Tuesday, September 4, 2012
After 19 days on the road all over rural Oregon, Jamie Partridge, Postal Road Warrior, retired mail man, and long-time ROPer, has parked his station wagon back home. Jamie met with community organizers and postmasters in Deschutes, Crook, Marion, Linn, Benton, Lane, Polk, and Umatilla Counties to save their rural post offices and the precious jobs their post offices maintain in their communities. Jamie also met with rank-and-file labor, labor organizers, and community organizers fighting to save the mail processing facilities in Bend, Salem, Pendleton, and Eugene/Springfield, slated for closure in January 2014.
These tour stops clearly reaffirmed our strategy: community organizing — town-by-town — is a strategy to win. Dozens of communities across the state have been galvanized and are ready to take action. ROP will be here to support organizing this bold small town resistance to privatization.
Check out the story of Jamie’s tour below. It reads like journal entries documenting the experience from one town to the next. Enjoy!
DAY FIVE of Postal Road Warrior August – Salem was small but spirited. Over-worked Janeil Payne, president of the APWU local, met me wearing a Rural Organizing Project t-shirt (and had lots of praises for ROP). A couple die-hard APWU officers and Bob Rossi, staffer from SEIU 503 (state workers) showed. After bemoaning the small progressive community in Salem (and the death of the Jobs with Justice chapter), we brainstormed next steps – presentation to the SEIU board, to the local labor council, connections with Occupy Salem, CAUSA (immigrant rights), the Quakers, and ROP. 160 jobs threatened and huge mail delays if this plant is “consolidated”. Karl says he’s got a “spidey” sense that they might close it early, before the January 2014 scheduled date.
DAY SIX of Postal Road Warrior August – Rough drive over the mountain (3.5 hours) – hot! And getting stuck in west Portland thanks to the Bridge Pedal….grrrrr.
Bend will definitely carry forward the project, to broaden and deepen the work. APWU and NALC were well represented, as was CAUSA (immigrant rights coalition), JOBS with JUSTICE, the Presbyterians and the Central Oregon Peace Network (COPN) — the beginnings of a local coalition to save the postal service. Here in Bend they stand to lose 75 good paying, union jobs at the mail processing plant – which is a lot in a town this size. If this plant goes down, the mail from Bend to Bend will go over the mountains (162 miles) – which can be closed in the winter – to Portland to be processed, then back (over the mountains) to Bend to be delivered. Efficient! Delays of days.
Linda O’Donnell, president of the local APWU and somewhat connected to the Rural Organizing Project, pulled the meeting together at a local Japanese toys store (Wabi Sabi) in the back room. Apparently the owner supports all the local progressive causes (JwJ, Occupy Bend, Peace Network, etc.).
Chris Lawler of JwJ and Greg Delgado of CAUSA are pushing for the next meeting, maybe a town hall, and are eager to start petitioning with our combination petition/ sign-up to get involved. Greg mentioned Kate Brown, Secretary of State, coming to town next weekend and plans to bring up the vote-by-mail issue and ask for her support. Jeana told a disheartening story about a local private pre-sort mailing house which is pushing for the USPS plant to close, hoping to get more business (If they only knew what the real impact will be on their business!) Linda is excited about going to the APWU convention next week to hook up with CPWU folk.
