Like many Americans, I depend on the U.S. Postal Service to meet everyday needs and participate in society. I never thought I’d have to make a case to defend it.
Back in August, when I was running out of my blood pressure medication, I remember checking the mailbox only to find it completely empty. My neighbors also had not received mail in days. Eventually I learned from a postal service worker that several carriers were sick due to coronavirus and that there was a new policy prohibiting overtime pay for other carriers to fill in.
We now know the policy was instituted by Postmaster General Louis- DeJoy, appointed by Trump as part of his administration’s efforts to turn the post office into just another profit-making, private business. When the news broke, people across the country were outraged, concerned as I was about their medication and about whether the post office could deliver and return ballots in time for an election in the middle of a pandemic. The public outcry pushed DeJoy to temporarily halt some of his new policies and brought important conversations about the role of the U.S. Postal Service into the national spotlight.
The postal service was established in our constitution for a reason. As a public service, it was foundational to the formation of a government that would guarantee people’s rights, well-being, and access to information and basic goods.
There is of course nothing mystical about the constitution. It set up a country with race-based slavery, without rights for women, and with an Electoral College system and a powerful Senate that are not representative of the population. There are also high barriers to deep, systemic change.
However, the idea of the U.S. Postal Service pointed us in the direction of equality, democracy, and the fulfilment of human rights. It was the first national public service that held the country together by connecting people and ideas across great distances. Today, even with all the new technologies, we still need an affordable, low-tech way of connecting people to each other and to the services they need.
We all expect to pay our share of taxes and postage, and we also expect our government to ensure that certain services are affordable and equally accessible to everyone. As a country, we can afford to keep it strong. In the same way we maintain public roads and public emergency services, collectively we have the wealth to guarantee basic human rights such as access to food, shelter, education and healthcare.
A public service that is deeply personal
Experiences within my own family show how ingrained the mail is in day-to-day life. For my parents who are retired farmers in their 80s and still live on their farm, the Postal Service is crucial for their daily needs and even for the success of their farm. Because of where they live, they aren’t able to get inexpensive internet service or even a landline that works. Expensive data plans also aren’t viable options. As a result they rely on the post office to send them their social security checks and their bills. In the past they even got supplies of baby chickens and ducks delivered by mail, as many farmers still do!
In this time of the pandemic, my parents also rely on the post office to bring them things like clothing and health supplies. And while private companies like FedEx and UPS do deliver to their address, without the daily public postal service, these companies would undoubtedly charge customers much higher rates and would deliver less frequently, especially to rural and lower-income neighborhoods.
In coastal Alaska, my daughter serves as an AmeriCorps volunteer and also depends heavily on the post office. She needs to walk a distance to her P.O. box, while keeping alert for bears during the summer months. It takes longer for the mail to arrive there, but it enables her to get packages from family and items she can’t readily buy.
Together, we must defend the post office
None of these everyday needs and basic rights are going to be fulfilled by privatizing public services and turning them into businesses for the profit of the privileged few. Instead, we need good government and a new social contract. One way we can start is by defending the post office and making sure we are all able to use it to receive our ballots and return our votes if we choose to do so. ActionAid USA works closely with the National Family Farm Coalition and the Rural Coalition to support policies that strengthen the right to food and a social contract built on equity. If the well-being of rural communities and all people matters to you, join our allies in taking action by reaching out to Congress to defend and strengthen the Postal Service.