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The USPS and the Delivery of Democracy

By: Atmanah Parab

The spread of the Coronavirus has forced a reevaluation of society at large for many. Among the myriad of questions being asked, one that stands out is: what is an essential service? What is a service so valuable that its provision trumps protection of health, safety and the bottom line? With an election, medicine deliveries and affordable shipping on the line, the USPS emerges as an example. Due to the fact that it is a service of massive value to Americans, its dissolution could be another nail in the coffin of American democracy. 

In the era of online communication, physical mail can feel antiquated and maybe even unneeded but the reality is that physical mail and services like the United States Postal Service are of vital importance to the function of the nation. However, the future of the USPS is highly uncertain between the unprecedented attack of COVID-19, restrictive legislation that weakens its functionality and the general neglect and dismissal from the Trump Administration. Not everything can be run as a business where the primary standard for value is profit and avoiding debt, and the USPS is one of the only egalitarian services offered by the United States government. 

As an article from The Economist puts it, the USPS is suffering “one acute and two chronic” ailments. The “acute” one being the exposure of USPS employees to Coronavirus resulting in tens of thousands of quarantined workers and in some cases, death. In addition to this, the threat of COVID-19 and the limitations placed upon the normal operations of businesses have resulted in less mail, exacerbating the trend of consistent financial losses by the USPS. 

The “chronic” issues with the USPS are structural and widespread patterns in function, that have only been worsening over time. First, the decline of first-class mail –“the most popular and economical way to send standard postcards, letters, large envelopes, and small packages”–is one of the most obvious issues for the USPS. With the advent of the internet, it is less efficient and more costly to communicate through mail. Second, the USPS has struggled as its services are gradually outpaced by technology but the agency is one of the most favored parts of the United States government. Despite being clearly valued by Americans, legislation and financial regulation has served to punish the USPS for its struggle to stay afloat and limit its function even further. An example of a bill passed in 2006 that requires the agency to provide for retiree healthcare up to decades in advance, this places a great deal of financial stress on the agency. 

There has been a historic movement to defund or privatize the USPS and orient its structure towards generating a profit rather than providing service the way it does. However, if the USPS and its status has been an issue warranting concern for decades, why is its current status so precarious? A recent and alarming continuation in this vein are the rhetoric espoused and actions taken by the Trump Administration in regards to the USPS. In the past month or so, Trump has gone from dismissing the USPS as “a joke” to blatantly admitting that the defunding of the USPS will have a derailing effect on the 2020 election to the random removal of mail processing machines in key states. When economic supplement funds were allocated to businesses and government entities alike to soften the blow of COVID-19 through the CARES Act, the proposed infusion into the USPS was cut down and debt relief was denied. In addition to this, the newly appointed Postmaster General has implemented several changes that have contributed to further degradation of services, “Internal Postal Service documents obtained by The Washington Post show that postal employees have been barred from working overtime hours and instructed to leave mail behind if it is processed late.” 

However, the point at which these delays become especially terrifying and apparent is when the 2020 election is concerned. Due to COVID-19 the safest way to cast a ballot (and hopefully the most popular way) is to mail it in. However, if the USPS is being purposefully hindered to the point of delay during regular volume mail traffic, the election could be a set up for disaster. It is also worth noting that due to the hyper-politicized nature of discourse about the coronavirus that people more likely to use absentee ballots as opposed to showing up to physically vote lean towards certain party identifications and demographics. These specific inclinations follow existing trends of wherein certain populations (conservative, older, rural etc.) are more likely to vote and not have their votes suppressed through the disproportionality of the electoral system, voter ID laws and systematic disenfranchisement. What’s worse is that there is an existing precedent of mail-in-ballots being arbitrarily discounted. That being said, to counter this effect and ensure democratic expression, voters who wish to vote by mail-in-ballot must be conscious of delivery times and send their ballots off far in advance. Other advice floating around the internet advises the determined voter to drop off their mail-in-ballots in person and to go as far as to get in contact with election supervisors to minimize the effects of Trump’s attacks on the USPS. 

Beyond the 2020 election, the USPS is integral to the function of this nation. Certain rural communities and regions are only brought mail, medicine and deliveries due to the USPS’s extensive service network. The absence of this agency or weakening to the point where more and more offices are forced to shut down will actively end chains of communication and medical delivery in places like Alaska. Even private alternatives such as UPS and FEDEX are significantly more expensive and often hand off their “hard to deliver” items off to the USPS as a national connector. In the absence of the USPS small businesses will likely suffer most with the lack of affordable delivery services. It is truly unfortunate but, the USPS, one of the largest forces that works to equalize a country that seems to be fracturing at the seams is now under attack.

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An Ongoing Reflection on COVID-19 from Six Feet Away

By: Christina Lee

Our world during the coronavirus pandemic is on hold, yet constantly moving.

As for me, I’ve found it difficult to harmonize my position as someone who stays home (or where I’ve been for the past two months, honestly) while I know that out there, the whole world partakes in a global fight against unprecedented circumstances. I don’t know how to reconcile the stressful but quiet stagnation of my social, academic, and work life with the dynamic bustle of the larger world as they cope with new government regulations, social issues rising to the forefront, and the glaringly global nature of the current pandemic.