Went directly from the organizing meeting to a CPWU national conference call, then an APWU-CPWU pre-convention conference call (while sweating in my hot, hot car). Chris Lawler of JwJ (and COPN) is putting me up for the night, feeding me lovely pulled pork with homemade vinaigrette salad. We shared arrest stories – he got busted occupying Walden’s office only a few days before I sat in Walden’s office in DC (last December). The local progressive community seems quite inter-connected and supportive. Got to write up the notes and get them out….No rest for the warrior…
DAY SEVEN of Postal Road Warrior August – Almost lost the meeting tonight in Powell Butte (population 2,000 – ranchers and farmers). A retired postmaster challenged my assertion that the pre-funding mandate was killing the postal service. “There is no mail! I can take you into those plants and show you!” It didn’t help that he kept interrupting me and repeating himself. Another old timer went on about the deficit. Another took up the ex-postmaster’s slant of the NALC (I became “big labor”) vs the USPS, asking why can’t you compromise, we don’t need Saturday delivery…
When I asked the question – who is ready to fight to save the Powell Butte post office – less than half the hands went up (they’re all supposed to go up). Fortunately, Kathy Paterno – the fabulous local organizer who pulled twenty people into that community center – helped me move the meeting back to saving Postmaster Connie’s job and the local post office. I walked them through the steps: as soon as PM Connie gets the notice, petition to move the hearing to the evening, contact Congressional reps, the media, everyone in town. By the end we had people talking about how to get the word out. My first rural meeting…thanks God for Kathy and Crook County Human Dignity Advocates (an affiliate of the Rural Organizing Project) plus husband Phil. I’m sitting in their dining room decompressing…
DAY EIGHT of Postal Road Warrior, Doing Oregon in August – Back to basics in Pendleton. Organizing 101. After a scorching 4.5 hours (no air conditioning) through the Eastern Oregon desert, I arrived to a massive room at the Red Lion, with cookies and 40 chairs set up. Had all my visuals (signs) and paper work – petitions, info leaflets, how-to-save-your-mail-processing-plant, plus buttons and WANTED (Postmaster General for obstruction and delay of the mail) POSTERS. Letter carrier leadership — Kevin McKinstry, Terra & Diane — plus Renee and husband from the Rural Organizing Project. And the East Oregonian sent a reporter and photographer. They all sat in the back row, so of course I walked up and we spent the hour talking about who and how to build the movement broader and deeper to save the Pendleton plant.
I love telling the Portland story – 1,000 marching to save the service; but only after a year of speaking to groups, petitioning at fairs and door-to-door, posters in windows, lawn signs, city council resolution, post office rallies, bridge and overpass banners. Diane & Terra picked up the thread – lets speak to the VFW, call a rally and inviting the Mayor, petition during the Pendleton Round-up, ask the City Attorney to help draft a resolution. Building for that next USPS hearing where so many will turn out, demanding their “maximum degree of effective and regular services” that the plant will stay open! Onward, Pendleton!…Now for the 3.5 hour drive in the dark back to Portland… Gird your loins, warrior!
DAY TEN of Postal Road Warrior, Doing Oregon in August — A Portland morning in court with fellow arrestees – Trudy, Tim, Ann, John, Michael — from our May 24th Occupy the Post Office action (we are pleading not-guilty: we had to occupy the University Station to save it; resistance to injustice is no crime; our actions were to prevent a larger crime – the dismantling of our constitutionally-mandated, national treasure). We’ve also thrown in with the rest of Occupy Portland – claiming our First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and assembly – quite a crowd and a rowdy bunch.
Then a meeting with letter carrier union presidents, Kevin & Jim & Jobs with Justice organizer Marco, to plan our “welcome party” for the Postmaster General when he graces the Vancouver Hilton with his presence this Tuesday. Inside and outside, we’ll get our message through – No closures! No cuts! No delays! Fire the criminal PMG! (WANTED for obstruction & delay of the mail)
A nightcap with stalwarts Sue, Ben and Cass of Portland Communities and Postal Workers United, phone banking with our cell phones (in the backroom at Anna Bannana’s) to the JwJ hotlist… turning out the troops to greet the PMG. We plowed through a list of 200, despite Cass being cell phone averse and Sue coming from a job where she’s on the phone all day.
An uplifting day with comrades… now, prepping for my next four days on the road with strangers in Marion, Linn, Benton and Lane Counties…
DAY ELEVEN of Postal Road Warrior, Doing Oregon in August — a lovely, if sweaty, evening in the foothills of the Cascades, out on picnic tables in front of Idanha City Hall (outside because somebody forgot the key). Nine sturdy defenders of their post office, three of whom were City Council members, one former postmaster, one former mayor, two active postmasters (Idanha & Detroit – the next town over whose P.O. is also threatened).
