Bernie Sanders Supporters Want to Bring the Spirit of His Campaign to Local Politics

A former unofficial Sanders office in Lakewood has a new purpose.
A former unofficial Sanders office in Lakewood has a new purpose. (Nick Castele / ideastream)
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Weeks after Bernie Sanders dropped out of the presidential race, volunteers are keeping open a former field office for the Vermont senator in Lakewood, Ohio. They say they want to translate the energy and platform of his campaign into local elections and issues.

Dozens of people packed into the storefront a few weeks ago. They came to hear Bernie Sanders, live streamed over the web, as he laid out the future for his political organization.

The group, called Our Revolution, is meant to continue the spirit of his campaign outside of the presidential election.

“All across this country, we have cities and towns passing legislation for 15 bucks an hour, and you have Democratic candidates all over this country running on a platform of raising the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour,” Sanders said, to applause from the group in Lakewood.

A New, Local Mission

This office in Lakewood is home to the recently created Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus. It’s separate from Bernie Sanders’ national group, but has a similar mission: to support progressive causes on the local level.

Tristan Rader, the caucus’s operations director, helped open the office before the primary as an unofficial space for Sanders supporters.

“I was a social worker a year ago, and now I found kind of a new path, but I’m finding even more meaning in what I’m doing,” he said. “And there’s a lot of people in my situation who weren’t engaged, who are now engaged, because of this political atmosphere.”

Rader and others are hoping to build upon a network of people who supported Sanders in the Ohio primary. They started up the caucus shortly before the Democratic National Convention and are deciding how to leave their mark on local elections.

“The sense we’re getting is city council races across the county will be a key point, as well as some key mayoral races,” Rader said. “However, again, we’re just in the very beginning stages of identifying those people.”

Rader said the caucus hasn’t yet decided whether it will make endorsements in future elections. But there’s one big issue it is staying neutral on, said political director Steve Holecko. And that’s this year’s presidential race.

“We do have folks that are solid Democrats working for Hillary, but we do have folks that are Bernie or bust,” Holecko said. “And we felt that it would be impossible to keep the group together if we went one direction or the other.”

In the meantime, they’re devising what to work on first. Registering voters and raising the minimum wage in Cleveland are near the top of the list.

“Employment, education, housing and health,” Outreach Director Yvonka Hall said. “Those are my main things, and those are a big part of Bernie’s platform.”

Hall said she wants to see candidates for office take a stand on those issues.

“We have to have people who have an interest, a keen interest, in the least of us,” Hall said. “If you do not have an interest in the issues that are impacting poor people, and you live in a city that’s poor, then you should not be there.”

If the caucus does eventually decide to endorse council or mayoral candidates, it could end up in competition with Democratic incumbents who are often difficult to defeat.

Building up the Caucus

An informational meeting at the Parma library drew about 30 people interested in the caucus.

“One question I want to get from you guys, because we are a caucus,” Rader said. “We’re an official PAC, political action committee, like it or leave it.”

He asked the group how they should fundraise. Should they take only small donations? Should they raise money from unions?

George Bombaugh worked for Republic Steel in Lorain until the company idled its plant this year, laying off workers. He said there was grieving after Sanders lost the nomination. At the Democratic National Convention, many Sanders supporters staged a walkout to protest their treatment by the party.

“I kind of felt isolated after the DNC fiasco,” Bombaugh said. “I was totally outraged, but the online community, and that’s how I found this group, from the online fellow outraged Berniecrats.”

There’s still a long haul ahead for the group. Once it gathers supporters together, it will then have to keep them together. One attendee at the event in Lakewood, Larry Cornett, saw a cautionary tale in the collapse of previous progressive groups.

“I was involved in various coalitions on the left starting around ’68, and I had seen various groupings ranging from progressive Democrats to socialists,” Cornett said. “And I’ve seen them when they don’t have a basic platform, fall apart in infighting over this or that issue.”

Organizers said they’re optimistic for the future—even if they’re not so thrilled with the next few months of the election.

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