Amadi also delivered an impassioned testimony in support of USPS, explaining that working for the institution was her first job in Greensboro and that her loving coworkers helped her pay her way through cosmetology school. Other scheduled speakers articulated the ways federal laws in the last decade have deteriorated the quality of service from the USPS; organizer Richard Koritz, who closed out the event, thanked people for “speaking truth to power that emanates from Wall Street” adding that a “financial oligarchy” has captured Washington, DC, and that people need to “fight the powers that be” and protect the good union jobs at the postal service.

Rather than scaling back USPS services and slipping in quality, speakers and panelists agreed that the public post office should explore new avenues to remain relevant and essential, particularly through the concept of postal banking. Attendees received a flier that argues that, “nearly 28 percent of US households [are] underserved by traditional banks,” leaving people with “few options other than expensive and predatory payday lenders and check cashers.”

It continues: “The USPS has more than 30,000 locations, 59 percent of which are in ZIP codes with zero or only one bank branch. Worldwide, 1.5 billion people access financial services at their post office.”

Michael Young, who works for United for a Fair Economy and traveled from Durham for the Southeastern field hearing, argued that check cashing services and payday lending “is a form a wage theft” and called on the postal service to implement fee-free banking options.

“It shouldn’t be so expensive to access your own money,” Young said.

Proponents hope that if Congress acts to restore service standards, eliminate the retirement pre-funding requirement and encourage increased uses such as postal banking, the USPS can thrive anew in the 21st Century. But for that to happen, a sit-in like the one Rep. Adams and her colleagues recently staged might be in order, some commented.

Sitting in the front row, wearing one of her signature hats, Adams offered her signature response: “Absolutely.”