Idanha, with a post office, a city hall, a part-time general store and not much else (the P.O. is the only building open all day, every day including two hours on Saturday). Idanha, a town of 169 souls, which had lost its lumber mill and lost its school and now faces losing (from 8 hours/day to 2 hours/day – no one was confused, that meant eventual closure) their beloved post office. The mostly middle-aged and elderly women know exactly what their P.O. does for the community – binds it together. The 17-year (not ready to retire!) postmaster is the hub of town information – written and oral. Hers is the hang-out place. No broadband internet here. No cell phone reception here. Elder Brenda Lehman, unable to attent, sent me a Please Save Our Post Office treatise (attached).
I soon discovered that they didn’t need me. They were totally organized already. Karen, my Rural Organizing Project host, had previously helped organize a USPS hearing in December, when the P.O. was earlier threatened with closure. She had insisted that the hearing be held at a local church, in the evening, with a retired postmaster facilitating the meeting, making sure everyone got a chance to speak. Congressional aides were in attendance as were local media. Fifty people showed up (1/3 of the town!) and kept the USPS rep going for 3 hours. This time around they can help the Detroit folks keep their P.O. too. A stalwart crew. Maybe I’ve found my retirement community…
DAY TWELVE of Postal Road Warrior, Doing Oregon in August — In Foster/ Cascadia another organized, fighting community (20 showed up), just outside Sweethome in the beautiful Cascade foothills east of Albany. The stories break my heart! Last October the Cascadia post office was scheduled for closure. Fifty determined souls showed up to the USPS hearing, including aides from Merkeley, Wyden, and DeFazio’s offices. Then in November, disaster struck – the post office burned down. The postmaster was forced into early retirement. Half the Cascadia residents get no rural delivery, so they were forced to take a post office box in the next town – Foster, which is eleven miles away – twenty-two round trip just to get their mail. About half the folks at the meeting were in this situation, the rest were elected officials, postal workers and retired postal workers, including Cascadia’s former postmaster.
So for nine months these Cascadians have been struggling to get their post office back. Officially it’s “suspended.” They’ve offered to buy a trailer/ mobile home. There are unused forest service buildings, which could be renovated. Many told stories of how the post office was the center of community, where you dropped off old clothes and books to recycle, where you left messages and got the latest gossip.
The question always comes up – why is the postal service being crippled? Someone always answers it before I do — the 1% wants to steal the profitable pieces and leave the rest of us disconnected. They were excited to hear about our protest of the Postmaster General (“What’s his connection to the 1%?”) All present were determined to harass Kim Anderson (USPS District Manager) and U.S. Senator Jeff Merkeley (the most receptive so far) to come meet with them. I’ll do what I can from my end…
DAY THIRTEEN of Postal Road Warrior, rolling across Oregon in August — Alsea, in the lush green of the Coast Range, a town of 1,500 (300+ rural delivery, 250+ PO Boxes) with a full-service, full-time, feisty postmaster and one HCR (highway contract route). Nicole, the fast talking PM, was the center of tonight’s conversation, explaining in excruciating detail to the ten assembled townspeople, the crazy US Postal Service accounting system which put her post office on the chopping block.
Never mind that revenues had doubled since she’d been postmaster. Never mind that she’d gone out to customer’s homes to develop ten new “Click and Ship” accounts and helped others understand how to ship using EBAY. Never mind that she was credited one and a half minutes to process a passpost application or less than a minute per phone call. Never mind that she was expected to keep up on all the new rules and regs, while waiting on customers, dispatching mail and helping the HCR get out the door by noon.
I fell in love with the group immediately, as they all clearly were ready to engage the struggle — including the young volunteer fire fighter, the community newspaper mailer, and those who’d lived in Alsea “forever”. The cries of “absurd” and “ridiculous” met my explanations of the manufactured postal crisis. One old timer help bring the conversation down to earth – “it’s all political, isn’t it?” A young father seemed dubious — “If we get enough people, the media, the elected officials, we’ll win?” I could only assure that others had won with people power, that the USPS greases the squeaky wheel. One oldster had already been emailing and calling USPS district managers, with fall-out bouncing back to the PM — “What’s with your people; we never hear from Alsea!” They’re pissed, she shot back.
