After watching East beat Waterloo in baseball down the road, it was time for an overdue visit to the local Bernie Sanders campaign headquarters at 1137 Culver near Parsells. We had been with the campaign at a downtown rally, a parade and at the Bug Jar witnessing some bellicose Trump supporters.
Filled with volunteers, phone banks and a raft of Bernie goodies, the headquarters was evidence just how far the campaign has come since the summer. In June, I had met Kevin Sweeny, a campaign communications liaison, at a festival in the Martin Luther King Park as he and others were registering voters.
As Kevin described a proliferation of house meetings where the curious and the committed gathered to talk issues, I felt the beginning of a movement. And the first large scale event at the German House in October drew a big crowd from all demographics.
At headquarters, I was greeted by Ravi Mangla and Shirley Thompson (Shirley, along with Kevin, are featured in today’s D & C). Ravi, Shirley and other volunteers were making calls, cutting flyers, handing out yards signs and signing people up for emails lists. In my short time, several drop-ins came by just to get more information, having seen the large Bernie wood carved sign in their neighborhood or just hearing about the headquarters by word of mouth.
The vibe was upbeat and inviting. Feeling a little patriotic surge, to me this is America at its best: its citizens freely associating to share ideas and viewpoints — and to cast their voices into the ballot box come November.
Having myself never built a headquarters from scratch, Ravi explained how this civic hub came to be:
Any civic movement is a labor of love. Over the past month our volunteers have worked tirelessly to transform a former Pizza Hut into a local hub for the Bernie Sanders campaign. Few of us involved in the campaign have a background in politics (most, for better or worse, were English majors), which means we’ve had to learn on the fly, pool our knowledge and resources. Desks and chairs were donated by a law office. Our cash register was left behind by the previous tenant. The sign out front was repurposed by a local woodworker, carved to resemble the Bernie logo.
One of the greatest challenges has been staffing the office. While we have hundreds of volunteers, most have full-time jobs and family commitments. We decided to keep the office open until nine each night (much later than your typical political office), to make it accessible to as many visitors as possible, but finding volunteers willing to take on a three-hour shift has been more difficult than we anticipated. Nothing about this campaign is ordinary. The same holds true of our office. We consider it acommunity space, a venue where people of all kind can come to discuss critical issues affecting our neighborhood, nation, and planet.
Yesterday we held a lecture on structural racism. Some attendees remained for an hour after the event to continue the conversation. Today we have a workshop on video storytelling for politically-minded filmmakers. We don’t turn anyone away. Everyone is welcome in our office, and welcome to stay as long as they like.
That’s citizenship in action at the corner of Culver and Parsells.