Bernie’s Bay State army mobilizes

Crowd at Greenfield pub talks next steps

FOR ANYONE WHO THINKS the Bernie-or-Bust movement is dead, think again, at least if you live in Massachusetts.  Our Revolution, US Sen. Bernie Sanders’ new initiative to inspire and promote far-left-leaning candidates to elected posts at all levels of government, launched nationally Wednesday night, including gatherings at 74 cafes, brew pubs, and private homes across Massachusetts.

Progressive voters turned out to watch Sanders on a live-stream broadcast from his hometown of Burlington, Vermont. The sheer number of kick-off events in Massachusetts (representing nearly three quarters of all those taking place in New England) reflects Sander’s influence on young voters in the Bay State, particularly those who are dissatisfied with and disengaged from all levels of government. Arguably, the Commonwealth is the buckle of the Bernie belt.

Our Revolution was developed by Sanders and his advisors as a way to push forward the progressive, say-no-to-big-money agenda that became the hallmark of his unsuccessful bid for the White House. The fledgling non-profit used the vast email list of the Sanders campaign to recruit people for the kick-off events on Wednesday. Their website boasted a total of 2,600 house parties taking place across the country.

David Greenberg, an activist from Colrain who had already launched on his own a group called Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution, signed up to host two Our Revolution events in the area. One event took place at the People’s Pint, a popular brew pub in Greenfield, a working class town nestled against the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains.  While millennials dominated the Bernie-or-Bust movement during the campaign, the boisterous crowd that streamed into the Pint on Wednesday was anything but. Gray-haired and balding retirees wearing blue Bernie 2016 T-shirts mingled with younger people and families with children.

Mike Fadel, a union organizer from Greenfield, said the development of a Franklin County organization aligned with the progressive platform of Sanders’ campaign gives him hope his political ideals will be realized. “I was a very active supporter, but the presidential election isn’t the be-all and the end-all. The stakes are still high and this gives people an opportunity to join forces and develop their chops at a local level. It’s about taking one step at a time like making calls or coming together and then making a decision to have another meeting,” he said.

Diane Jensen-Olszeski and Chris Cappucci attended Our Revolution’s Greenfield event .

Diane Jensen-Olszeski and Chris Cappucci attended Our Revolution’s Greenfield event.

“What I like is that it’s called Our Revolution,” said Diane Jensen-Olszeski, a retired teacher in the Chicopee Public Schools.

Emily Hildenbrand, a 29-year-old acupuncturist who works in Amherst, said, “I’m happy to see the place full and so many people coalescing behind the changes I would like to see.” But she said she was surprised to see so few of her own generation packing the brew pub. She said the lack of millennials at the event may be due to the weekday scheduling of the event, but also due to disillusionment. “It might be that people were let down when he was defeated. A lot of people felt adrift after that,” said Hildenbrand. She added that some of the momentum and urgency for continuing to work on the campaign’s agenda may have dissipated over the past few months.

But when Sanders started to speak at 9 p.m., the response from the multigenerational crowd in Greenfield was indistinguishable from his enthusiastic reception by throngs of young people attending Bernie 2016 rallies. His speech highlighted not only the campaign’s accomplishments but also how unlikely all of the accomplishments were or seemed before his campaign.

As one example, Sanders mentioned how his campaign shifted the debate on increasing the minimum wage to doubling it.  “If anyone is this room had said five years ago that we were going to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15,” Sanders said, “you would have said you’re out of your mind, that’s impossible. Well guess what? Today, Democrats all over the country are running on a platform of raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour.”

He segued into Our Revolution’s big-sky goals of electing far-left officials into all levels of American government and altering media coverage and public conversation about a socialist agenda.

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As an elected government official, Sanders concluded he would not be able to lead Our Revolution, and passed the baton to former campaign staffers who will manage and oversee the group’s efforts. Jeff Weaver, his campaign manager, will be the group’s board director and Shannon Jackson, his former senior adviser, will be executive director.

Sanders and Jackson detailed next steps for the group, including the support of a number of progressive ballot issues, and promotion of a slate of over 60 candidates for local, state and federal elected offices around the country. In Massachusetts, Our Revolution is backing the reelection campaigns of Sens. Patricia Jehlen of Somerville and James Eldridge of Acton and Rep. Mary Keefe of Worcester. Our Revolution is also backing Mike Connolly, who is running for state representative from Cambridge and Somerville.

Sanders also encouraged grass-roots efforts to build out the efforts of Our Revolution, encouraging residents to organize locally to identify and support progressive candidates “at all levels of governments, from school board to the Senate.”