When asked who was ready to fight, all hands went up…
DAY FIFTEEN of Postal Road Warrior, rolling across Oregon in August — Lorane is wine country, in the foothills of the Coast Range, outside Eugene. A solid population of 900 folk with a sturdy church, odd fellows hall, general store, grange hall and post office. The multi-age crowd of twenty-five (mostly couples), who met with me at the Grange, had a fierce attachment to their oddly shaped (A-frame) post office. An unfortunate spate of mailbox theft had driven many of them to rent secure post office boxes, bringing them together on a daily basis at the PO. Some small business mailers, but mostly long time residents (one who’d lived in town since the 30s) who’d seen the timber industry shrivel, their school close but the vineyards bring a certain vitality and tourism to Lorane. Of course, I mentioned Rep. Peter DeFazio’s bill HR 3591 which not only fixes postal finances but allows for new services…such as shipping wine!
Like Cascadia, Lorane faces the postmaster-retirement problem. Pushing postmasters into retirement (“early out”), the USPS, with its career hiring freeze in place for five years, then says “we can’t find a replacement, oops, have to cut hours, keep only a part-time clerk”…then declare the post office underutilized, ready for closure. I heard there are 30 such postmaster-less post offices in Oregon now. Lorane also faces the lease-expiring problem. That’s what killed University Station in Portland. “Oh, we can’t seem to renegotiate the lease, so the post office has to close.” This end-run around regulations (by passing a community hearing) is being accomplished on a massive scale nationwide, as prime postal real estate is being sold off, leased back, then lost.
So I did my best to emphasize three things – “organize, organize, organize.” “Isn’t there someone we can write to in Congress.” Unfortunately not. I gave them contact info for the USPS District Manager, Senator Merkley’s office, and the Rural Organizing Project. My advice –demand your hearing now, gather your forces and fight furiously!
DAY SIXTEEN of Postal Road Warrior, rolling across Oregon in August — Walton was a no-show. Beautiful spot, in the middle of the Coast Range with a tiny post office attached to a rustic general store. But my contact, the general store owner, did not build the event, even though I had sent him flyers and called a few days ago and a week ago ( there was a flyer on the PO bulletin board and a few lying on the store counter). When I showed up he wasn’t there. Arriving at 7pm with a truck load of supplies, he looked at me and asked “oh, is that tonight?” I asked if the postmaster was coming and he said she felt it wasn’t appropriate for her to show up and advocate for her job.
Sad. The post office has been there since 1884. The first postmaster named the town. They had old mail sorting equipment on display in the general store…”We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.” (MLK Jr.)
DAY SEVENTEEN of Postal Road Warrior, rolling across Oregon in August — A busy day in Eugene, organized by the seasoned leaders of Eugene Springfield Solidarity Network (ESSN — Shelley Jensen, John Evans, and Nancy Forrest), began with a press conference in front of the main post office. All three TV stations showed up and the Eugene Weekly. Folks said all the stations played something, including the local NPR station – I could only find this onlinehttp://www.kezi.com/retired-mailman-protests-closures/ (KEZI-TV, Eugene) http://www.klcc.org/Feature.asp?FeatureID=3758 (KLCC radio, Eugene). As usual, no media called out Congress’ pre-funding mandate that’s killing the postal service, despite my mentioning it numerous times. My quote on KEZI-TV starts out “…it would be a shame…” – not a compelling argument. Only the Eugene Register Guard piece targeted the pre-fund – that’s because I wrote it!http://www.registerguard.com/web/opinion/28623561-47/postal-service-delivery-post-depend.html.csp (Register Guard, Eugene)
The evening meeting (25 people) was smaller than organizers’ expected but I was pleased. Major players were in the room, to pull together the local labor/community coalition to save the postal service – and the Gateway plant (200 jobs). ESSN activists, NALC (letter carriers), Mailhandler and APWU (the plant workers) leaders, the Rural Organizing Project (ROP), the Mayor, a City Councilor and State Representative. After my rousing motivational pitch J the politicians, Kitty Piercy (mayor), Claire Syrett (unopposed for city council) and Val Hoyle (state rep) took seriously my question – who else needs to be here? AARP, mailers, League of Women Voters, veterans. Someone mentioned the blind. Even the reserved NALC president Tom Gates waxed eloquent. Jessica Campbell of ROP gave an inspiring statewide view – the rurals, the cities, tied together in one interactive, symbiotic relationship of power, yes!
