SOMA residents rally in support of post office

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ — In the middle of a summer of protests, Maplewoodians and residents from surrounding towns turned out for another one on Aug. 21. Hoisting signs that read “Deliver De Mail” and “Return to Sender,” local political action group SOMA Action organized the rally outside of the Maplewood post office to show their support for the United States Postal Service.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy recently eliminated overtime for most postal workers and reduced the use of mail-processing equipment. According to an NBC New York report from Aug. 16, New York and New Jersey residents have reported the removal of mailboxes, and some have reported getting their mail weeks late. DeJoy said the changes were made in an effort to make the USPS run more efficiently, but less than three months away from the 2020 presidential election, in which there will be increased vote by mail, many residents are suspicious of the timing.

DeJoy said in a statement on Aug. 18 that the changes would be halted until after the election. But Maplewood Deputy Mayor Dean Dafis still encouraged the use of ballot drop boxes to make sure votes are counted in the fall.

“It is clear that our vote is being suppressed,” he said at the protest. “Our representatives were slow to respond to this. They need to do all they can at that level to ensure the survival of the post office.”

He detailed both Maplewood and South Orange’s efforts to install a ballot drop box, and encouraged residents to call Rep. Donald Payne, County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. and Essex County Clerk Christopher Durkin and ask for their help. Dafis also stressed the importance of voting.

“Election after election, we have turned out high engagement in Maplewood and South Orange,” he said. “As soon as you get the ballot, fill it out. If you can drive it to the county, do that. Every person here can do something to preserve our elections.”

Michael Paris, a SOMA Action member and the protest organizer, said the Maplewood rally wasn’t the only one being held in the area. Blue Wave, a democratic campaign nonprofit organization based in Seattle, Wash., was encouraging local protests. Approximately 480 were held around the country on Aug. 21.

“The post office is set up to run like a business. All businesses are hurting right now,” Paris said in an interview with the News-Record at the event. “We don’t want to be crazy conspiratorial, but he’s clearly trying to make sure the mail doesn’t work.”

Because of the coronavirus pandemic that is still raging through the country, many states have moved to voting with mail-in ballots rather than opening polls; New Jersey is one of them. Paris wants to make sure residents know they have to vote by mail and that ballot boxes are the surest way to make sure their vote is counted.

“I don’t think people realize they can’t go to the polls,” he said. “Provisional ballots aren’t counted unless they affect the outcome of a race. I want people to vote so I can tell them the Electoral College is ridiculous.”

SOMA Action was formed in 2016 after the presidential election and has around 500 active members in the two towns. This is the first major election they’ve had the chance to speak out about.

“You can attend to your private life, but when things start to crumble you can’t keep to yourself,” Paris said. “You do politics all the time, wherever you interact with people.”

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