.Mailbox Militants

Berkeley artist fights for USPS

Berkeley printmaker and poster artist Doug Minkler boasts a long history of political activism. He’s created artwork for everything from the anti-apartheid to the anti-poverty movements. His newest cause: Saving the U.S. Post Office.

Victoria Sawicki, a member of the postal union group Rank and Filers, contacted Minkler about designing a poster advocating for their goal. Now retired after 35 years as a letter carrier, Sawicki explained that the Rank and Filers have members throughout the country, current and former postal employees as well as those who believe in the role of the post office. Minkler did not need much convincing to help.

“The attack on the post office is part of a continuing attack on our public commons,” Minkler said.

He designed a poster titled “Special Delivery,” depicting three “superhero” eagle-headed mailboxes swooping down on rats using chainsaws to dismantle letterboxes. Gail Wiley compiled its text. “The [superheroes] are going after the wreckers, like DeJoy,” he said, citing the controversial actions and proposals of Trump-appointee Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.

On Mar. 23, DeJoy released a 10-year plan to cut post office hours, lengthen delivery times and raise postal rates. Rank and Filers and their allies in Congress are fighting back. They created their own 10-point plan, which includes, among other points, “defending the commitment to deliver mail on time to every household,” expanding post office hours into the evening and adding free broadband service, investing in a “greener postal service” with a fleet of electric vehicles and allowing the post office to offer basic financial services.

“Postal banking,” already available in Brazil, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and the United Kingdom, may well be an idea whose time has come in the U.S. Part of the comprehensive analysis published by nonpartisan think tank the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) in December 2020 stated, “The Federal Reserve estimates that 6% of U.S. adults are ‘unbanked’—meaning they do not have a checking, savings or money market account… Another 16% are ‘underbanked,’ people with bank accounts who nevertheless resort to using alternative financial services such as check cashing services, payday lenders, or pawn shops that typically charge high fees.”

This applies particularly to low-income people living in urban centers and to people living in remote rural locations. Postal banking could potentially substantially aid both groups.

Another current hot-button issue, attempts by multiple states to restrict voting by mail, is an additional reason Minkler signed on to design the poster. “One goal of wrecking the post office is to keep people from voting by mail,” he said. His view is backed up by the EPI report, which states, “In August, President Trump openly admitted that Republicans were holding up funding to the Postal Service in order to limit voting by mail in the 2020 election.”

Passage by the full Congress of the “For the People Act”—HR-1 in the House, which passed it—would prohibit states from restricting a citizen’s ability to use vote-by-mail. It would also keep in place vote-by-mail expansions approved during the pandemic. Its future in the Senate is uncertain.

Yet another aspect of ongoing attempts to curtail post office services goes back a long way, Sawicki said. “It’s about money. We’ve seen 20 years of attempts at privatization.” Her assertion is also backed up by the EPI report. “Privatization is a long-standing goal of conservative think tanks and corporations that stand to gain from weakening or dismantling the Postal Service,” the report states.

Yet the country’s founders, the report argues, never intended the postal service to be a government money-spinner. Social and civic purpose, as in connecting Americans to each other and “fostering a well-informed citizenry,” were as important, or more important, than any economic benefits.

Which is exactly why, agree Sawicki and Minkler, the Rank and Filers’ 10-point plan would aid in strengthening democracy. “Post offices could become real community centers,” offering many more services than they currently do, helping close the digital divide and making it easier, not harder, for more people to vote, Minkler said.

He is making the “Special Delivery” poster available free to any organization or group that would like to use it to get the message out. Contact him through his site, [email protected]

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