Friday, October 25, 2013

Post Office Buildings & Art: Are we too distracted by pop culture to save our history?

(This building was a Post Office in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, built during the New Deal era. It is now part of the Prince George's County Public Library system. This was a fortunate fate for the building considering that other Post Office buildings have been sold to private interests--sometimes at bargain basement prices and in questionable "arrangements." Photo by Brent McKee.)

Historic Post Offices buildings, many of them from the New Deal era, are in jeopardy. Often sitting on prime real estate, these buildings are being sold to private entities, becoming victims to America's increasingly rabid & compulsive desire for privatization (privatization that is often wasteful of taxpayer dollars and harmful to society). 

 (In many of our historic Post Offices, one can find artwork celebrating our American heritage. Here, a Post Office mural in Towson, Maryland celebrates America's transportation history. Other sections of the mural show a locomotive, a wagon train, and river boats. Photo by Brent McKee.)

As our Post Offices are sold to real estate firms, developers, and other private entities, the status of the artwork inside the buildings is less-than-clear. Sometimes, the new private owners of our taxpayer-built Post Offices are generous enough to propose public viewing of the art, briefly, once every few months. Isn't that nice of them? Perhaps they'll even offer a convenient viewing time for us, like 3am to 4am.

(Benjamin Franklin, first U.S. Postmaster. Public domain image, courtesy of Wikipedia.)

The Post Office is one of the most direct ties we have to the early days of our United States, and one of our most direct ties to Founding Father Benjamin Franklin. However, despite the constant battle cry of "Founding Fathers! Founding Fathers!" from many on the political right, you don't see many on the political right standing up for the preservation of our Post Office buildings and art. Indeed, even many democrats are apathetic, or even obstructive, to the preservation of this rich history. Perhaps this is because Ben Franklin can't hand out campaign contributions?

(WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

Fortunately, there are some dedicated citizens trying to save our Post Office history. Letters have been written, petitions have been started, and sidewalk protests have occurred. Dr. Gray Brechin has written on the issue. Dr. Harvey Smith has written on the issue. Dr. Steve Hutkins has a website devoted to saving Post Office history (Save the Post Office). Investigative reporter Peter Byrne has exposed scandals related to the sale of Post Office buildings. And concerned citizens across the country are sounding alarm bells. But, are their efforts enough to counteract the immense forces of corporate money and public apathy, coupled with the distracting power of pop culture?

   (Cartoon from Almost Makes Sense, used with permission.)

Are Americans so wrapped up in pop culture, and so mesmerized by reality television shows like "Bridezillas," that the sale of our shared American heritage doesn't faze them, or perhaps isn't even on their radar? 

The privatization (i.e., destruction) of our Post Office history has been going on for a long time. It is merely one example of our acceptance of privatization for privatization sake. Privatization seems to be accepted as the optimal outcome, regardless of the outcome. Private prisons are another example. Despite blood-curdling abuses and monumental frauds, private prison companies continue to acquire taxpayer-backed contracts. If you want to truly appreciate how sheepishly we've accepted privatization of public services, regardless of the end product, consider this recent exchange between journalist Amy Goodman and attorney Marsha Levick of the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia:

Amy Goodman: "What happened to those prisons for kids in Pennsylvania, the ones that were involved with bribing the judges who are now in jail?" 

Marsha Levick: "They continue to operate."   

Considering this societal acceptance of privatization, regardless of the end product, and considering the corporate cash pouring into the wallets of our policy-makers, and considering the mesmerizing, distracting, and apathy-inducing powers of pop culture, those who try to preserve American history face a daunting challenge. So, let's hope the country wakes up--and heeds the warning--before every last shred of our national heritage is auctioned off and fenced off from public view.

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