Activists protest sale of Berkeley’s first post office

Nathaniel Solley/Staff

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Where Milvia Street crosses Allston Way, several bold signs and worn REI tents indicate a group of protesters who have been camping out in front of Berkeley’s first post office since Saturday night to save the institution from being sold.

A blue Prius pulls up to the curb, and out springs a young boy who puts $5 in the donation box for the campers’ supplies and runs back to the car as his mother yells out the window, “We’re gonna win!”

A movement to save the Berkeley Post Office from sale has been under way for a year since July 26, 2012, the 237th anniversary of the Continental Congress’ foundation of the U.S. Post Office. In response to the postal service’s final decision on July 25 to sell the building, members of the  movement known as the Berkeley Post Office Defense are attempting a last effort to save the post office.

Activists think they have a good shot at accomplishing their goal due to community support.

“We are representing the American public,” said David Welsh, who has been a Berkeley resident for 15 years. “People come together here with such camaraderie. People who don’t have much come to us and donate what money they have to help with our food, water and fliers. Everyone cares.”

Welsh is also a retired letter carrier and was once an officer with the letter-carriers’ union. Now a musician, Welsh frequents the post office about once a week to mail CDs, packages and letters. He said that the city, county and state are all allied with the cause and share what a poster says is their “In-tents commitment to our public post office.”

Welsh regularly switches off with Mike Wilson — both are members of Strike Debt, a debt resisters’ movement that has formed a coalition with Save the People’s Post Office, a nationwide grassroots movement that aims to save post offices across the country and defend postal unions.

Wilson said that every morning someone, from the stakeout who has some money to spare goes to Peet’s Coffee & Tea and gets a box of coffee for the group.

“There’s always different food every day,” said UC Berkeley alumnus Jonathan Dignes. “Food magically arrives at different times. Various people donate.”

Dignes shows off rice made by a protester the day before, an abundance of vegetables Wilson brought from work and a mixture of carrots, beans and jalapenos. After eating, the activists clean up around the food area to prevent attracting any rats.

“I see a culture being formed meeting by meeting — a different society,” Dignes said. “There are tense times, then more laid-back times.”

Dignes, who was friends with a deceased ex-postman whose name is now on a plaque in the office, lived in Berkeley for 11 years but has been without a place to stay for the past three months.

Unlike the people lining the steps of the Greco-Roman anterior of the post office, some campers around the corner do not have as much of a post-office-oriented campaign.

Jude Hunt, otherwise known as “Mama Jude” of Occupy LA, said that she is part of the security team.

“I try to keep drug dealers out of here, people who aren’t here for the actual movement, people that are going to make it look bad,” Hunt said. “We don’t need any disruptions.”

Usually on Shattuck Avenue, Hunt now tents next to the rest of her security team, which includes Mama Jugs, two pit bulls and others. They say they are protesting for causes beyond saving the post office.

“They invited us to be a part of this so we can express our desire to free information on other subjects, such as GMOs and dumbing-down agents, but we’re all united for the same cause,” Hunt said.

Former Berkeley High School teacher Kahlil Jacobs-Fantauzzi said that the post office is something he always remembers going to.

“I have a personal connection to it,” Jacobs-Fantauzzi said. “I love the artwork and the architecture, but I think that it represents something larger to the citizens of this city.”

Wilson said that the New Deal artwork in the post office was given to the people of the United States in trust. The New Deal statue on the anterior of the building features a postman delivering a package to “all mankind.”

“We’re going to stay here as long as it takes,” Wilson said. “If we get pushed out, we’ll come back.”

In the evenings, the 20 or so campers can be seen watching postal-themed movies on a projector set up on the stone steps of the postal office.

“It’s a welcoming space,” Welsh said.

Contact Sasha Costello at [email protected].