Outside the Brightwood post office in northwest Washington, a long line of customers wait in line for stamps, money orders, passport services, mailings and packages. As the customers approach the counter, almost all of them remarked, “Don’t close this post office.”

A proposal that would close a number of local post offices in District neighborhoods that were predominantly Black years ago has many residents stunned, scared and viewing the move as another sign of gentrification.

Hebratu Daba, sat a table in the Brightwood branch addressing a card to be mailed to a loved one. “This post office is very convenient and accessible by transit. I applied for my passport here three weeks ago and do all my mailings here. Everyone doesn’t feel comfortable or have Internet at home.”

Faced with huge, snowballing losses, the United States Postal Service (USPS) announced in March the most recent in a series of modernization plans, containing proposals to discontinue Saturday home mail delivery, accelerate the transfer of stamp sales from branches to local retail vendors, and the introduction of new products.

Looming ominously is the proposal being floated by Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe to shutter 2,000 out of 31,871 branches, maintaining there is no way out, given the agency’s deteriorating financial picture. Critics insist, however, the proposal is short-sighted and wrong-headed since Saturday service is vital to some communities and important to solicitors and marketers.

“The Brightwood post office is one of the busiest post offices in D.C. Almost everyday, there is a line of people waiting outside. I depend on it,” said Verna Collins, community activist in Ward 4, who was standing with a sign protesting the Walmart development.

Sandy Brown and her cousin spent half the morning looking for a post office that was open on Saturdays. She is opposed to reducing services, especially on Saturdays.

“Lots of working people take care of business on Saturdays. We need our post offices to be available when we need them,” Brown said as she stood in line at the Brightwood Post Office to mail her packages.

Brown’s sister has worked for the post office for 25 years. “This is all about not trying to pay retirement benefits. This was one of the places where many Blacks worked in the government. My sister’s whole livelihood is wrapped up in her job with the post office. Now it’s about to end abruptly with no certainty about the future,” said Brown.

Cliff Guffey, President of the American Postal Workers Union, said the postal service intends to shed 220,000 employees by 2015, but it is a short-sighted and short-term solution.

“Crushing postal workers and slashing service will not solve the postal service’s financial crisis,” Guffey said.

Residents say closing the post office or reducing services in the Brightwood-Takoma area, a business corridor that already is struggling, makes the area less attractive to businesses considering relocating in the area.

Just five blocks north of the Walter Reed Medical Center is winding down operations and transferring patients, staff and medical personnel to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. The move is leaving merchants and residents wondering how long it will take to revitalize the area, which has depended largely on staff, outpatients and visitors to patronize local business.

Five blocks south of the post office, picketers walk the streets holding signs in protest of the proposed site of a new Walmart, which they say will cause major traffic congestion.

Cutbacks would also be accelerated by the second part of the plan, which is to further expand cooperation with independent retailers, now numbering 70,000, who provide modest service, such as selling stamps, once handled by local USPS outlets.

“I’m opposed to the total privatization of the postal system. This privatization of the government started with Reagan. This is not Japan or some other country!” Collins said. “The post office may destroy itself by taking on the practices of other countries.”

At least one local elected official, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), vowed to keep a close eye on developments. Norton recently said, “The standard I will insist on,” Norton said recently, “is that every community must have easy access to a postal facility.”

Researcher DeRutter Jones contributed to this story.

 

Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO