Introducing The Mail, a Newsletter and Zine About the USPS

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For years, Motherboard has cared deeply about election security. We were the first to talk to Guccifer 2.0 (and the first to suggest he wasn't actually a lone Romanian hacker) after the Democratic National Committee hack in 2016. We've written countless stories about the insecurity of voting machines, which have been regularly left online when they weren't supposed to. Now, in a nation racked with a pandemic, much of the 2020 election will be conducted using an old but historically reliable technology: Physical mail. 

A lot of people have been talking about the United States Postal Service lately, including us. It is a key link in a safe and fair election this November. It delivers bills, medication, packages, and other vital mail during a time when we need affordable, reliable delivery more than ever. It is also in a financial crisis, has a new boss who is changing all the rules, and its future is in jeopardy. The United States Postal Service is both critical infrastructure for a functioning democracy and society, and a potential election attack vector.

That's why Motherboard is launching The Mail, a weekly pop-up newsletter about the United States Postal Service, written by me, Aaron Gordon, senior staff writer at Motherboard, that will run from now until the end of November on Substack. Every week through the election, I will bring you a new story about the USPS that will give you the context you need to understand the news deluge about this agency.

The main newsletter itself will be free, but we're going to have a paid tier as well ($8 per month). Since we're writing about, well, the mail, we're going to be making three printed zines (one a month) that we'll mail out to paying subscribers. The zines will be put together by the entire Motherboard staff, and will focus on digital security, hacking, internet ephemera, labor, and will generally be intended to inform and delight. Paid subscribers will also get access to extra digital updates and posts while we're running the newsletter. 

There's so much more to the USPS than what makes the news. Trump may be heating up the rhetoric, but the USPS has been undermined, hobbled, and maligned by elected officials of both parties for decades. The version we have today is a Frankenstein of corporatization with Congressional oversight created after a momentous yet overlooked 1970 labor victory that has, ironically, resulted in the post office being in many ways a worse place to work than it used to be. And a poisonous 2006 law saddled the USPS with debt from which it hasn't recovered. A bipartisan austerity push in the wake of the Great Recession has further eroded many of the labor victories from previous generations. 

This is not just the post office's story, but America's story. For decades, there has been a broad bipartisan trend to increasingly privatize schools, libraries, transportation, prisons, the armed forces, and health care. What has happened to the post office over the last decade is, in the words of historian Philip Rubio, "part of a general attack on public institutions." Writing in 2019, Rubio presciently warned, "the USPS as a threatened institution is the canary in the coal mine for American labor and government services." 

Mail delivery has already succumbed to privatization in some obvious and other hidden ways. If we're not vigilant, even larger domains of this critical public good could become a for-profit enterprise.

So there has never been a better time for Americans not only to defend and unite around the post office, but to decide what kind of post office, and what kind of country, we want to have.

It's time to talk about the Post Office because it is the thing that binds us together, both metaphorically in terms of its mission—to deliver every piece of mail every day to every American, a mission under attack by the new postmaster general—and because it is one of the few things, if the polls are to be believed, Americans overwhelmingly approve of.

There is plenty of nuance in the post office story and, like any institution with hundreds of thousands of people, it is impossible to easily summarize. But, like much of our work at Motherboard, this project has a point of view. The federal government has a role to play in the everyday life of all Americans by ensuring the safe and secure delivery of information as legislated by the people who founded this country. Earning a solidly middle-class life while serving fellow countrymen is not a market inefficiency. And, after countless hours of research and hearing from hundreds of postal workers past and present, I firmly believe there is a fundamental incompatibility in the post office's basic structure as it currently stands, and that it cannot do its job well as long as this continues. 

So subscribe to The Mail, and let's figure out together what the United States Postal Service is and what it ought to be.