On July 15, the postal rates for America’s most important political magazines, both left and right, increased by twenty to thirty percent after the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) adopted a rate plan written by lobbyists from Time-Warner.

The lobbyists’ plan, unsurprisingly, has the effect of shifting the burden of new postal increases away from its large circulation corporate clients like Time and People toward smaller, independent publications like The Nation and National Review. (The Nation is looking at roughly $500,000 in increased annual postal costs.)

The rate hikes turn more than two hundred years of postal policy on its head and have led numerous small publications to the brink of bankruptcy. As the Founding Fathers understood, political magazines of all perspectives and persuasions are invaluable incubators for political ideas and discourse. Their disappearance degrades our media and cripples our democracy.

Postal rate increases for the magazine industry generally don’t generate major news and the PRC was counting on its obscurity to insulate it from the criticism it well deserved. But last spring when we at The Nation found out about the PRC’s abdication to Time-Warner and what it would mean, not just for us, but for all publications in our category, we started talking to colleagues and friends and a bipartisan grassroots fire was soon lit with the non-profit media reform group Free Press leading the charge. (Even the blogosphere, which obviously need not concern itself with postal costs, took on the issue, rightly insisting that Time-Warner’s efforts to harm the independent press off-line mirrored Big Media’s goal of upending the net neutrality that guarantees that web users can access small, independent websites as easily as they can find the big boys.)

A bipartisan group of publications banded together and shot off a letter to the Postal Board of Governors demanding a delay in implementation of the new rates until an investigation into the process was completed. A massive media campaign was undertaken that saw scores of newspapers, radio programs, websites and magazines come out against the rate increase. Almost 1,000 academics started a petition drive to Congress requesting hearings on the matter and the public responded to the coalition’s joint call to similarly petition Congress to address the charges being directed at the PRC.

….And they listened! Next Tuesday, October 30, the Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, Postal Service and the District of Columbia chaired by Danny Davis (D-IL) will hear testimony from a series of witnesses, including The Nation‘s Victor Navasky. It’s unlikely that the increases will be overturned but stranger things have happened and just the fact of the hearings themselves is a testament to the power of grassroots protest.

Help keep it going by signing the Free Press petition to Congress to reverse the unjust postal rate increase for small political publications. It’ll also help to call the offices of the members of the subcommittee prior to the hearing next week, especially if you happen to live in one of the subcommittee member’s districts. Names and number follow:

Danny K. Davis, Chairman, (202) 225-5006
Eleanor Holmes Norton, (202) 225-8050
John P. Sarbanes, (202) 225-4016
Elijah E. Cummings, (202) 225-4741
Dennis J. Kucinich, (202) 225-5871
Wm. Lacy Clay, (202) 225-2406
Stephen F. Lynch, (202) 225-8273
Kenny Marchant, (202) 225-6605
John M. McHugh, (202) 225-4611
John L. Mica, (202) 225-4035
Darrell E. Issa, (202) 225-3906
Jim Jordan, (202) 225-2676

There are precedents for the Postal Rate Commission’s rulings to be revised but it’s going to take a massive groundswell of public opposition similar to the explosion of outrage over the FCC’s 2003 decision to change media ownership rules. The Post Office should not use its monopoly power to favor the largest publishers and undermine the ability of smaller publishers to compete. With your help we can reverse this decision and salvage the postal system that has served free speech in America so well for so long.