Jim Smith

Fighting back against a faceless bureaucracy

By Jim Smith

Nancy Williamson lives a few blocks from the Venice Post Office. For the past 10 years she has visited the building several times a week.

“I’ve never gone into that building without looking up at the mural of Abbot Kinney, which I recently learned is called “The Story of Venice,” says Williamson.

When she heard about the plans to close the post office, Nancy was aghast. “Everything is changing in Venice, but I can’t imagine that building being anything but a post office,” she mused.

Instead of accepting the dictates of the postal service, Nancy started attending meetings of the Coalition to Save the Post Office. Soon she was going door-to-door handing out flyers, collecting petitions to save the post office, and attended rallies.

Before the Feb. 18 Rally, Williamson took posters to Abbot Kinney Blvd. merchants. “The local merchants, like Carol Tantau, put them up immediately. Those from out of town weren’t very interested,” she reports.

Williamson said that at the rally, people asked for blank petitions to take to their neighbors. By the end of the rally, the table staffed by Williamson and Emily Winters had been cleaned out of flyers and blank petitions. Even signs became souvenir items.

Does the United States Postal Service (USPS) care about how Venetians feel about their post office? Probably not. But they may care about a lawsuit announced at the rally to overturn the decision to sell our post office.

On behalf of our Coalition to Save the Venice Post Office, Washington Attorney Elaine Mittleman marched into federal district court on Feb. 22 to file a Petition of Appeal against the Postal Regulatory Commission, which refused to hear our administrative appeals opposing the sale.

Then on Feb. 27, a Venice delegation consisting of Amanda Seward, Jonathan Kaplan, Jed Pauker, Mark Ryavec, Emily Winters, Karl Abrams, Linda Lucks and Jim Smith, met with an aide to Senator Dianne Feinstein.

The result of that meeting was agreement that the Senator would be asked to request that the USPS include our post office in a “no sale” moratorium. That moratorium, which includes a number of post offices around the country, currently expires in May. It was created to allow Congress to find an alternative solution to the closures.

If Congress is still working on a bill in May, the moratorium may be extended. If Congress fails to act at all, then we will be back asking Feinstein to specifically exempt the Venice Post Office from closure and sale.

The same group is going to Senator Barbara Boxer’s office in downtown Los Angeles on March 5. Efforts are also underway to get Rep. Henry Waxman to step into the fray, since Venice has been redistricted into the Congressional area he is running to represent.

Congress has several post office reform bills in front of it. Most of them would release the USPS from the unheard of obligation to prepay 75 years of retiree health benefits in just 10 years. This heavy burden plus the decline in business activity in this depression has pushed the postal service into a multi-billion dollar deficit. Without this requirement, it would be making a profit, or at least breaking even.

Those who want to destroy the post office, as we know it, will likely fight these bills to the end. The hard-core right-wing politicos want to end nearly all public services, with the post office being a prime target. They would like to adopt the European model –which is strongly opposed by many Europeans – to close post offices and sell stamps only in grocery and drug stores. This model would allow FedEx and UPS to grab even more of the lucrative package business.

Meanwhile, postal management is beginning work on bringing a mini post office into the Annex. However, they are doing the work without first taking out permits with the city’s Building and Safety Dept. This could be dangerous for the public, since the old annex building may not be up to earthquake standards or other current safety requirements. It also is not handicap compliant nor does it meet the parking requirements of the Venice Specific Plan.  We would like to see the City Attorney’s office and our elected officials – Rosendahl, Waxman, Hahn, Feinstein and Boxer – demand compliance.

In addition, post offices have been hamstrung in their ability to make money. They are not allowed to compete in any way with corporations.

Some readers may remember when the Venice Post Office had a small copying machine which was convenient for making one or two copies before mailing a document. It was removed because it violated the no-competition rule.

There are numerous postal and communications services that our post office could offer, if it were allowed to do so. They include rental time on computers and printers, postcards, books and newspapers, coffee, copying services, pay phones (not everyone has a cell phone), stamp collecting services, writing tables, etc.

Here is a bold alternative to selling post offices and cutting back services proposed by Dr. Michael I. Niman, professor of journalism and media studies at Buffalo State College. Niman points out that the original purpose of the postal service was not simply to deliver letters and packages, but to deliver democracy. “The Founding Fathers realized that a large nation must communicate through media, and that privately funded media would skew the national debate toward the interests of the rich,” says Niman.

Today, the internet delivers messages for about 60 percent of the population. Why shouldn’t the postal service continue its mission in the new media? Unlike with postal mail, our communications via the internet are controlled by a few giant corporations. Why shouldn’t the USPS provide a postal internet that would bring broadband communications to all Americans, no matter where they live? And do it as a public service, not a profit-making business.

Of course, Wall Street would scream bloody-murder. But the Occupy movement has shown that it is not too late to millions of us to get out in the streets and change the country in profound and positive ways.

Whether it is saving the Venice Post Office or saving ourselves from rapacious corporations, it’s up to us.

See Professors Niman’s full article at: http://bit.ly/ySBfbm   

Categories: Jim Smith, Post Office