[intro-text size=”25px”]The Bernie Sanders Campaign Office had its grand opening Saturday, January 9th, and grand it was. Around 3 pm, a very enthusiastic crowd spilled out into the streets outside of the storefront location at 11910 Detroit Avenue in Lakewood. Chants of “Feel the Bern!” were aplenty as the group of Bernie supporters continued to swell in anticipation of the keynote speakers and the ceremonial ribbon cutting. Cars with Bernie Sanders bumper stickers drove by periodically, honking as they passed, and the crowd responded with cheers and applause.[/intro-text]

“Welcome to the grand opening of the Bernie Sanders campaign office,” announced Tristan Rader, Campaign Office Chairman, through a megaphone, “This is the first presidential campaign office in Ohio for any candidate.” The goal of the event was to raise awareness, enthusiasm, and perhaps most importantly, funds for the grassroots campaign effort. “This is a completely volunteer-led, volunteer-supported, volunteer-funded effort,” Rader proudly declared.

“The volunteer movement for the Bernie Sanders campaign in Ohio actually began last summer, with meetings in people’s houses and public locations like libraries and bars,” explains Steve Holecko, one of the office’s organizers, “It’s gotten bigger and bigger since we’ve contacted more people, and right now we have a bank of about 600 [new volunteers] that we’re trying to get through.”

“The focus of the office right now, in the next few weeks, is the early primary states,” Holecko points out. February 1st marks the date of the Iowa caucus, the first state to vote in the nomination process for the presidential candidacy. “Obviously we can’t do door to door work there,” Holecko continues, “but we’re having a bus heading to Iowa the last five days before the caucus.”

The office location, which sits right next to the world famous 5 o’clock Lounge, was secured with the help of Ohio State Senator Michael Skindell, who was one of the featured speakers at the event. Other speakers included Dan O’Malley, Lakewood’s District 4 Ward Councilman, Keith Mundy, a Democratic congressional candidate for Ohio’s 16th District, Sarah Falanga of National Nurses United, Former Ohio State Representative Mike Foley, and former state Senator for the 25th District of Ohio Nina Turner. All of the speakers were met with enthusiastic applause, particularly Turner, who delivered just as electrifying of a speech as she did at the Cleveland Sanders rally back in November.

bern3Left to right: Members of National Nurses United (in red), Senator Skindell (with megaphone), Former Ohio State Representative Mike Foley (in glasses), and former state Senator for the 25th District of Ohio Nina Turner (taking selfie).

The early caucus states, particularly the Iowa caucus, will be key if Sanders is to secure the Democratic presidential nomination. “In presidential politics, the early primaries are crucial,” explains Holecko, “If Bernie wins those early primaries, that sets him up for the Ohio primary on March 15th.” The group plans to canvas and campaign on Sanders’ behalf throughout northeast Ohio regardless of whether he can secure the early primary states’ nominations.

Sanders campaign, though it has received relatively little media coverage in relation to its popularity, has had its share of praise and criticism. The liberal and progressive left seem split towards him; some doubt his electability in a general election, but most appear to support his platform. The conservative and libertarian right is generally hostile toward his openly socialist views, but some have still managed to find value in his grassroots campaign.

After the ribbon was cut, participants were invited to mingle next door at the 5 o’clock Lounge, where owner Angelo Lauria had generously donated pizzas for the hungry crowd. The bar was jovial, filled with high expectations for the looming nomination decision. If the enthusiasm shown at this event is any indication of how the Sanders campaign is doing elsewhere in the country, it will be hard for anyone to continue ignoring this politically galvanizing Senator from New Hampshire.

The Bernie Sanders volunteer campaign office is located at 11910 Detroit Avenue in Lakewood. It’s hours are from 1pm to 9pm on Sunday through Thursday, and from 10am to 6pm on Saturday.