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Berkeley post office protest.

BERKELEY -- Activists with Save the Berkeley Post Office and Strike Debt Bay Area turned to civil disobedience Saturday night in their quest to save the historic downtown post office from being sold.

Around 9 p.m. a half-dozen people were preparing to spend the night in the tents they had set up on the post office steps. A daytime rally had drawn some 200 people to the site.

Retired postal worker Dave Welsh said he was ready to camp on the steps to bring attention to the issue. Activists have tried other tactics — they'd got the formal support of a unanimous city council, both houses of the state legislature and Rep. Barbara Lee, he said. They'd filed appeals to the United States Postal Service decision to sell the building — USPS denied all appeals July 18. They were also preparing a lawsuit.

"So we're trying putting up tents, as a kind of direct defense of the post office to express our determination to hold on to this as public space and public commons," Welsh said.

Councilman Jesse Arreguin spoke at the daytime rally. "They never seriously considered the community comments," he said, adding that selling the post office doesn't make economic sense. Postal officials plan to sell the 52,000 square-foot building, which they already own, then rent space nearby. "It's like selling a car to pay for gas," Arreguin said.

Rally speakers also included Norman Solomon, author and founder of the Institute for Public Accuracy. "The idea that the legacy of the New Deal should be destroyed is unacceptable," he said. "The idea that it's acceptable to plunder the public space for private space is unacceptable."

The rally wasn't all serious talk. Local musicians rewrote folk song lyrics challenging the post office sale. And comedian T. Banks, said she'd made a bid on the post office, believing that the "little boxes with locks" would be a great place for her jewels.

Two postal police watched the rally, without intervening. They told this newspaper they wanted to be sure it was kept open for patrons. (It was.) Berkeley police drove by the rally several times, encouraging people to stay out of the street.

At 9 p.m., no postal or city police were in sight.

Those planning to camp on the steps said they could face arrest. "We'll stay as long as we can," said Mike Wilson, adding, "It's a peaceful siege.