ESSN is committed to move the SAPS (Save America’s Postal Service) agenda front and center within their Public Employment Campaign. (Nancy and James – VP of SEIU 503- kept trying to walk off with my SAPS posters). NEXT MEETING, Thurs. Sept. 6th – contact ESSN for details (541-736-9041)…on to small town Deadwood next, with no cell reception…
DAY EIGHTEEN of the Postal Road Warrior, rolling across Oregon in August — Deadwood, whose post office was established in 1884, was named after snags in the creek following a forest fire. Still a logging community in the midst of the Coast Range, but with an average age of 50 (US average is 37) with a lot of retired “hippies”. I found the door to the community center open (they don’t lock it), a lovely place with a wood stove, pool & ping pong tables, lending library & full kitchen. An amazing group of 25 showed up to discuss how to, once again, defend their post office — the only occupied building left in the town of 400 (the general store closed not long ago).
A bunch of radicals, they knew this is a manufactured crisis — about privatization, union-busting, and the overall assault on public service and public service workers & our unions (I didn’t bring it up, they did). The crowd included a just-retired postmaster from a small town on the coast, the postmaster of Swiss Home (just down the road, also threatened), and the mail carrier for Deadwood (an HCR – Highway Contract Route). The HCR is owned by the Alpha Farm, an “intentional community” which has been part of Deadwood since the 70s, and three of its members showed up.
These are the people who sought out the Rural Organizing Project (ROP), back last fall when the news of P.O. closures got out. They had contacted the governor, the attorney general (can’t we sue to save the post office? isn’t it in the constitution?), and the ACLU, who turned them onto ROP. These are the people who “occupied” their post office on December 19th, who turned out 60 strong to their late December closure hearing, who even showed up for the Springfield Gateway plant closure hearing (Jessica says 60 rural people showed up for the Springfield hearing). And these people are now ready to reach out to other communities to help them organize. Si se puede!
DAY NINETEEN of the Postal Road Warrior, rolling across Oregon in August — Rickreall, a farming community west of Salem, whose post office was established in 1851, which was often referred to as “Dixie” because of its Southern sympathies, has a median age of 50, a median income of $27,000 and has lost both its schools in the past decade. A crusty bunch of old farmers, the regular Grange crowd, showed up to challenge the attack on their post office.
The Grange Hall looked a hundred years old and was all set up for the flea market come Saturday. Cakes, cookies and weak coffee were set out and we gathered around a long table for a cozy conversation. Most of the meeting was taken up with the round-robin introductions which turned into various stories about mail theft, PO boxes, money orders, and chocolate kisses that Larry the postmaster gives out. The youngsters (those less than 60 years) in the group were bulk mailers (Tom, who also runs the Grange) community organizers (David and Bob, who will move the agenda from here), a couple visionaries worried about privatization of public services, and the postmaster relief (PMR). She filled us in on how busy the Rickreall PO really is – she cleans her own office, she calls people when a package arrives, she solicits stamps-by-mail business, and handles multiple, sizable business customers – Ag West, Rickreall Farm Supply, the dairies, etc. Somebody wanted a petition. Others asked if the hall was big enough for the crowd they’d bring to the hearing. Rickreall is ready to fight.
Sadly, the Postal Road Warrior has parked his trusty steed (“Silver Bullet”, a 2000 Volvo station wagon) in Portland again. Almost got another invite from a city official in Falls City today. I will head out again if called, but from here the rural circuit passes to Jessica Campbell, the Rural Organizing Project’s Protect Our Postal Service (POPS) campaign leader. On to the next battle in our war with the 1% and those who would steal our national treasure. Maybe a March on Washington…
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