It seems counterintuitive that, in a time of the global pandemic, there are few things on which we all can agree. Open the economy or keep it closed? Wear a mask or refused to. However, there is one galvanizing issue for people in the United States’ rural communities, urban, suburban, exurban, coastal, middle American towns, territories, islands, and isthmuses. We all need the United States Postal Service. And the USPS is under attack by the Trump administration for fear that we may finally be able to have full participation at the voting booth via mail in ballots.
The USPS traces its roots to 1775 during the Second Continental Congress when Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first postmaster general. National postal service with universal delivery was Franklin’s brainchild. So, since 1775, somebody has been delivering mail throughout all of our states.
In the European theater in World War II, General Patton bemoaned his troops’ low morale and pressed to have the distribution of soldiers’ mail prioritized as a boost to them. Contact through letters and packages was seen as vital as munitions to keeping the soldiers ready and able for combat. Under the leadership of Oveta Culp Hobby and at the urging of Black leaders, such as Mary Macleod Bethune, African American women who had enlisted in The Women’s Army Corps, were assigned to the 6888th Postal Directory Battalion. The WAC, though segregated as the rest of the armed services, allowed African American women to enlist. The recruits quickly and efficiently relieved the logjam in warehouses in Birmingham, England, and created a smooth system for the distribution of mail to the European Theater’s troops. General George Patton credited the Postal Battalion for providing this vital boost to troop morale.
Of course, we’ve all got a “postal clerk from hell” story. But it was a clerk in the legendary Radio City Station, the New York post office through which legions of small businesses ship their goods, who wished me luck when I told her I was mailing out my debut novel. I’ve always thought it improved the manuscript’s chances.
There are no elves in our service industries. There are people with hands, eyes – even in automated industries. Notably, this is true in the USPS. There are letter carriers and clerks, recognizable individuals we see nearly every day. In most communities, they are the people next door or just down the road; by and large, they are local folks. Working for the post office has been a traditional entry into the working middle class for women, vets, and racial and ethnic minorities. Now that you’re at home, perhaps you’ve seen more of your letter carrier. An essential worker, she has been wearing gloves and a mask while making her rounds. The letter carrier on my street has been wearing gloves since the start of the flu season. She looks like a woman who has kids at home. Thanks to her, I’m still receiving flower catalogs, junk circulars, notes, bills, magazines, books, pet supplies, prescriptions, and anything else I’ve ordered, including my voter registration and census forms.
What does the letter carrier look like in your community? I’ll bet it’s someone you’d trust to come roaring up to your front door and bang on it to alert you to the smoke coming out the side of your house. Decades ago, a letter carrier in the neighborhood I grew up in, the kind of community that African American letter carriers and government workers lived in, still a time of residential segregation, broke a window and rushed into a burning house to save two children while on his morning rounds. My mother wrote to his supervisor at the Post Office and to The Washington Post to commend his courage. They gave him a citation, my mother received a letter of thanks from the USPS, and The Washington Post published her letter.
In a lot of rural or suburban towns, the center is reckoned by where the post office is located. I’m willing to bet that, if there were no longer a post office, no longer daily mail delivery, many a town would shrink and fade away. Demanding that Congress and the Executive Branch of our government rescue the United States Postal Service could be THE galvanizing issue of our modern democracy. Demanding the right to cast our votes by mail in the upcoming election could be a banner we can all raise. Are we going to let our neighbors down? East Coast or West, North or South and in our territories, are we going to let partisan politics destroy the one common denominator of communications that we have – a system that will take a letter from Schenectady to Miami for less than half a dollar, a reliable network for the distribution of everything. At a time when taxpayers are bailing out airlines and banks (again), and hotels, is there no groundswell of support for the USPS?
General George Patton realized that he needed reliable postal distribution to keep his troops ready and able for combat. Simply put, our country needs a secure delivery of mail, a service that cuts across class and racial lines. We need to maintain this agency in its vital work as a linchpin of our nation’s communications. Postal workers are foot soldiers in this pandemic. They are essential to keeping us connected to services. Whether your grandma lives in Hackensack, Jersey City, Paterson, Newark, Toms River, The Bronx, Bensonhurst, Poughkeepsie, Stamford, Canton, Albany or Los Angeles – whether rural, urban, suburban or whatever, you need the United States Postal Service. And the United States Postal Service needs to be funded in this time of crisis. Now more than ever, let’s unite on this issue. Let’s all say, “The USPS is not a joke!” Urge your representatives to support the postal service.
Don’t let Donald Trump’s fear of voting by mail and his basic vindictiveness take away this vital lifeline.
Explore Breena Clarke’s books at Breena Clarke.com