Thursday, January 5, 2012

New York Times again turns attention to Post Office closures

Campbell Robertson reports in today's paper on the grassroots efforts of communities in rural north Arkansas to save their post offices. While I've been writing about such efforts in the context of northwest Arkansas (in particular, Newton County, see posts here, here and here), Robertson's focus is a bit farther east, mostly in Stone County, population 12,394. The story also includes mention and photos of the post offices in Witts Springs (Searcy County) and Tilly (Pope County), which I mentioned in this post a few weeks ago.

The story refers to the same sorts of practical arguments I've recited in my coverage of the issue (e.g., delivering medicines to the elderly, lack of broadband), but Robertson's headline, "A Fight for Post Offices and Towns' Souls," highlights what I see as the most interesting part of the story. It is the nostalgia angle--the place-as-identity angle--which is reflected in this quote:
The deeper anxiety [among rural residents fighting to keep their post offices] is an existential one. Prim, Tilly, Ida, Fox--all of these communities were named into existence decades ago, and in some cases more than a century ago, by a postmaster. While the postal authorities insist that there will be alternatives to stand-alone offices--for example, an outdoor bank of boxes--residents fear that place that began with post office buildings could simply cease to exist with their departure.
Of course, this is a point I have made in my earlier posts, too, but it's a little different when the New York Times gives it a platform. I also appreciate this quote from Stanley Morrison, identified as a 59-year-old rural Stone County logger and justice of the peace:
There are those who have been downtrodden so long, they can't get back up. And there are others who've been downtrodden so long they decide to fight back.
Another rural resident, this one in Tilly, commented, "I don't remember an issue where we had to pull together like this." Rural Arkansas communities are indeed organizing to fight the closures, but the effectiveness of their efforts remains to be seen.

Robertson notes that the junior U.S. Senator from Arkansas, Republican John Boozman is departing from his small government philosophy to propose "legislation that would ban the closing of any post office if the nearest one is more than 10 miles away."
There are times it's not as profitable, but it's important to provide that service.
Robertson's focus on Arkansas is apparently based on the fact that the state stands to lose one third of its post offices under the current round of proposed closures.

Don't miss the slide show accompanying Robertson's story. It features photos of many rural post offices in the area, and a few of their post masters, too. An earlier post about the New York Times coverage of the proposed post office closures is here.

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