Ralph Nader’s Speech at the Berkeley Post Office.


I want to ask you, at the next rally, how many of you can get one additional person? How many can get two? You get the idea? It’s got to be a momentum, growing and growing. Those of us back East, we look to Berkeley for leadership [applause].

So you saved this wonderful, majestic building, that’s got historic significance. The inheritance of Benjamin Franklin, who didn’t exactly think that after a couple centuries and a half the PO would mutate into Staples, or other big box stores where they want to have kiosks, and get rid of the local PO. There are 32,000 branches and central offices, more than Walmart and MacDonalds and a couple of other big chains combined. You’ve got 32,000 outlets, community outlets, non-profit outlets, gathering places, places where federal information about your needs and your rights can be posted, where people can talk things up, and meet, as well as get postal services. So this is not just a matter of stamps, or delivery on Saturday, important as that is. This is a fundamental institution that binds the country together. It can be updated, it can be freed from the shackles of UPS and FedEx and others who have made sure that the PO is prevented from delivering beer and wine, for example, and other things it can’t do to get revenue increases.

Now watch what happens when the myth, the propaganda of the collapsing PO, is exposed. The USPS is a public corporation. It’s the only major corporation in the US that is a creditor of Uncle Sam; a creditor of the US Treasury. Since it was established in 1970, it hasn’t received a penny in subsidy from the taxpayers. Very few people know that. In 2006, a Trojan Horse bill was passed through Congress that requires the PO to overpay – vastly overpay – for its pension benefits for which it has a $60 Billion outstanding credit to it from Uncle Sam, or the US Treasury. That’s where being a creditor. Of course, the US Treasury has already spent the money on wars, like supporting Israeli imperialism, or the military-industrial complex, and the F35, and the Trident submarines, which can blow up 200 cities per submarine, around the world in 45 minutes. They don’t have any money for the USPS, but they don’t need that money. They just need to repay the overpay on retiree benefits, and the huge overpay for health insurance. There’s no corporation in the country that is required by law to prepay 75 years in advance of health benefits. So, if you eliminate these prepays and get down to normal, crude accounting, the PO about breaks even. Can you imagine, even with the Recession, even with the internet, even with all the young people abandoning the PO, imagine if they would ever send a thank-you letter, by postage – they don’t even know what postage is – even with all that, according to the data, and Senator Bernie Sanders has put this out – go to his website – it’s about breaking even in the last 5-6 years, just about breaking even. So this is an exaggerated crisis, built in with Trojan Horses, in order to fulfill a number of purposes.

One is to deliver more business to the parasite private corporations. The second is to deliver real estate to the developers, and their brokers. This is not just a historic PO; this is a piece of valuable real estate. All over the country they want to convert, if they don’t knock them down, they’ll convert them into other commercial operations.

So, I write in October, yes, October of last year, I wrote Senator Dianne Feinstein a letter. She’s the spouse of Richard Blum [loud boos]. I take it you know Richard Blum. Look at the sweetheart deal he cut, his firm is called CBRE, CB Richard Ellis Group. He’s the Chair. So he gets a contract – this is where people were asleep – and the unions were asleep – he signed a contract to sell off postal properties, all over the country without competitive bidding. He can actually deliver some of these to his business associates – talk about conflict of interest – and he now has amended the contract, so he can do his own appraisal. How about this: you appraise the property so that you can sell it for less than real market value, even though the contract says you have to sell it for real market value. He says, Well, we appraised it, you know, things are tough, it didn’t come in, and then he sells it to his buddies. The Inspector General of the USPS wrote a withering report, condemning this. So you can go to the PO website and you can get it. Also Peter Byrne – he’s not here now, but he’s with the East Bay Express, and he exposed all this. So you see, you have more than nostalgic reason to preserve this. You have more than an historic reason to preserve this. You have more than a functional reason to preserve this. Companies go up and down, right. Sometimes they go bankrupt, and they’re rescued by the taxpayer, and they come back, like General Motors and Chrysler. But of course that’s never permitted for an awesome, historic institution, like the USPS. They don’t get bailed out.

