Sunday, May 18, 2014

Endangered Species: Post Office Buildings & Artwork

(The United States Post Office building, in Berryville, Virginia, built in 1938-39. It is one of the many hundreds of Post Office buildings constructed during the New Deal era that still serve the public today. Photo by Brent McKee, 2014.)
New Deal policy-makers saw to it that hundreds of Post Office buildings were constructed across the nation during the 1930s and 40s. Among the aims of this massive construction activity were the modernization of the country, the creation of work, and the improvement of mail & delivery services to Americans. Many of these New Deal era post offices still serve the nation today--a tribute to their rock solid construction and decades of public utility.

Today, the U.S. Post Office is under attack by politicians, Corporate America, and the Free Market Utopians who believe that every aspect of society becomes better when privatized--despite startling evidence to the contrary (see, as just one example, "The Privatization Scam: 5 Horror Stories of Gov't Outsourcing to Greedy Private Companies: Taxpayers are Getting Fleeced"). 

These entities want to see the Post Office go the way of the Dodo Bird, so that private corporations can acquire a larger share of the mail & delivery business. This, of course, will drive prices up and drive quality down. In other words, it will be great for super-wealthy executives & investors--as well as the politicians who will be paid off with more campaign contributions--but horrible for the rest of the country (see an excellent op-ed on this issue at "How You'll Get Screwed If Conservatives Kill the U.S. Postal Service"). Of course, the phenomenon of super-wealthy Americans benefiting, as everyone else gets battered, is pretty much the story of America these past few decades, and especially these past few years. 

(A historic mural inside the Berryville Post Office building. Murals like this were put into many Post Office buildings during the New Deal era, as a way to highlight our shared heritage. Do you see artwork like this in newer Post Office buildings, or at UPS or FedEx service centers? Do you see artwork like this in many new buildings at all? If not, why not? Photo by Brent McKee, 2014, for educational, historical, and non-commercial purposes.)

Many activists have been trying to get the media more involved, and the public more aware/concerned, with the Post Office crisis/debacle. For example, read an interview with Dr. Gray Brechin, "Dismantling America's Post Offices," and an op-ed by the president of the National New Deal Preservation Association, Harvey Smith, "Post office sale is a surrender to corporate interests." 

These and other activists have had some success, but I fear that both the media and public are ultimately more concerned with the antics of Justin Bieber, and the clothing choices of Kim Kardashian, to spend too much time and energy worrying about the sale of our historic Post Office buildings--or the inevitable loss of the public-intended art that resides within them. After all, a large portion of the public is unconcerned, or completely unaware, that their quality of life is going down the tubes due to corporate greed, job outsourcing, political corruption, etc. Why would they concern themselves about some historic buildings and art, when they're not even concerned about their stagnant wages and pathetic job opportunities? "Hey," they might say, "Don't distract me with that nonsense about American heritage! I've got to see if Miley Cyrus wore another thong yesterday!"

Due to corporate greed, public apathy, pop culture distractions, and the campaign contributions from right-wing billionaires that are making our political "leaders" ignore the common good, our Post Office history and artwork have become endangered species. And it is likely that many of these buildings & art pieces will disappear, while the public slumbers and the corporations & politicians cash in.

(An information plaque inside the Berryville Post Office building. Photo by Brent McKee, 2014.)

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