More than 100 people, including some who say they plan to camp out, have gathered in front of a historic post office in Berkeley to protest its closure.
The protesters represent the groups Save the Berkeley Post Office and Strike Debt Bay Area and are holding a demonstration and teach-in on the privatization of public services in front of the post office at 2000 Allston Way.
"We're fighting to save it, and we're not going to stop," protester Moni Law said.
Strike Debt member Mike Wilson said the protest coincides with similar rallies in several other U.S. cities and will include speeches by activists and public officials, music and dance performances, street theater, free food, public forums and street art. "We hope to set an example for other municipalities to defend public space," said Strike Debt Bay Area spokesman and El Cerrito resident Mike Wilson.
Just after 2 p.m., several dozen protesters at the rally were holding signs with messages such as "Our post offices are not for sale" and "The people's post office," Wilson said.
He said many of the protesters brought tents to the rally and plan to set up camp there when the post office closes for the day at 3 p.m.
"The idea is that we'll stay until we're forced to leave...we will make this an unattractive building for anyone thinking of buying it," he said.
The Postal Service has said it plans to close the downtown Berkeley post office and hundreds of other post offices across the country because it is in poor financial shape due to the bad economy and a steady decline in mail volume.
"What about people who don't have internet service or who had it and can no longer afford it because they're out of a job," retired letter carrier David Welsh said.
The 52,000 square foot building, which was built in 1914, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Berkeley officials including Mayor Tom Bates, Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, and Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, have also said they will fight the closure.
UPDATE: Protesters said if the Postal Service goes through with its plans to sell the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, they will file a lawsuit.
Protesters also said it does not make sense for the Postal Service to sell the building it owns just to pay to rent a space nearby.
"When we are threatened by these words--austerity, crisis--we're told that there is no alternative other than to privatize public space, to sell it to private equity firms and people who can make a tremendous amount of profit out of it," protester Hannah Appel said.
Welsh agrees with Appel.
"We're saying this is public space and how dare they try to sell it off for private profit," Welsh said. "This is a public service that has been around for 238 years."
Law says she is worried about the impact on jobs if the post office is sold.
"My parents were postal workers when they first started in their employment after moving from Alabama," Law said. "It was the first place where people of color were given jobs. 40 percent of the people in the Postal Service are people of color. 40 percent are women. 22 percent are veterans, many disabled. Those jobs are also at risk."
Residents said the the post office is part of Berkeley's Civic Center and the heart and soul of the community.
The Postal Service said its debt could reach $45 billion by 2017 if Congress does not pass legislation to allow it to change its business model.