And what you need to do is also to oppose this for corporate crime purposes. Because what’s going on here is a sweetheart deal, it’s a lot of shady stuff. So you want to preserve this PO, you expose Richard Blum. Richard Blum throws his weight around. He’s reshaping the university of California in commercial images and corporatized images. But he’s also on the Board of Regents. He’s no longer the Chair, but he’s on the Board of Regents. The next time the Board of Regents meet, what you ought to do is go there. Make this the issue. And you’re not lacking for any slogans.

So here’s the strategies I suggested – you’ve got your own –you’ve got to show it’s building momentum. That’s what they’re afraid of – something’s building. Cause they know how to wait people out. Aw, they showed up, just ignore them, and they’ll get tired and they’ll wait out. Now in the process, you’re educating your children, and your into why this postal service nationwide is so important. When the chips are down, if something’s definitely needed for delivery, and it cannot be delivered over the internet, and corporations say it’s not profitable enough, what’s left? In 32,000 areas around the country, it’s the USPS.

I remember when I was a kid, it was only a few years earlier, they delivered eggs! Literally, overnight, they delivered eggs, overnight. Farmer Jones in the morning, and you got it in the afternoon.

Now there’s another drive here that’s important. That is, in getting more revenue for the PO, and breaking the shackles that prevent it from doing this, this, this, even internet things – they’re restricted – the Board of Directors of the USPS has been dominated since 1970 by corporatists. So you have the Postmaster General, he takes his orders from a corporate board of directors. So you have the Presidents, Democrat, Republican, routinely appointing a majority of people who come from corporations or corporate consulting firms.

There are 32 million people in this country who are unbanked. Not only 32 million workers who make less today than in 1968, adjusted for inflation. Imagine – 46 years ago. How much can people take in this country? Answer: a lot. How much should they take? Nothing! So you have 32 million unbanked people. Why? Because it costs money to have a bank account. You know, Bank of America charges, Citigroup. They all charge you, and they want to charge you, like a credit card company, if you don’t have enough in the bank at the end of the month. So, you have 32 million. Up until 1968 there was the US postal savings, part of the PO, they had a bank. You went, you put your savings in, you got a little interest, you could borrow money. That was terminated by the banking lobby, 1968. Now we are seeing a growing movement to bring it back. You don’t want 32 million customers? OK. Too bad. We’re not going to let them be unbanked, or unable to remit money back to their native countries, feed their families without getting 10% gauged, and so forth.

So there is a growing effort now – in fact the Inspector General of the Postal Regulatory Commission has come out saying, This is a pretty good idea. It could happen. The need is enormous. Over 30 million people. And it has historical antecedents. Senator Elizabeth Warren [applause] – before you say Yay, her latest vote was to support $230 million dollars to pay for  Israel’s marauding of the Gaza people. We have to pay now for it. OK. So, anyway, not to change the subject, but, there is a problem with Elizabeth Warren on foreign and military policy, generally. She’s terrific domestic, terrific, and she is a big champion on the postal savings, and she knows what she’s talking about. So, connect with her. She’s looking for people. She has a staff that answers inquiries, and tells you what’s been written, and what’s going on.

But when you have the Inspector General himself, inside the postal complex, saying this is a pretty good idea, that’s a pretty good start. Also Bernie Sanders is for it, Sherrod Brown is for it, there are probably 10, 15, I would even think that Senator Boxer would be for it.

Now when I wrote Senator Feinstein, she said, Look, I’m just married to the guy [laughter]. I’m not, I can’t control what he’s doing. I said May I ask, you know, this is through the media. She never calls back, even though she introduced me years ago when she was a consumer advocate in San Francisco. That was another era. But in between, a reporter, who’s going back and forth, said, Ask her if she files a joint return. Well maybe she doesn’t. Maybe they file separate returns, so the profits of the real estate business don’t accrue to her. But the real answer is, she votes for appropriations, she votes for oversight, and if she doesn’t challenge this contract, and if she doesn’t go on the floor and challenge this contract, or in committee, never mind spouse or no spouse. She is now fulfilling her senatorial duties. I want to make that very very clear to her.

You can get this letter, she thinks this letter is now over. It’s had whatever impact, and it’s over. The thing with politicians is you’ve got to persuade them that it ain’t over till it’s over, as Yogi Berra used to say. So get this copy, you can get it by going to my nader.org and search for the Senator Feinstein letter. It’ll come out, download it, and then send it to her. Keep sending it to her. And not just Washington. It’s much more effective to send it to her offices here – yes, by mail! – there’s not going to be a stamp of Richard Blum after he wrecks all these beautiful post offices.

