I was exhausted from the six-hour drive home through the rain from Pennsylvania. I unloaded the car, stowed the gear, sorted through the mail and grabbed something to eat. The town meeting convened at 7:00 PM.
It was a short walk down to the local church. The parking lot was full. People filtered into the building, pausing at the small desk to sign the petition before ascending the stairs to the main parish hall.
Folding chairs had been set up in rows. Many folks ended up standing in the back and along the sides. Up at the front representatives from the postal service prepared their presentation. The community TV station camera panned the audience.
The meeting opened with remarks by the first selectman and the USPS district manager. The public relations spokeswoman presented a generic slide show, highlighting the financial plight of the postal service. Revenues had dropped by $30,000 at our local post office over the past two years. They were looking at profitability factors. No, they hadn’t made a decision to close the post office. That was the reason for the meeting. They wanted input from local residents. Everyone would be given a chance to speak.
A postal workers union representative voiced his dismay at the way the situation had been handled. Documents delineating proposed closings were circulated late; meeting times and places were unclear. In place of communication, Chaos reigned.
The union rep was clear. Be vigilant, take notes, draft documents, contact the powers that be. Keep the pressure on. Don’t allow them to get away with their underhanded approach.
One by one members of the audience rose to speak. Some voiced hardship in having to drive seven miles for mail, when before they could walk to the post office at the center of the village. Some wanted to know if the postal service was considering alternative locations in town. Others questioned the validity of the figures provided.
One erudite villager decried the modern postal service model. “You don’t seem to understand that the future of the USPS depends upon one thing—service. No one wants to drive miles to wait in line to be treated poorly by annoyed clerks who consider you a nuisance. At the village post office, one person serviced the needs of over 500 families, and she did it efficiently with a smile. That’s the sort of model you should be striving for—not the impersonal attitude of the DMV.”
Another fellow who had moved to the village from Brooklyn spoke. “In my old neighborhood, the postman knew everybody’s name. He knew the names of the kids on the block. He handed you your mail with a smile. That’s the sort of service I’ve come to know in this village.”
The spokeswoman responded to each comment in kind: “Thank you for voicing your opinion, thank you.”
Finally a man raised his hand to be recognized. “After you vacated the former location when the landlord told you the structure was unsound because of the snow on the roof, when were you advised that it was safe to return to the building?”
A hush fell over the crowd. The district manager stretched his neck from the tight collar of his shirt. “Two days,” he said.
The uproar was deafening.
“Two days! Two days? You mean you could’ve reoccupied the building in two days, and instead you made the decision to gut the office and move operations to another town? And you stand there telling us that you haven’t made a decision to close our local post office!”
More folks stood to speak. Several comments came on the heels of questions and observations from the audience before the postal representative could answer. I envisioned a meeting of the Sons of Liberty. Wasn’t New England the birthplace of the revolution?
In the end everyone had a chance to voice his opinion. As the meeting concluded, one woman summed up the general sentiment. “We might be a tiny town of two thousand people, but we’re diverse. We organized, we’re intelligent and we’re not going to let this rest. You haven’t heard the last from us.”
A thunderous round of applause erupted. Later, private discussions ensued, both inside the parish hall and outside in the parking lot.
An old-fashioned town meeting, New England style.
Who said all politics are local? I want to shake that person’s hand.