Update On Camp-Out Protest At Berkeley Post Office

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How long do the Berkeley Post Office camp-out protesters plan to stay? If they don’t leave, will thePostal Service let them remain indefinitely?

It’s been almost three weeks since the July 27 rally and beginning of the 24-hour camp-in protest to save the landmark building of the Berkeley Post Office. Twenty or so campers have been living in a tiny village of more than a dozen tents next to the Post Office at Allston Way and Milvia Street.

“The plan is to stay here until we achieve some kind of victory, namely the reversal in the decision to sell the Post Office,” said Mike Wilson from Strike Debt Bay Area, one of the groups organizing the protests.

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“This is all history,” said one camper, 46-year-old Jonathan Dignes. “It’s artifacts, it’s heritage.”

“I’m trying to stop them from selling off assets, because we’ll never get them back,” added Dignes, who said he graduated from UC Berkeley in 2005 and described himself as an “urban camper,” who joined the Post Office protest on July 27.

Mayor Tom Bates’ office announced Monday that the U.S. Postal Regulatory Commission would hear his appeal to stop the planned sale of the Post Office and that the sale could not proceed until the commission issues a ruling. The five-member panel has until Nov. 27 to render a decision.

Dave Welsh of the Strike Debt Bay Area group said they are “encouraged by the delay.”

But Bates told Bay City News Service Wednesday that he’s “not optimistic” about his appeal to stop the sale, saying that the U.S. Postal Service does not recognize the commission’s authority to regulate the decision to sell the building and relocate the operations to other premises.

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“We meet everyday and discuss our options as a camp,” said Welsh. “We’re just taking it one day at a time,” he said.

Bates’ appeal and the protests at the Berkeley Post Office have been a response to the Postal Service’s decision to sell its large old post offices, including Berkeley’s, to reduce financial losses and transfer dwindling operations to smaller spaces. The Postal Service’s decision this past spring to sell the century-old Berkeley building came despite significant local opposition from Bates, theCity Council, and the state Legislature and many residents.

One of the campers expressed hope of expanding the protest to other Post Offices being put up for sale.

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“What I intend to do is to spread this action to other Post Offices that are threatened throughout the country,” said the 53-year-old protester, who gave his name as Jim “Squatter.” “It’s part of a larger picture. What I’m trying to do is stop the privatization of the commons.”

He said the group Save the Berkeley Post Office also is raising funds and preparing a lawsuit to save the building.

So far, Postal Service police and inspectors have not moved to evict the campers, but instead have been “quietly notifying people and asking for their cooperation,” said Jeff Fitch, a Postal Inspector.

Dealing with the occupation is a Postal Service problem, Fitch said. “The Berkeley Police Department has no jurisdiction on Post Office property,” he said.
Berkeley Police Officer Jennifer Coats affirmed that the Berkeley police lack jurisdiction over the Post Office property.

Dignes said Postal Service police have been patrolling with flashlights and warning campers with flyers, but that they are “basically leaving us alone.”

 

All photos credited to Euna Park.