Demonstrators gather outside to object to planned closure of rural postal stations
Close to a dozen demonstrators — many of them affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement and one of them dressed like Santa Claus — brought their anti-corporate message to the Corvallis Post Office on Monday at the height of the pre-Christmas mailing crush.
Toting signs that said “Keep the Post Office Public,” “Mail Is a Public Good” and “The Constitution Requires a Post Office,” the group was part of a larger backlash against plans to close as many as 3,700 post offices around the country, including 20 in Oregon. Among the mid-valley locations facing possible shutdown are Eddyville in Benton County, Cascadia in Linn County and Idanha in Marion County.
For four hours on Monday, the protesters kept vigil outside the busy downtown postal station at Second Street and Jefferson Avenue, distributing fliers, passing out cookies and gathering signatures for a petition asking Congress to reform a law they claim forces the Postal Service to overfund its pension program.
Occupy protester Randy Bonner, sporting a red Santa suit with a red bandanna on his head and a miniature American flag sticking out of his dreadlocks, lent a festive air to the demonstration.
“I mailed eight packages to family in Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia, and there’s at least three rural post office locations they’re shutting down where they live,” he explained. “I was planning on coming down here anyway, so I thought I’d make it a scene and make it fun.”
Even though the Corvallis Post Office is not on the closure list, it was chosen by members of Occupy Corvallis and the local Move to Amend chapter as a place to rally support for threatened rural postal stations.
The Postal Service’s downsizing plan, which also calls for shuttering more than 200 mail processing centers and eliminating Saturday mail delivery, is “a good illustration of the corporate powers setting policy,” said protester Leah Bolger.
“The attempt to privatize the Postal Service profits the big corporations like UPS,” she added. “It’s critically important that ordinary citizens who can’t afford or don’t have access to FedEx or UPS have access to the Postal Service. It’s an issue of big corporations versus the working man.”
The Corvallis protest was one of 21 around the state orchestrated by the Rural Organizing Project, which took up the cause at the request of Swisshome and Deadwood residents. The two tiny Lane County communities are both slated to lose their post offices.
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Amanda Aguilar Shank, a senior organizer with the Scappoose-based Rural Organizing Project, said the issue created a natural alliance between her group and the occupiers.
“We see the Occupy movement as being about putting people before corporate profits, and the Postal Service is a necessity for many rural Oregonians,” Shank said.
“We’re occupying post offices because rural America is also part of the 99 percent.”
Most of the postal customers interviewed at the Corvallis protest seemed to agree with the demonstrators’ aims, even some who generally look askance at the Occupy movement.
“I think it’s the first demonstration I’ve seen that’s actually worthwhile,” said Gary Douglas. “I support keeping the post offices open, but I don’t care for the Occupy.”
But John Donel, waiting in line with a couple of packages to mail, saw things differently.
“I think they have to close some post offices in order to save the Postal Service,” he said. “I feel sorry for the rural people, but when you live in a rural area, that’s one of the things you bargain for.”
Protester Bart Bolger, a part-time rural letter carrier who works out of the Philomath Post Office, acknowledged getting similar comments from a few people on Monday but said overall the response had been overwhelmingly positive.
“Everybody loves their post office,” Bolger said. “It’s a nonpartisan issue.”