Visions of the Development of Salem

By Kevin Zorn

An oil on canvas mural is displayed in the post office in Salem, West Virginia. It was painted by an artist named Berni Glasgow and its production was funded
through the Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture. It is titled “Visions of the Development of Salem” and depicts a group of people
receiving mail, in the background is a village and cattle.

 

Berni Glasgow was one of more than 800 artists commissioned to paint 1371 murals, the majority of which are featured in post offices.
Often mistaken as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) initiative, these Treasury funded murals were created with the intent of fostering i
nspiration in the American people who were still feeling the devastating economic and social effects of the Great Depression.

 

It is a testament to the shift in the ideological landscape today that I cannot believe the US Government, in tandem with local governments,
was capable of doing what the WPA accomplished. Yet, here are just some of the facts: from 1935 to 1943 8.5 million unemployed men and
women were hired by the government to build over 10,000 bridges, 620,000 miles of streets and roads, 40,000 new and 85,000 renovated
buildings including thousands of schools, gymnasiums, auditoriums, playgrounds, parks, libraries, college dormitories, tennis courts, and skating rinks.

 

The WPA employed artists, writers, historians, and musicians whose work directly affected the lives of millions of Americans during some of the
country’s most painful years. Musicians hired under the Federal Music Project taught free lessons to 132,000 children and adults every week.
Those hired in the Federal Writers’ Project, in addition to their popular state tourism guidebooks, recorded over 2,300 slave narratives -
an invaluable collection for scholars and historians. Under the Federal Theatre Project 1,000 plays were performed across the country every month.
Incalculable is the number of children and adults inspired by this work.

 

Through the colossal endeavors of the WPA in both its pre-war effort and its public projects America achieved full employment by 1942,
the same year “Visions” was painted in Salem.

 

It is clear that the America many of us grew up in, the structures that supported our lives, the parks we enjoyed, the schools we attended,
the infrastructure we relied upon for travel, even the art classes that inspired the next generation of creators was largely built under the
auspices of the WPA and the New Deal.

 

This is a salient reminder that capital “H” History is not simply a collection of memorized facts and figures, dates and obscure names.
No, History is alive in the communities in which we live. It not only teaches us, it haunts us as well. It haunts us with what was
possible before and what is possible tomorrow.

 

Perhaps that is the greatest battle waged in the spectacle of media and politics today - the question of what is possible.
Our expectations are managed lower and lower. We learn that the climate crisis is inevitable, that homelesness is natural,
that workers are essential until they ask for a living wage. All to say that change is impossible. Visions of better futures recede from view.

But history haunts us with an alternative. By the time Berni Glasgow painted the mural in the Salem post office, the American
government had provided millions of meaningful jobs improving, with concrete and paintbrushes, nearly every community across the nation.

 

Nick Taylor, the author of “American Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA”, writes this: 

 

“These ordinary men and women proved to be extraordinary beyond all expectation.
They were golden threads woven in the national fabric. In this, they shamed the political philosophy
that discounted their value and rewarded the one that placed its faith in them,
thus fulfilling the founding vision of a government by and for its people. All its people.” 

 

This weeks front page:

 

 

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When the Postal Service announced its plans to close several large mail sorting facilities across the country in a cost savings measure, few residents understood the impact of these closings. 

Right here in West Union, postal customers are starting to see their mail service change.  Mail trucks that once went to the sorting facility in Clarksburg are now taking mail all the way down to Charlestons sorting facility.  This is causing at least a full day delay in service and in some instances two days or more.  Periodical subscribers will get their news a little later than usual.  Some customers in out-of-county zip codes will see a delay in receiving newspapers and magazines

Add to that the Postal Reform Act of 2013 and you have a perfect storm brewing of unhappy customers and mail carriers.  But don’t take this out on your local carrier, this is a directive from Washington DC and the Federal Government.

Understanding the Reform Bill

Regular mail delivery could be cut to five days a week - or less - and door-to-door delivery would be studied under provisions of the U.S. Senate’s latest attempt at Postal Service reform. 

The Postal Reform Act of 2013, co-sponsored by Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Tom Carper, D-Del., has already drawn fire from postal employees who fear it will further degrade service standards and make the Postal Service less competitive by eliminating jobs and closing sorting stations. 

“It’s all about customer service,” said one postal employee “If we’re not taking care of their needs, it isn’t going to work.” 

Senator Coburn, ranking member of the Senate committee that oversees the Postal Service, said the bill, introduced this month, is likely to change substantially. 

“This proposal is a rough draft of an agreement, subject to change, that I hope will move us closer to a solution that will protect taxpayers and ensure the Postal Service can remain economically viable while providing vital services for the American people,” Coburn said in a written statement. 

Carper, chairman of the committee in charge of the Postal Service, sounded a similar note. 

“The bill that Dr. Coburn and I introduced ... presents a comprehensive and bipartisan solution to the Postal Service’s financial challenges,” Carper said. “This bill isn’t perfect and will certainly change as Dr. Coburn and I hear from colleagues and stakeholders, including postal employees and customers. But the time to act is now.” 

The national presidents of the four postal worker unions have asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, to back a competing bill sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., but there is some optimism that the Carper-Coburn bill will move Congress closer to a resolution of the Postal Service’s deteriorating financial situation. 

The Postal Service lost $15 billion in 2012 and is expected to lose $6 billion this year, though postal unions point out that more than half of those deficits were because of pension funding requirements far in excess of what is needed to keep the system financially sound. 

Among the bill’s other provisions: 

  • Delivery would be allowed on five or fewer days per week no earlier than one year after enactment; package delivery would continue six days a week for at least two years, with seven-day-a-week package delivery where it is financially advantageous to USPS.
  • New addresses would not receive door-to-door service, and the Postal Service would be required to study the feasibility of alternate delivery for existing addresses. In towns and cities, this most likely would take the form of cluster boxes similar to those in apartment complexes.
  • Shipping of wine, beer and distilled spirits would be allowed.
  • Employee and spousal benefits would be reduced.
  • A three-year moratorium would be put on payments to over-funded pension plans.
  • Current first-class and periodical delivery standards would be lifted after two years.
  • A two-year moratorium would be placed on closing or consolidating mail-processing centers.
  • Current ban on new “non-postal” products and services would be lifted.