Now there’s a beautiful PO in Greenwich, CT, and all these rich people in Greenwich said Oh me, oh my, they didn’t even lift a finger to save it, and it’s gone now. Same thing down in North County. They seem to be starting with the historic POs. They think they can get the best price for it.

So how many of you are going to download the letter and send it to Feinstein? [cheer] Some of you said No. What’s wrong? Let me see it again. How many? You want to win? How many of you want to win? Now, how many of you are going to extend to your children, your grandchildren, nieces, nephews, whatever, the significance of this and the significance of the PO? How many? Bring some of them down. Show them how to write a thank you letter. They’re 7, 8 years old. Show them how to write. I suggested to the PO they could probably get a billion dollars in revenue by starting a tradition of parents bringing down their children to 32,000 POs and teach them how to write thank you letters, thank you notes. It’s not that hard.

            The thing you want to do, on all issues for justice, is tell people it’s easier than we think. Historically, every major social justice movement started and ended with less than 1% of the people being really active. And I don’t mean 50 hours a week. “Really active” means up to 200, 300 hours a year. That’s all. Women’s suffrage, abolition of slavery (apart from the Civil War), the farmer populist revolt out of Texas in 1887, the labor movement  – all started and ended with victory with less than 1% of the people. You heard Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Oakland, they’re talking about 1%, the 1%. They left out the other 1%, the 1% that could bring the other 1% to heel [applause]. That’s 3 million people in Congressional districts all over the country. Piece of cake! How many times do we have to say it? How many times do we have to give you examples? It’s a piece of cake. Stop exaggerating the opposition. They’re bullies, and like any bullies, you know what brings them down. Citizen courage! Showing up!

            I have a bill that I take around, we’ll see if it’s still here [searches pocket]. [Norma shouts, The problem’s profit!] We know the problem’s profit – get over it. How many times do you have to go derivatively redundant? You’ve got to take the next step. Here it is: this is my favorite bill. Two dollar bill. You know what’s on the back of the $2 bill? Remember the King George III tyranny? These are the people who gathered to sign the Declaration of Independence, 1776, July 4. And they thought they were signing their death warrant. They’re up against the most powerful military force in the world at that time. Yeah, a lot of them were rich, and they’re all white, and they’re males, but even rich, white, males can demonstrate courage, right? So we put this up on windows everywhere we go because the message is two-fold: Aren’t you glad these people showed up? And the second one is, Are you going to show up?

            Showing up is half of democracy. That gets you to second base. And that’s what you did today. Now, if you didn’t show up, we’re talking just to a couple of people, Peter here, he’s always around, and Christine, it wouldn’t mean as much. See, they’re counting heads. And they count increasing heads. When we passed legislation in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s in Congress – the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Environmental Protection Act, Air and Water Pollution Acts – the basic Acts – you know who was President? It was Richard Nixon. Nixon hated all this. Nixon was also the last Republican President who was afraid of liberals. And he had his finger to the wind. And he was hearing the rumble from the people, coming out of the ‘60s. How much was that rumble of the people? A tiny percentage of the population showed up. But they knew, the politicians and the corporatists knew, that they represented a much bigger public opinion. Or as Abraham Lincoln put it, with the public sentiment, you can achieve anything. He had his finger to the wind, so he couldn’t stop signing our bills, with flourishing rhetoric, how important it is to breathe fresh air, and drink clean water! It was hilarious! He just kept signing. Then the counterattack came. Whenever you win something, you have to ask yourself, What’s the backlash going to be? You’ve got to be ready for it. If you’re not going to be ready for it, you know the corporatists have huge stamina. They’re using your money, they’re using the propaganda that makes so many people think that myths are truths, there’s always going to be a backlash. But in saving the PO, you’ve got a very powerful historic backing. You’ve got huge public opinion behind you. Even though they believe it’s tax-supported, once you tell them it’s not tax-supported, it’s even more forceful.

            So get the $2 bill. The banks don’t have it, so you have to order it. Order the $2 bill. They’re often brand new. They’re really crisp! And just say to people, You gotta show up. You gotta show up at rallies. You gotta show up at marches. You gotta show up in the courtroom. You gotta show up to vote. You gotta show up to support third parties, independent candidates. You gotta show.

