By DJ Prakash
The national reckoning with a potential systematic undermining of the United States Postal Service (USPS) reverberated locally when, in early August, a USPS collection box on the corner of Eagle Rock Boulevard and Merton Avenue disappeared. A public outcry ensued and, Sept. 9, the missing box was replaced with a new one.
The Eagle Rock branch of the USPS did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the collection box removal and replacement.
Upon noticing the removal, Hans Johnson, president of the East Area Progressive Democrats, alerted the Boulevard Sentinel. Circulating around the Eagle Rock Facebook community, the Sentinel’s Facebook post quickly became a digital venue for the neighborhood’s postal opinions.
Some commenters were determined the removal evidenced a deliberate degradation of the postal service in advance of an election that will rely on mail-in voting. Some assumed routine maintenance, free of political motivations. Still others said that drawing attention to the missing mailbox was an effort to fan anti-Trump sentiment.
Regardless, the collection box’s removal affected a swath of the Eagle Rock community, according to Johnson, making its absence disruptive.
“People would time their walks to the 4:30 p.m. afternoon pickup,” Johnson said. He added that the mailbox was frequented by many, including immigrants, students, homeless individuals and small business owners.
For Teresa Hendrickson, editor of the Sentinel, the removal and replacement of the mailbox is newsworthy whether politically motivated or not.
“The issues around the post office are a far bigger story than just whatever is going on in NELA,” Hendrickson said. “We are really close to an election where the President of the United States has cast doubt on the ability of the post office to perform its function vis-à-vis the election.” For that reason, any change at this time to postal operations, especially unexplained, should be looked at, she said.
Around 25 people rallied at the Eagle Rock Post Office Sept. 5, braving 104-degree heat to protest national delivery slowdowns and show solidarity with postal workers, organized by EAPD.
Myanna Dellinger, an Eagle Rock resident and candidate for judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court in November, said her personal worries about USPS disruptions have twice prompted her to join protests in support of the post office.
“I worry about losing democracy to a dictator-like situation,” Dellinger said via email. “The first things dictators try to do is always to quash or quiet the media and prevent regular people from talking and communicating. That seems to be happening.”
A local political club and a local newspaper were involved in bringing the local mailbox removal to Eagle Rock residents’ attention. Institutions within the community can serve as eyes and ears to help to maintain accountability, according to Hendrickson.
The importance of local civic participation is a sentiment shared by Dellinger.
“I think being involved in local issues and thus also voting for ‘down ballot’ candidates and issues is both hugely important and very easy,” Dellinger said via email. “A lot of focus is on the presidential race only or mainly, but meanwhile, lots and lots of other issues are also playing themselves out under the radar, unfortunately!”
While this particular mailbox was restored just steps from its original location, concerns about postal operations continue to make news, speaking to the importance of the post office and Americans’ desire for reliable postal services.
DJ Prakash is an editor at The Occidental, the campus newspaper of Occidental College, which is running this article in Issue 1 of the Fall 2020 semester.