(Opinions expressed in this piece solely reflect the views of the author.)
I love writing letters. (I love them so much that I’ve actually written about writing letters twice, “A Life in Letters” and “Letter Writing as an Act of Love”). No shame. I have different stamps for different friends’ senses of humor and personalities. I light up when I buy handmade cards. You bet I support the folks in blue who work for the United States Postal Service (USPS). They bring and send joy. Oh, and they wanted to bring and send health, too: they had planned to send 5 reusable masks to every household in the country before the White House prevented this (which you can read about here and here.)
The USPS has a rich and interesting history that you can learn about by watching John Oliver’s sketch about the government agency with the highest approval in the United States (91%)!
This post isn’t about the history as much as it is the present because as many of us know and have been hearing about this season, the USPS is in dire financial and political straits, and they don’t just send pen-pal letters. They send medications, bills, important documents, and, especially crucially right now, they can send mail-in election ballots.
Donald Trump is trying to privatize mail services by defunding the USPS and replacing it with for-profit companies like Fed-Ex. However, the USPS is written into the Constitution. I doubt the founding fathers would have guessed that 170 million people would receive medications by mail or that a history-changing election would occur during a pandemic and many voters would want or need to stay home, but there’s a lot of other things about our country that they wouldn’t have guessed, either. I doubt they would have guessed how many people have the right to vote these days. But defunding the USPS isn’t just a business decision; it’s a highly political and unjust one that would affect disabled folks of color in poor communities the most, not only on Election Day but in the cost of everyday mail and packages. Sending a birthday card to a family member in a rural community could cost you more than $15 with Fed-Ex, more than 25 times the amount of the same card sent by the USPS.
Millions of people want to vote by mail in this election for the first time because of fears for their health and those with whom they make contact – and because they may have to wait hours to vote because many local polling places have closed for them in the previous years. This defunding of the USPS is only one of a few voter disenfranchisement efforts since the teeth of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were ripped out by the Supreme Court in the 2013 decision Shelby County v. Holder. This is just one of the most obvious ones. Many mail sorting machines have been shut down – 72% in districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016 , key policies changed, and boxes literally ripped out of the ground in some neighborhoods. Mail delays are becoming more common. Thankfully, a few federal judges have stepped in to block these sorts of policy changes and more than 20 states have sued, but this is… concerning, to say the least.
It’s easy to despair in moments like this when it is desperately clear that our voices matter, but aren’t always listened to in meaningful ways by people who can change policy. It can feel uninspiring and disempowering, and this malaise can translate into not voting, especially in an election when many aren’t enthusiastic about either major party ticket. But if our votes didn’t matter, people in power wouldn’t be trying so hard to make it more difficult for folks of color, poor folks, disabled folks, and others to vote. (And the evidence for mail-in voting fraud is practically zero and the president himself voted by mail this past election.)
So what do we do? I’ve realized recently that when I despair about a situation in my life or community’s life, it’s important for me to figure out what action steps I can take. So here are a few for this issue:
Text USPS to 50409 to encourage your officials to keep fighting for this historic government agency.
Go to vote.org to register or check if you’re registered to vote. You can also learn how, in states that aren’t already sending mail-in ballots to combat pandemic spikes this election season, to apply for a mail-in ballot and by when to send it (in general, leave a month to apply and two weeks to send it).
Leave a thank you note and chocolate for your postal worker. They’re feeling pretty unseen and uncared for these days.
Drive your neighbors to the polls if they don’t get their mail-in ballots in time.
Volunteer as a poll worker if you have the health and time to do so because many people who have worked at polls in the past are in higher risk brackets for COVID-19. (And you get paid a little bit, if that’s enough motivation for you.)
Remember in November. Biden and Harris are not my dream team, but they certainly will make it so the Postal Workers Union doesn’t have to add “a declining democracy” to the adage “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” You bet I’ll be voting for them.