I ask college students, How many of you have ever been to a mall? Every hand. How many have ever been to MacDonalds? Every hand. How many of you have ever been to Starbucks? Almost every hand. How many of you have ever been to Walmart? Every hand. Once in a while one person doesn’t raise his hand. It turns out he’s from Finland. By the way, I have never been in a Walmart, MacDonalds, or Starbucks [applause].

            So then I switch. Well, how many of you have ever gone down to a City Council meeting? Very, very few. How many of you have ever visited a prison as a spectator? Nobody raises his hand. How many of you have been in a court of law, any court, how many? And I have to add, as a spectator, not as a defendant? Very few. That’s where they’re coming from. They’re in the commercial arena, because they want to buy stuff. But in the public arena that shapes the level, or non-level, of justice in the country, they’re not there. You’ve got to take them there. My parents took us to the county court house, they took us to the town meeting. Kids are very impressionable at that age.

            Let’s just end, back to this. I don’t know all your strategies, because I’m an Easterner, what do I know, but I know you’ve got ideas in reserve. Two suggestions: any lobbying you do, make sure it’s in persona, like if you have a big rally in some square in CA, in San Francisco, and it is not in persona to the decision-makers. You don’t have signs naming the politicians or the corporations, or you don’t go and get close to them with your flip camera and all that. A lot of the energy goes into the ether from the rally, it dissipates, not much happens, people get discouraged, and more and more people drop out, they burn out. You want to do in personas. So you want to go to Senator Feinstein’s local office, San Francisco, go down there and show yourself to the staff. The staff doesn’t have all that much to do, other than process grants, whatever. So when they see you, it’s news, and they send it back to Washington. And the staff in Washington says to the Senator, there’s this and that, and it’s a way to get through. That’s one, in persona lobbying. Who are the most successful lobbying organizations in the country? The NRA. AIPAC. The auto dealers. Why? It’s in persona. They know their names. They wine them, they dine them, they know their weaknesses, they know who their doctors are, their psychiatrists, what schools their children go to. It’s just short of DNA samples. So in persona lobbying. You’ve got to do that. In persona lobbying one item is worth twenty of ether. Not that you don’t do the rallies; that’s important for other reasons; for elan, for motivation, for media.

            There’s something you’ve got to do, whether you’re sympathetic to the Palestinians or Israelis, nobody’s winning here. Israelis are immolating themselves, in terms of their historic heritage, the Hebrew prophets, Martin Buber, the great peace-makers, they’re doing it to themselves. And that’s what happens. Empires of all sizes, eventually devour themselves. They devour their spirit, their tradition. Remember half of the people in Israel want a two-state solution, and when there’s no hostilities for a while, it even goes higher. Three, there are all kinds of former mayors, attorney generals in Israel, former members of the Mossad, leaders of the Mossad, leaders of Shin Bet, who are opposed to the Netanyahu coalition, and who are part of this movie, the Gatekeepers, which some of you may have seen. But whenever hostilities start, as we know from the criminal invasion of Iraq, it’s shut up and get in line. So now they have rallies against the leftists and Palestinians, and so forth. Whatever your views are, it’s very important to demonstrate not in your name. Are you going to allow American weapons funded by American tax dollars to butcher what a columnist in Haaretz said, Gideon Levy, a completely defenseless people? Gaza is twice the size of the District of Columbia. It’s like a turkey shoot. Houses, hospitals, UN installations, schools, drinking water, power plants. All of them have terrorists behind them, huh? There’s a terrorist behind every rock, apparently. So, what’s going on here, August 2, 5:00 a.m., down at the Port of Oakland, till noon, is a rally called Block the Boat, prevent Israeli products from entering the Port of Oakland.

            So, you know you have to start where they’re going to hear you. You hit them in the breadbasket, or you hit them in the pocketbook. That’s what the insurance companies like to talk about. You can’t get through to your senators, your representatives, nevertheless, that’s what you have to do. You want to explain to try to get a foothold against people who love what you’re doing, and share everything but one issue. There’s always one issue that people have a  [kill a seal on?] This issue of violence. Show me one example where any state instrument has generated massive violence against innocent people where they don’t justify it. It’s always self-defense. It’s always, They attacked first. It’s always justifiable. That is why the only policy between human beings that has any integrity is nonviolence, sustained nonviolence [applause].