As someone who is privileged enough to work and study from the comfort of my home, what I am about to express might not feel justified. I almost feel guilty for having the leisure to reflect, to point out my observations when I know that there are others occupied with holding onto life, risking their health and safety everyday. Nonetheless, I cannot help but believe that reflection might be one of the more productive things I can do as of now, to recognize lessons beyond not panic-buying toilet paper, disinfecting surfaces, and social distancing.

These lessons relate to the numerous social issues that appear unrelated to the virus at first glance but are actually relevant and quite predictable consequences to the coronavirus’s impact on our world. Only now under the guise of the effects of an unexpectedly rampant virus are we starting to shed light on some of the more headline-worthy issues—from increased numbers of daily domestic violence calls to hotlines in Colombia ever since their lockdown to one-dimensional regulations in Panama that failed to accommodate the identities of their transgender population, as well as government orders in Malaysia suggesting that housewives wear makeup and try not to nag their husbands.

The most striking aspect to these headlines are that they are all part of the process of disillusionment; we only let these social issues come to our attention now because firstly, they may give us a new way of looking at the coronavirus, but most importantly, we oftentimes fail to realize that these events actually originated from existing, systemic problems present all over the world. These problems are ingrained in our culture, yet we fail to acknowledge them until a worldwide crisis pushes our limits and the next journalist needs a headline that people will read.

We can’t find temporary interest in issues like these only because they are timely, and we certainly shouldn’t forget about these issues once the pandemic subsides. If anything, the resurgence of these topics is a sign that tells us what values and mistakes society has built up so far, and these are now exacerbated by the virus. Domestic violence, discrimination, or inequality isn’t something that just happens within a day; these are all results of systemic, habitual, and ongoing sociocultural shortcomings that always need consideration, regardless of whether we are in a pandemic or not.

Hopefully, there will come a time where we will be able to view the coronavirus in the same emotionally distanced state as we view the diseases of our past, but we cannot let the lessons we are constantly unearthing and bringing to the forefront become as ephemeral as the virus.

Yes, the pandemic is ongoing, and there are no solid conclusions to be made just yet. But we can only hope that we come out of this more enlightened, aware, and cognizant of the world we have created—and we must carry that with us into the future.

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Domestic Violence Statistics Under Lockdown

By: Megan Broudy

While many other crimes have decreased, domestic violence reports have increased since the beginning of shelter-in-place orders. The increase is likely due to the fact that domestic violence is a crime that occurs behind closed doors, in the comfort of one’s home. Since Americans are encouraged to stay inside, this issue has forced many to spend time with abusive significant others. Domestic Violence has increased 30% under lockdown in America. These statistics are alarming, but unfortunately, not surprising given the statistics that already existed beforehand. Women in abusive relationships would rather be in the presence of an abusive partner than risk exposure to the virus. For many, it has come down to weighing risks, so they have no choice and their children in danger. It’s even more alarming that half of domestic violence cases go unreported, so it’s impossible to even know the full extent of it.


Many structural issues in American society have come to the surface in ugly ways since the dawn of the COVID19 pandemic. These issues include many socioeconomic factors, so those with less privilege and resources have been suffering the most. People of color, women, and children have experienced many injustices recently. They have to rely on a government that was never meant to protect their rights in the first place. The reason why domestic violence statistics were high in the first place was because our government has failed to protect those most vulnerable in society. We need a government that will protect all of its citizens, especially those who have been marginalized.


So, what should the government do to help protect the underprivileged from domestic violence, especially in the time of a national crisis? There isn’t an easy answer to this question, but I think the beginnings of a solution might lie in restructuring the power dynamics of our country. The horrors of domestic violence stem from the fact that many women are reliant on their partners, so in the case of a pandemic, they become even more reliant. If women suffering from domestic violence received more communal support and were less reliant on their abusive partners, it may help. The government must socialize policies like childcare and eldercare to help women more independent and able to stand on their own. The emphasis should be on ensuring the independence of women inside the household, rather than trying to unify them with their abusive partner and protect households from splitting up.


Now is the time for an open conversation about our approach to domestic violence in America. Has it been our goal to protect women, or has it been to keep families together? We need to address these questions, so we can move toward better solutions for victims.

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Positives of the Pandemic

By: Samah Atique

With the coronavirus rapidly spreading around the world and impacting the lives of billions of people across the globe, it’s easy to focus on all the adverse consequences of the pandemic, as much of my last piece did. It’s especially easy when you wake up every morning to news of extended shelter-in-place mandates, tragic stories of people losing their loved ones, and economists warning of an upcoming recession. However, despite the focus on the negative effects of the virus, it’s important to shed light on some of the good that has come about over the past few months as a gentle reminder that things aren’t all bad. By no means is this piece meant to disregard the gravity of the situation or ignore the chaos it has caused, but rather to share some positive news and reasons to remain hopeful during these trying times.

