It takes more than good intentions to transform the South. It takes money.
What the hell is a Scalawag?
Inspired to illustrate all that the U.S. Postal Service makes possible, the People4USPS is a collective of people across the country amplifying stories and sharing creative interventions in solidarity with postal workers organizing against privatization.
Scalawag editor Zaina Alsous sat down with Nicole Misha and Katie Moore, two collaborators on the project, to ask why solidarity with the USPS is site of so many possibilities. You can find their work at @people4usps on Instagram and Twitter. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Zaina Alsous: What first inspired you all to develop the People4USPS collective, and how did you first begin to collaborate?
Nicole Misha: I've been working in print media for a long time. I've worked at record labels, record stores, a press, and so much of my life and career has flown through the mail in some form or fashion. For the past couple of years I'd been hearing of attacks, and intentions to privatize the USPS and every so often I would try to do some research to see if there were efforts nationally or locally led by non postal service workers, just as people who know their lives depend on [the mail] who were called to action. As things began to heat up earlier this year, and in this same time period as I became more invested in using my hands since becoming more underemployed, I was always talking to Katie about it and the conversation evolved into maybe there isn't something happening yet but how there must be people searching like us for something to do.
Katie Moore: It was something Nicole and I would talk about, both of us not working during the pandemic, and Nicole kept bringing it up and I was like we should just do something. I definitely have been feeling more and more inspired by small scale projects and realizing the impact of just starting things with friends that can grow in small intentional ways. It was nice to have a project like that. We still don't know exactly where it's gonna go. We just continue to have ideas of where it could be.
NM: This is a time where so many of the existing structures are proving themselves to be violent or fallible, so its like, let's just come to a project with what we know, which is: we are involved in ongoing and failed experiments; let's not to claim to know what we are doing and really just open up a space for people to put their energy into something. It's been refreshing to say 'Let's just start with an open ended question,' and just guide it from there. How does the Postal Service—as a public institution that has the ability to meet people where they are at—make my life possible in small or large ways?
ZA: What relationships do you all have with the post office, and how did those personal relationships inform some of the art and organizing in solidarity with the Postal Service?
NM: I work a lot with my hands. Print media is something I feel like I've never let go of even though I have to own up to not utilizing the mail as much as I wish I had in the past. A lot of postcards from my friends are on my walls. And just thinking about how mail has been used historically, for example with the Fluxus Movement, an international art group in the '70s, there were these prominent Brown women figures like Mieko Shiomi in that movement using mail to unite people to follow the same actions together or follow directions about the same poem together all over the world.
I am an experimenter at heart, and I feel like we all are. Mail is this incredible access point for that. It's something you can do pensively alone, but also it's a way to send that message of introspection out into the world. Not just in relationship to my livelihood, but as a creative person who doesn't really like technology and appreciates the hand held technology a bit more, [mail] is an exciting place of experimentation. Having previously done some organizing with incarcerated people, it's impossible to not see how it is one of the only tools that brings them into the conversation. Just in terms of being a human being and how I relate to the world the mail just seems to hold all of that up.
"To me, the Postal Service is a model for what we want to create in other sectors of society: an opportunity for economic mobility for Black and brown workers, heavily unionized, and a public good well trusted by all of these various communities."
KM: I have friends all over and love sending and receiving care packages. The more I read and learned about the Postal Service, the more it became very clear that it's this thing that is propping up a lot of good and critical things. And once I began to see that I became very fearful of losing it. A critical question or task then becomes bringing all of those things to the forefront for other people to see: how it's important for incarcerated people, how it's important for small businesses, how it's important for veterans and rural communities, and just how it's been important for workers and the families of workers. We started pretty immediately getting all of these really lovely messages from people who were sharing beautiful stories, like about someone in their family who was a postal worker for 30 years and other moving personal anecdotes.
ZA: I've noticed in a few of the images that you all have shared of your collage work, and some of the postcards that you all have made have centered Black workers and Black struggles for self determination. Can you speak a little to the connections for people who may be less familiar with that history between Black labor and the USPS?
