Note: We have been covering the movement against privatization of the Post Office consistently at Popular Resistance. Privatization of this public good will be a terrible decision by the corporate government that dominates public policy. One of the key tactics has been to sell-off post office buildings in a very corrupt deal with the husband of Senator Dianne Feinstein’s real estate firm in charge of the sales. All of these sales should be stopped and the future of the Postal Service reconsidered with new services like Postal Banks included.
The protests to save the Berkeley Post Office have been going on for three years. Protests included an occupation of the Berkeley Post Office building. Historic preservation activists joined in the effort. The protests did not stop even when there were rumors of a contract for the building to be sold. The police raided the occupation 33 days after it began, but it became clear that protest was needed nationally to save the Postal Service and the new union leadership was urging aggressive action in the streets. One of the most beautiful buildings in Washington, DC, the old Post Office building has been sold to Donald Trump who is turning it into an expensive hotel. Protests have expanded to Staples where postal work is being outsourced to low-paying jobs with minimal benefits and no security. A tent city has been held at Staples and boycotts are being called for.
The American Postal Workers Union, Mark Dimondstein, issued a call for a “grand alliance” to save the USPS as a public postal service. The four Postal Unions are uniting and a grand alliance is forming with citizen advocates. Recently there was a National Day of Action to save the Postal Service where people united to keep the Post Service a public good not a profit center. Berkeley is going to be the first of many victories to save the Postal Service.
Court decision gives the protest movement everything it asked for
In early April, the US Postal Service won. They got a Federal Judge to dismiss, without prejudice, Berkeley’s lawsuit against the sale of the downtown Berkeley Post Office.
In an amusing twist Judge Alsup had asked the Postal Service lawyers during oral arguments whether they would rescind their “Final Determination Regarding Relocation of Relocation Services in Berkeley.” Postal Service lawyers wrote a long missive in reply, explaining that yes, they had rescinded their decision, but no they couldn’t legally because there was no way for them to do so, and yes, they had already done so a year ago, sort of, but no, they really couldn’t…”.
The judge made short work of this. Literally. In his decision he wrote
At oral argument, the undersigned judge requested that the USPS inform the Court as to
whether it would rescind the document titled “Final Determination Regarding Relocation of Retail Services in Berkeley, California.” In response, the USPS stated (Dkt. No. 54) (emphasis added): “The answer is yes.”
Judicialese translation: “I don’t care about your bullshit caveats. I will accept “Yes” for an answer. Whaap!”That was not the worst of it for the Postal Service. Judge Alsup also stipulated that were the Postal Service to put the building up for sale again and a sales agreement be negotiated, they would be required to give 42 days notice to the City of Berkeley so that the City could seek a temporary injunction and refile its lawsuit. In a subsequent addendum, the Judge also stated that he would maintain jurisdiction over the potential lawsuit for five years, so that if it was refiled, it would come back to his courtroom.
But even that wasn’t the worst of it. Judge Alsup included language in the decision that could only be interpreted as being directed at Postal Service management and meant to be read between the lines, especially when considered in conjunction with his order maintaining jurisdiction for five years.
Moreover, in late 2014, the City of Berkeley passed new zoning restrictions on the district in which the Berkeley Main Post Office resides… This will substantially shrink the possible universe of purchasers or alternative users for the building, making it ever more unlikely that the controversy will ever rise from the dead.
I may not be all that fluent in judicialese, but that seems to me like a not-so-subtle message saying he would REALLY not be happy to see this come back onto his docket.(The story of the rezoning effort can be read here: Those Damned Hippies. They Rezoned the Post Office. An earlier part of the story of the fight to save the downtown Berkeley Post Office is here: Those Damned Hippies. They’re Saving the Post Office.)
While a lawsuit was ultimately necessary to force Postal Service management to retract and concede as much as they did, and a lawsuit could not have been undertaken without the consent of the Berkeley City Council, the foundation for it lay in the organized resistance to the sale over these last almost three years. That resistance took place from many organizations and on many levels: Berkeley’s historic preservationists, labor activists, 60’s activists (aka hippies!), Occupy peeps, wordsmiths, artists and musicians, Berkeley’s homeless, Berkeley residents who just didn’t want their Post Office shuttered, and those who saw the fight as symbolic of a global struggle against privatization and the destruction of the Commons.
Without Berkeley’s historic preservationists and Berkeley’s tradition of activism, opposition might never have appeared back in 2012 when the Post Office first announced their intentions, nor gelled into nearly universal community resistance as evidenced by public meetings held in early 2013.
Without Occupiers, the Postal Service might well have tried to sell the building in early Fall of 2013. The first encampment on the Post Office steps in August, 2013 generated nationwide publicity and likely took Postal Officials aback. Even if the action didn’t deter the Postal Service from listing the building for sale (it was listed in October, 2013) it may have given second thoughts to a number of otherwise interested parties. The idea of a zoning ordinance sprang from an Occupy Oakland participant and later member of Berkeley Post Office Defenders; it may never have been conceived of as a possible tactic otherwise.
Without organizers from Save the Berkeley Post Officeand Berkeley Post Office Defenders, wordsmiths, and artists and musicians, the rallies at the Post Office, the petitions, the postcards, the flyers and the community meetings would not have existed – or continued on for years demonstrating the unremitting resolve of Berkeley against the sale.
Without a mass of Berkeley residents, some of them sixties activists, making their voices clear, the City Council would never have opposed the sale so vigorously, nor passed the zoning ordinance, nor instructed the City Attorney to pursue a lawsuit. As sad as it is true, other towns have acquiesced passively or even cooperated in the sale and gutting of their downtown Post Offices.
Without labor activists, the fight against the Staples / Postal Service privatization contract might never have been fought, generating yet more publicity as to the fate of our Postal Service, and bringing First They Came for the Homeless across the Bay to set up an occupation and boycott outside of Staples’ Berkeley store in late Spring of 2014.
Without First They Came for the Homeless, who Occupied outside the downtown Post Office immediately after the Postal Service announced a prospective sale in November of 2014, that sale might have been consumated. We’ll never know for sure, but the Postal Service might have thought resistance to a sale was waning last Fall. One of the things that ultimately caused the potential buyer to withdraw his offer could well have been this display of continued resistance.
As I noted at our “Victory and Thank you!” get-together on the steps of the (still public!) Berkeley Post Office on May 9th, 2015
It takes great many people – with different skills and temperaments – to create resistance. From people willing to litigate to people willing to face arrest. From people who can write to people who can draw, to people who can sing. From people who can organize to people who can disrupt.Not everyone is going to agree all the time, or even most of the time. But if everyone fighting for the same thing can hold it together then sometimes, sometimes, we can make progress. And we’ve done just that here!
A pyhrric victory for Postal Service management. A least a temporary victory for the residents of Berkeley. One small step against the privatization of our Commons. And a “Hip, Hip Hurray” for the Hippies!