Portland Marches To Save The Postal Service
photo by Lauriel Arwin
January 8, 2012 – PORTLAND, OR Unions, workers’ groups and supporters held a march to Save The US Postal Service. Present were advocates for the National Association of Letter Carriers, Jobs With Justice, The Bus Project, and Portland Immigrant Rights Coalition, along with members of informal workers’ groups representing workers who are not in unions. The organizers of the march sought out Occupy Portland for an endorsement, who officially supported the action through the GA process.
The march began in Pioneer Courthouse Square, a large and visible city park where the Christmas Tree was just undergoing an unceremonious take-down. Private contract-workers chopped off low branches just as the crowd amassed. Estimates of the total crowd by the end of the march size ranged from 275 to 800 people. Portland Police were in light numbers, in t-shirts, and on bicycles for the city-block sized rally, in an apparent show of solidarity with the march. An officer would not give me his name (because I didn’t ask for it).
Mayoral Candidate Cameron Whitten was on hand for the occasion, making his rounds and joining the people to call for saving the US Postal Service. He stood proudly with an axe-shaped-sign that read “Jobs Not Cuts,” and pretended to cut my head off for the cameras. “We’re here to recall everybody,” he said of the next election. “Screw this government. Quote me on that.” Whitten said USPS was important and then railed against the private companies profiting while millions of Americans suffer. “The trillions going to the banks and investment houses is BS.”
Jim Cook, President of the National Association of Letter Carriers 82 helped explain the day’s plans to the waiting crowd. Speakers at the rally began lining up to help rouse protesters and make the occasion loud and memorable. Speaker Omar Gonzales said 41,000 jobs were created in the month of December in the US Postal Service. “We are the last, last stand-up Middle Class workers who have to say NO!” The crowd repeated back, “NO!” “We’re not gonna let it happen,” Omar continued. “The fight starts today, in Portland.” The crowd roared.
Other announcers spoke out about the currently-pending pieces of legislation H.R. 2309 and S. 1789. Congressman Darrell Issa’s HR 2309 would end Saturday delivery, cut 200,000 jobs, close thousands of post offices and fail to address the 2006 measure which causes the financial problems in the first place. S 1789 cuts Saturday service by tying it to profitability without fixing the accounting error which sucks most of the USPS revenues into pension over-payments uncommon in any industry.
Speakers were present from AFT 3571, US Association of Neighborhoods, and Jobs With Justice. Jessica Campbell from the Rural Organizing Project told the crowd about Deadwood, Oregon, where of the town’s 180 people, 164 were present at a rally to save their post office. “Congress bankrupted the Postal Service,” Campbell announced. “Rural Oregon will not pay.”
Amy Hertzfeld from Working America spoke about the reach of the organization, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO. “We are in 10 states and have over 3 million members. … No other group puts boots on the ground and understands neighborhoods as well as letter carriers. Hertzfeld decried what she called “radical downsizing” of the Postal Service workforce.
David Jarvis, President of the mail-handlers’ union locally said that the plans under discussion in congress could cost 3700 rural post offices and 200 mail processing operations. Scott Murahashi if the American Rural Letter Carriers Association simply said “Darrel Issa,” and the entire crowd booed. Murahasi continued “…is a very rich man, who wants to get richer by eliminating jobs.” The crowd hissed again. “All of Oregon’s congressmen but one support us,” he said of the rally. Letter carrier Eric Matras, who was holding his son, yelled out “Where’s Waldo?,” a reference to Oregon Congressman Greg Walden who is absent on this issue. Jarvis finished by remarking that USPS delivers half of the world’s mail. “How do you tell your neighbors, ‘yeah, we’ll deliver it a lot slower’?”
Paul Prince, second-generation letter carrier, said a recent Oxford study of the Planet Earth rated the US Postal Service number one in the world. “Who would wanna screw with it?” Prince asked rhetorically, calling Darrell Issa “The richest man in Congress, who has been convicted multiple times for car theft,” and said Issa’s agenda was “all for corporate greed. … You know that voice when you hear a car alarm that says ‘Step Away From the Vehicle?’ That’s Darrell Issa. He called Postmaster Partick Donahoe (whose name also elicited boos and hisses) “Issa’s puppet” and said that not one penny in tax dollars goes to the USPS. “My bank trusts [USPS] enough to put my bank account numbers in [the mail]. Would they do that with a third-rate carrier?” Prince concluded “So to Mister Issa we have to say: ‘Step Away form the Postal Service.’“
Leader of the Oregon AFL-CIO Tom Chamberlain spoke about a current delay in closures to allow congress time to fix the problem. He declared, “This is the Army that’s going to change the country. There wouldn’t be a five-month moratorium [announced December 13th] without us.”
The rally then moved to the streets from Pioneer Courthouse Square. The parade route twisted down Morrison Street to 4th Avenue, down 4th to Burnside, up Burnside to Broadway, and down the North-east-bound half of Broadway to the Post Office on Hoyt. March Organizers wore bright-orange vests to distinguish themselves, surround the crowd, and guide the march on its path. They obtained a permit, and a police escort, which led to an orderly and police-repression free procession.
photo by Lauriel Arwin
The group marching were diverse and lively. They were young and old, disabled citizens, students, teachers, wheelchair-bound citizens, people of color, homosexuals, and many other diverse types of people, all of whom were unified in their support of the Post Office. The crowd seemed like it was just the right saize to be orderly without being sparse or boring. Chants rang through the streets, bells rang, drums were always clanging and banging along with the chants, and the footsteps. “Congress stalling, that’s appalling,” “Five Day No Way,” “Postal Service Yes, Privatizing No,” and “Hey hey, ho ho, union busters’ got to go,” were all enthusiastically repeated a few times each. The size and length of the march made each chant refreshing and new, and nearly all the participats in the march shouted along together, which at a larger march is impossible.
Red and Black flags waved in the sunlight, and Rumorz Cafe offerered free coffee to anyone marching by. “This march is fueled on coffee,” Rumorz’ barista Eli said as I grabbed a cup.
The march then gathered on the sidewalk in front of the Hoyt and Broadway post office, and after some rousing last chants of “for six day delivery, we shall not be moved,” the final speakers brought their cases. “2309 NO, 1789 NO” chants erupted from the crowd. Oregon’s Congressional delegation was thanked for supporting the passage of postal reform bills that allow continuation of service. The Legislative Director of the American Postal Workers Union, Patty Dewey, thanks unionists, activists and all the other participants in the march for working against Issa’s bill. Someone in the crowd yelled “Issa’s a liar,” and Dewey responded, “Issa is a liar. This is not a bailout,” referring to H.R. 3591 and S. 1853, bills which would address the accounting problems and mandates which have placed the USPS budget in a stranglehold since Congress enacted them in 2006.
The final speaker at the event was Isham Harris, a local activist who has been carrying letters for 35 years. “Scripture says if a man doesn’t work, he doesn’t eat. And all we want is to work, so we can eat.” Harris called the march “an enthusiastic and providential victory. Providence gave us great weather, and the timing was perfect.”
Jimi Cook, surveying the march his union organized, later said
“The Occupy Movement awakened America to the fact that each one of us has power. The Postal Service represents people power, power that goes back to the Revolution. We communicated our power door-to-door and neighborhood to neighborhood and we got a revolution.”
His parting thoughts were, “when the power goes out, remember the Postal Service.”