For example, regardless of the strict social distancing measures that have yet to be lifted in many parts of the world, today’s digital age offers several opportunities for people to stay connected online. Whether it be hosting Google Hangout game nights with friends, tuning into food bloggers sharing their favorite recipes on Instagram Live, or de-stressing through yoga videos on Youtube, there are several opportunities for people to feel less alone and maintain virtual contact with their loved ones. Many health and wellness coaches have also developed free workout programs for people to follow during the quarantine to stay active. However, writing this from a place of privilege, I understand that nearly half of the global population does not currently have access to the internet and therefore does not have the luxury to enjoy these means. 

Fortunately, there are also endless offline opportunities that have been keeping people occupied over the past few months. Whether it be journaling, drawing, crocheting, or meditating, the pandemic has encouraged many to take on activities that they were unable to find time for during their normal working hours. It is also the perfect chance to catch up on lost sleep and squeeze in as many naps during the day that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.
The shelter-in-place mandates have pushed people around the globe to take up valuable hobbies and activities that they may not have gotten the opportunity to do otherwise. And, just like all other calamities, this too will pass and hopefully leave the world with valuable insights and ways to mitigate the damage of future outbreaks. 

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Family and Fear v.s. Peace and Love

By: Atmanah Parab

I’ve had to reacquaint myself with many aspects of living at home since quarantine started. Whether it be abiding by my parent’s mandatory household vegetarian days or my sister stealing my fancy moisturizer.  Bhajans played at frankly inconsiderate volumes that wake me up before my 10:30am alarm. The smell of dinner, pervasive and yet somehow welcome at the same time. All small changes I’ve reincorporated into my daily routine.   

One heavier thing I’ve had to get used to are the twice-a-day calls to Mumbai to check on my grandfather. In 2016, my grandfather had a severe stroke that resulted in paralysis from head to toe of the left side. Since then, the structure of my family’s life has changed to include trips to India whenever financially possible to check on him. A part-time ward boy was appointed to take care of my grandfather’s medical treatment but after the death of my grandmother, the ward boy and his family had to move in full-time to make sure someone was always looking after my grandfather. 

This brings us to the current date. In the time of COVID-19, movement is limited and fear is unending. For the first few days of quarantine, I spent my days in a bubble. I was annoyed and bored as only those privileged enough to be complacent can be. My immediate family was safely at home and non-immunocompromised, as long as we stayed inside, this crisis would blow over soon.

This facade of peace was shattered by the realization that while coronavirus was spreading rapidly in the United States, it was also spreading in Mumbai, where the rest of my family is. 

I see a field of matches and fire, unencumbered, engulfing them all in the blink of an eye. In my fearful mind’s eye, Mumbai feels like this grid of matches. The first thing to understand is that Mumbai is not a city of easily recognized structure. It is a civilization built into the sea and reaching for the sky to hold its bustling population. Pavement dwellings built from a hodgepodge of materials with hammered tin roofs are often a two-minute distance from brick and mortar buildings oozing from the humidity, and those yet, are ten minutes from sleek high-rises with balconies to clap from. That is, if you’re not counting the worst traffic you could imagine. One thing is evident in this organized chaos, Mumbai is a city of its many, many people. It is incredibly common for multiple generations of a family to live in one house, after all that is the way my family has lived for decades back. In an area like this, social distancing poses a glaringly obvious challenge. 

The second thing to understand is that in some eyes, my father has failed in his most important duty. As the only son of a relatively traditional Indian family, it is a part of his duty to take care of his parents in their old age. The roles he plays and how they conflict are only thrown into sharper relief with financial pressure to perform at his highest capacity, make sure his daughters and wife are safe and to make sure that his father is being cared for, over the phone with no way of physically going over there. All he can do is make sure to check in as much as possible and take care of his father through the phone. Some calls are sadder than others, there are days where even the smallest movements normally possible through physical therapy are simply too much for my grandfather. On other days he can’t seem to remember any of us. On the worst days, he’s unwell and fragile and the distance between California and Mumbai seems too far to help. 

Kishore is the name of the ward boy who takes care of my grandfather. Him and his family now live in the same flat that my grandparents had inhabited for the past 20 years. In the words of my mother “it was God’s grace and our good karma that we found him”. In the past few months, their stay in our family flat has brought a new wave of excitement: Kishore’s wife recently gave birth to a baby boy. In the midst of one of the most widespread public health crises and in a house that was previously a makeshift hospital room, new life was breathed in. It was in sleepless nights and coordinating with doctors to make sure that she received the best care that the news impacted my household here in the states, but in the days since the birth, my parents have added cooing at the baby sleeping soundly into their daily routine. A bracing reminder that no matter what, life will go on and family and love can still bring joy. That we as human beings can still be here for each other and fight for each other from a distance. 

The coronavirus is a physical threat, with many psychological side effects: fear, anxiety and guilt. At this time, the only real certainty is uncertainty and it’s hard to find silver linings when the world feels as if it’s been thrown into chaos, but despite whatever has happened and whatever will happen, humanity has the capability to look out for each other and to love. So the next time my father Facetimes India and I get to see my grandfather’s face, more delicate and sallow than I’ve ever seen it in real life, I’ll remember that it is our luck and love that keeps him alive. Though he will be struggling to remember me and wave at the phone, it’s another day that he’s safe and for now that will have to be peace.