After 9/11, Postal Workers on the Front Lines

post officeWe take the Post Office for granted. Since the founding of our country the US Mail has connected America from the cities to the most remote farms and villages. In the months after 9/11, postal workers were on the front lines.

I saw that when I went to my Post Office to mail a package. Anthrax-laced letters were being sent through the mail by persons and for a purpose unknown. The clerk at the counter was wearing rubber gloves. Thank you for your service, I told her.

In October 2011 a memorial service was held for two postal workers, Joseph P. Curseen Jr. and Thomas L. Morris Jr., who were among those who died of Anthrax infection.

Postmaster Patrick R. Donahoe called mail workers the “quiet heroes of the entire nation” during the anthrax scare and recalled their “bravery, commitment and dedication” as they continued to deliver mail. He said training and technology to detect potential threats to government letters have made the mail safer.

Just a month later, Michel Martin on National Public Radio interviewed Tad DeHaven, a budget analyst with the Cato Institute, on proposals to privatize US postal services.

[MARTIN:]The other argument that people make is one you alluded to. In rural areas, the postal service is the only game in town and that it would be cost-prohibitive and that would be a kind of a cost to our social cohesion if people in rural areas don’t have access at affordable rates to a service that allows them to essentially connect with others. What’s your answer to those two questions?

DEHAVEN: Well, first, the rural issue. Nobody forces anybody to live in the middle of Montana – and the fact of the matter is, is the federal government, the taxpayers already subsidizing rural broadband, rural electricity. And with regard to mail, is it the social cohesiveness, what binds the nation together, or is it Verizon, AT&T, Facebook and things of that nature? And again, the only way to figure out…

To me, this clarifies the difference between a business for profit and an institution for the public good. You are not cut off from the US Postal Service when you move to a farm on the prairie. And in some of the most troubled and high-crime parts of our cities workers provide public services– mail delivery, school buses, sanitation– a quiet daily testimony to what works right.

These workers are part of the fabric that connects us. We’ve all heard about the postal worker who is the first to notice mail piling up, an elder in trouble.

Would a patchwork of for-profit businesses serve us as well?

Will they hire veterans with good pay and benefits, or temp workers at the lowest wage? Will they deliver insulin to a remote village in Alaska, or letters to addresses in the inner city? Will they bail in a national crisis, or be among those who restore order? Will they help stop mail crime and misuse, or is that not in their contract?

The US Postal Service is a public good that goes back to 1791. It is too important to sell at a fire sale. We won’t miss it until it’s gone.

Image of Post Office from 49th Parallel Forum where citizens saved the Post Office in Slab Fork, W.Virginia.

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