NM: The U.S. Postal Service workforce is around 21 percent Black, which translates to over 125,000 Black workers. The USPS is one of the first spaces I saw Black women in mass leadership, when I would go to the post office with my mom when we lived in Brooklyn. It's a space where Black women can hold public sector jobs. A big part of that is the 1970 wildcat strike that the postal service is kind of famous for. There was a huge presence of Black workers in Chicago and New York City who were striking for higher pay and better working conditions to get to the post office we have now. They were making much lower wages than sanitation and other public workers, and it took many years to reach maximum pay. That strike changed so much and Black workers had a prominent presence in that strike to get the postal service to what it is today. In addition to all of that, sociologist Tressie McMillan Cotton has written about how the USPS also supports the financial autonomy and independence of Black women who are starting their own small businesses.
"It really is just about connection, connection, connection."
KM: Once you start to look at it becomes really clear how essential the USPS has been for the economic mobility of Black people and people outside of the traditional workforce. One of the reasons we started People4USPS is that in the organizing and advocacy around the Postal Service that we were starting to see, the connection to Black workers wasn't centered in the conversation as often. To me, the Postal Service is a model for what we want to create in other sectors of society: an opportunity for economic mobility for Black and brown workers, heavily unionized, and a public good well trusted by all of these various communities. It so often feels like we are mostly fighting against what we don't want and especially now with these renewed conversations around abolition and dreaming for what we do want, it was nice to think about the USPS in those terms—the USPS is actually a model we want to have more of.
ZA: What do you hope People4USPS inspires those who support the Post Office to do? Why do you think everyone should support the US Post Office, especially the workers against ongoing political attacks and threats of privatization?
NM: I hope it inspires people to be activated. We did our postcard campaign to start, which was just our first experiment based around the legislative fight and the Heroes Act. So when people ask us how they can get involved, for us, we are just activating what is ours. We want people to show us the way. What I hope obviously is that the Post Office is saved and moves toward an even more transformative future, imagining postal banking, and getting it even closer to an ideal institution.
The way there I think is through what Octavia Butler calls 'a positive obsession.' You gotta get people obsessed with something, and I think the Post Office is the perfect thing, because right now we are in a deep conversation generationally about connection and how we feel togetherness. So I think that invites a way in for us to think 'What if there are amazing ways to connect that we haven't been protecting?' That's what I hope it inspires. Everyone should love the post office for many reasons—because who wants to pay $15 for a button shipped to them from FedEx, like who is fighting for that to be the future? It really is just about connection, connection, connection. The voting question is obviously extremely important but we are also just fighting for our ability to be together, to have access to the medicine we need, it is a matter of life giving. So it really is about tapping into yes, we deserve access to resources and to each other.
KM: For the People4USPS project, certainly we want people to continue to keep an eye on legislative actions, to keep calling their Senators and bugging them about this and telling them why it's important, but I think beyond that what I'm really hoping for the next phase of this and other areas of connection is just that people improvise and think of their own small scale projects. I think this issue in particular can be very self sustaining because at the core is you should mail things to people that you love. I've definitely had times where I have felt really rushed and busy and I don't want to make this collage for this thing, and by the end of that action my whole feeling has shifted into something joyful. We're hoping people will make and send more beautiful mail because in this time even that small act is activism for the Postal Service. Because it's an issue that connects to so many people and so many other issues we are hoping to expand to more collaboration connected with the same ethos: making beautiful things and cultivating care through the mail.
Nicole Misha is from and currently based in Brooklyn. Her mission is to hold love and care at the center of all life experiments. She makes music, mixes, collages, postcards, album art, fliers, parties, essays, and whatever else she feels compelled to grow in this world.
Katie Moore has lived across the US, but recently returned to her hometown of Durham, North Carolina. Outside of People4USPS she works mostly on environmental justice, air quality and public health projects.