Seven years after Berkeley residents rallied to prevent the sale of the downtown post office, another “Save the Post Office” protest took place at 2000 Allston Way to save not just the building, but the U.S. postal system itself.
The Aug. 22 “Save the Post Office” protest drew around 100 socially distanced demonstrators, galvanized by delays in mail service locally due to the COVID-19 pandemic and warnings from voting rights groups that recent changes from Postmaster General Louis DeJoy could threaten the integrity of the November election. The event was scheduled to run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. but ended at noon due to the unhealthy air quality.
Hali Hammer, an activist with Save the Berkeley Post Office, organized the demonstration as part of a coordinated national #SaveThePostOfficeSaturday action, sponsored by eight organizations, including MoveOn.org and the NAACP. She was impressed by the turnout, particularly given the smoky air and risk of COVID-19, but said the threat to the post office and the election overrode her hesitation.
“There are so many underhanded things going on,” Hammer said. “I don’t go out lightly. I couldn’t let this obscenity go on.”
Terry Charonnat, 70, of Oakland, is a health care worker whose patients have always relied on USPS to deliver important medication. In January, her neighborhood mail carrier became Charonnat’s own essential provider when she broke both legs and and an arm and was confined to her home for weeks.
“The post office was my lifeline to the outer world,” Charonnat said.
Instead of chanting, demonstrators focused on the approximately 15 people who spoke at a microphone on the steps of the post office. The speakers included District 3 council member Ben Bartlett; Paola Laverde, chair of Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board; and Quanah Parker Brightman, president of United Native Americans, a nonprofit Indigenous movement organization.
Speaking of President Trump, Bartlett said, “Of all his crimes, destroying the post office is his most egregious.”
“I’d like to remind people of the Native vote, our voice being suppressed,” Brightman said. He noted that many Native Americans live on reservations 30 or 40 miles from the nearest city and rely on the postal service for communication, deliveries and medication.
“I plead to you, keep coming back,” he told the crowd. “We all have to unite.”
Moni Law of Berkeley took the mic to speak about the post office’s role as an economic equalizer.
“The post office is essential to the development of the Black middle class,” she said, pointing to the building behind her: “We saved it once before, we can save it again.”
In a later interview, Law compared mail-in voting suppression to the literacy tests election officials forced Black voters, including her parents, to complete under Jim Crow in order to vote.
“What’s at stake here is literally democracy itself,” Law said.
Potential threats to the upcoming election were foremost on Timothy Carter’s mind as well.
“Trump is trying to destroy our democracy. It’s hiding in plain sight,” said Carter, 50, of Berkeley, who held a sign calling for Congress to protect the USPS. “This is just one step further that he’s taking to ensure that he wins the next election.”
He and others, like Shoshanna Gizzi and Denisia Wasch, had specific demands for DeJoy and the USPS.
“I’d like to see some of the machines DeJoy pulled out, returned,” said Gizzi, 59, of Berkeley.
Motherboard, a Vice publication, and other news outlets have reported USPS is removing mail sorting machines from its facilities with no explanation.
Wasch, 57, of Oakland, wants funding returned to the post office and has some critiques of federal leadership. She pointed to the recently appointed DeJoy as part of the problem:
“Someone who invests in private delivery, like FedEx, should not be a leader of the post office,” she said.
Others, like Evan Levy, 26, of Oakland, showed up with broader desire for change. He said he’s “infuriated” by the privatization of government services.
“It has dulled down our expectations of what government can do,” Levy said. “It’s harder to dream about a Green New Deal and a future that looks like what I want it to look like.”
While demonstrators spread out along the sidewalk and into the street to maintain social distance, the protest did not block the entrance to the post office for customers. Many passing cars honked in support of the crowd, including a USPS mail truck which zipped by as the event wound down.
“People are free to gather and express their views as long as they don’t impede people wanting to conduct postal business,” Augustine Ruiz, Jr., a spokesperson for the USPS, said via email when asked for comment.
Also on Saturday, and independent of Hammer’s protest, another Save the Post Office rally, in front of the post office at 1831 Solano Ave. in North Berkeley, drew around 30 people.