As word spread of the U. S. Post Office Department plans to sell the Berkeley post office building, public protest has become ever more vehement.
Ying Lee is on the steering committee of the group of concerned citizens called Save Our Berkeley Post Office . They have been gathering information and planning actions to avert the sale.
“We're also working nationally,” she said, “with people in the Bronx and people in the National Trust”.
There are issues around historical preservation as well as of art work.
“There are 3500 post offices to be sold, and there are 1100 post offices that were built during the New Deal with a lot of good art", Lee said.
The Berkeley post office was built almost one hundred years ago but the art was created during the New Deal.
Growing public anger was building up to some sort of protest action. Civil disobedience doesn't make sense when there is no one and no law to disobey. Everybody, from the entire Berkeley city council, representatives on the Board of Supervisors, the State Senate and Congress and even the Berkeley police, was unanimous in their opposition to the sale.
A camp-out in front of the Berkeley Post Office was inaugurated with a rally on Sunday, July 28. Tents were set up, as well tables for literature and regular food donations, and signs were posted. A small tent city, with a very diverse but committed group of people, was established.
Bill Rose is one of the campers. “Camping is a tactic we hope will spread”, he said.
“It puts pressure on politicians, it shows commitment and it helps get the word spread … It's the right thing to do to raise awareness (that) the true cause of the Post Office's burdens is bad legislation like the 2006 postal enhancement and accountability act making them pre-fund their entire health benefits for 75 years in only ten years and that's the main source of their financial burden. It's unnecessary and it's a clear coordinated attack by people that are interested in privatizing the public commons.”
He reports that people have been very supportive except for some postal police officers who “hassle the campers at night”.
Charles Copeland comes to the encampment with a different life experience. He has been homeless for a long time and usually stays somewhere near Civic Center Park. He has been with the encampment since it started.
“Why do I do this – one reason is I love Berkeley. I don't have no tent, I sleep in my sleeping bag, I'm part of the security team, I make sure all these people are safe at night – I walk around. ... It's a blessing just to be able to say I'm somewhere where I am a part of life, I can say, because this is life.”
He talked about calling his grandmother and when she asked where he was and what he was doing, telling her he was in Berkeley “and we're trying to save the post office.”
When he explained it to her he said she recalled that she had seen it on TV and told him “If you believe strong that this place, that landmark building needs to be saved, I'm with you.”
Later on he said “This is not an OOCUPY. These people are coming together and doing the right thing. And I feel like I'm doing the right thing. …” Talking about the many different people, young and old, some who are well off some not, he said “they're here for a reason and I love them.”
Bryan Lipson sits at a table with a sign saying Write a letter, Defend the Berkeley Post Office.
“So I invite people to make use of it in its most treasured fashion” he explains. “I have here everything anyone would need for person to person hand written mail – stamps, domestic and international, envelopes, paper pens colored pencils, crayons envelopes, post cards.”
There are ever so many reasons for writing a personal letter – just to a friend, or a visitor from out of town writing to the folks at home and telling them about what is happening here.
Lipson describes how the idea grew: How someone suggested writing to public officials on political issues which inspired someone else to bring a list of addresses people might want to write to. He mentioned “the Postmaster, Bradley Manning, Marissa Alexander who is in jail in Florida, … then somebody added Lyn Stewart.
Then somebody added "I want people to write to me'". So he started a list he's calling random pen pals.
"People who want to be pen pals are putting their names so people who want someone to write to can put their names on this list. I also have blank post cards for people who want to write a note to their favorite radio station, to journalists...” he said.
In encouraging people to write personal letters he says, “I'm inviting people who are already down with the politics to engage in the service and this will give you a whole new feeling and maybe some new thoughts.” And for people who have never engaged in political action this is an opportunity to take a small step toward making a difference.
For now the spirit in the camp out is strong but the Post Office cannot continue to ignore the wishes of the public. People are gong to get very angry.