            Anyway back to the PO. Exchange some of your ideas, you’ve got a lot of ideas, some of them are quirky, but they work. Like wouldn’t you like Jerry Brown to come out to save the PO? Wouldn’t you like someone in the legislature? The more who speak. You’ve got your City Council. They want to preserve it, right? Barbara Lee, she wants to preserve it. So everybody does his/her part in that manner. And I want to urge you to file a lot of Freedom of Information requests and go to the USPS. The worst thing that happens, you go to the Postal Service, and you go to the top brass, and they say, We don’t hear from anybody back home. You go to the members of Congress, Oh we haven’t heard, just a few letters, and they’re from the postal unions.

            The other thing is that the postal unions can do more. They’re very beleaguered, but they can do more, and they can help you more with turnout. And Dimonstein, who’s the new leader of the Letter Carriers, he’s terrific. He’s the new head, I met with him, a few months ago. There isn’t anything progressive that you can say that he doesn’t support. So call and say, Help us out. How do you help us out? Give us some ideas. [audience: Boycott Staples]. Yes, he’s leading the boycott of Staples, which is where they want to transfer some of the stamp and other services of the postal system.

            I grew up, and the postal service was very important to our small town in CT. We had a lot of post boxes, every street, and when there was a little crisis, often the postmen – they were all men then – they’d run to the rescue. Someone is in distress, an elderly person in the home, they’d run to the rescue. They animated the sidewalks of the community. We take this virtual reality to an extreme here. We have to have reality. There are a lot of intangibles to the postal service. Don’t let them just give you figures, although we can overwhelm them with our factual renditions. No problem. But they never want to talk about the intangibles with the community. Someone walking up the steps, and some lonely elderly people, or others in the home. Hi, Joe, how are things? What’s the latest? Ah, the Red Sox won again. Or You know, there’s a town meeting next week. Are you going to go? What’s the price of that?

           And just think. We’re spending $650 million this year to guard the US Embassy in Baghdad and its personnel. One embassy. Contractors. The entire OSHA budget, to deal with 60,000 workplace-related deaths a year, and injuries, in the US, $550 million. The insane inversion of budgetary priorities reflects the endless cruelty of an out-of-control plutocracy, and oligarchy. That we can spend trillions of dollars blowing up Afghanistan and Iraq, and end up for the money, with a metastasized Al Qaeda, and the offshoots in all kinds of countries, and more hatred by ordinary civilians who’ve lost their loved ones in drone strikes and bombs and blowing up drinking water and electric systems. And not have it come home and repair our public transit? Update our drinking and water systems, and education and schools and clinics and libraries? And the PO? This is a minor item in the Pentagon budget! Anybody here that wants to come with a theory that preserving our PO is essential to our national defense and security – you’ve won, OK? That’s where the money goes.

            So let’s get organized more than you already are. You’re more organized than any other group I’ve read about in the country to save the PO [applause], but don’t let it go to your head. It’s not enough. You know how to multiply. Let me end where I began. Next rally, how many people are going to bring one or two more people, each? There you are. And then it builds. And by the way, the people you bring are people with their ideas, and with their consciousness. Bring some business people. Bring more people from the other unions, and the postal unions. It’s called solidarity. Bring it.

            This building shall never be denied the people of Berkeley. This building represents the binding together of the American people for over 250 years. This building shall never be denied the spirit and foresight of Benjamin Franklin. My last meeting with the Postmaster General Donahoe, I said, Do you really want to go down in history as the anti-Benjamin Franklin. His policy for the PO is very simple. Cut services and raise rates. In business, that’s a prescription for disaster, is it not? Do you know why they keep postponing ending Saturday service? Which means why would you put something in the mail Thursday or Friday, you know why? Because of protests like yours around the country.

            We can focus what you’re doing in a close way in Washington, where it counts, but you are our strength, understand that. Without you, we cannot focus. It’s like a magnifying glass. The sun’s rays come on the sidewalk, they’re not very hot, but the magnifying glass can focus it. But the magnifying glass on the politicians in Washington and the corporatists, cannot focus if you don’t give us the sun’s rays. You are the sun’s rays.

            Thank you very much.

                                                                                                        transcribed by Susan Harman

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