People: Bernie & Jane Sanders

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Keywords: 
Democracy
Elections
Political Process
Bernie Sanders, U.S. Senator from Vermont, is considered an independent non-partisan, meaning he is not affiliated with a political party. Although he lost his bid for President of the U.S. in 2016 as a Democrat, he inspired the creation of Our Revolution, a nonprofit established to keep moving forward his grassroots campaign toward progressive social change. His wife, Dr. Jane O’Meara Sanders, is the founder of the newly created Sanders Institute, a nonprofit progressive organization “dedicated to transforming our democracy through research, education, outreach, and advancement of bold, progressive ideas and values.” The Sanders are progressive change agents for social justice and income equality and individuals who believe in grassroots action for fundamental changes for middle-class Americans and their families.

Written by Marilyn Goellner

 

Background

Bernie Sanders identifies himself as a democratic socialist, someone who believes in "an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy” (Gaudiano, 2015).

In 2015, he was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year over world leaders and other U.S. politicians for his strong belief in a political revolution and getting people more involved in the political process.  He believes the current political culture is unfair and corrupt due to the government being run and financed by large interest groups.  Sanders blames the political system for the “inequalities of income, wealth, and political power . . . that have taken over our economy and democracy” (Reich, 2015).

With a bachelor’s degree in social work, Dr. Jane Sanders was involved with youth in her early career in the Juvenile Division of the Burlington Police Department and helped with the King Street Area Youth Center.  She was active in K-12 education as a School Board Commissioner in Burlington.  She earned her doctorate in leadership studies in politics and education.  She served as the President of Burlington College from 2004-2011 and later served as assistant and aide to her husband Bernie during his political campaigns (Traister, 2015).

Both Bernie and Jane Sanders work for progressive social and political change in many areas including gender wage disparity, universal healthcare, tuition-free public college, climate change, and same-sex marriage. 

 

Historic Roots

Bernie Sanders is easily recognizable because of his unruly white hair and glasses and a voice that sounds exactly like celebrity Larry David (from Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld).  Larry David played Bernie Sanders on several episodes of Saturday Night Live during the Presidential campaign.   

Bernie Sanders is of Jewish descent and was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1941.  He was philanthropic in high school, where he helped raise funds for Korean orphans.  He attended the University of Chicago and as a student was an active protester during the Civil Rights Movement for racial equality and in 1963 participated in the March on Washington for jobs and freedom.   

He is a supporter of social justice and social progressivism.  This means he believes that as advances in sciences, technology and the economy are made, society needs to be progressive enough to change with those advances, starting in the political world.  He believes in less government involvement and economic, social, and racial justice.  “In the United States today we have the most unequal distribution of wealth and income since the 1920s” (Sanders, 2012). His viewpoint is “the very rich are getting richer and everyone else poorer” (Sanders, 2015).

The issues he feels most strongly about include wage inequality, environment and climate change, immigration, and economic inequality.  He began his political career as the Mayor of Burlington, Vermont in 1981, was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and has been a U.S. Senator since 2009.   He has served the longest of any Independent senator in U.S. history (www.sanders.senate.gov).

Jane Sanders met Bernie on the night that he was first elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont in 1981.  They grew up just 15 blocks away from each other in Brooklyn, N.Y. but were from two distinctly separate and culturally diverse neighborhoods.  Jane was raised in a Catholic area and Bernie was raised in a Jewish neighborhood.  She has served as Bernie’s political advisor, but did not move to Washington, D.C. immediately when he was elected as a congressman.  Instead, she chose to live in her home state for six months before changing her life and the lives of her children (Dube, 2015).

Jane Sanders has been investigated regarding a bank loan that she secured for Burlington College when she was the college president.  The loan was used to buy additional land for the school, but the scandal claims she misrepresented the amount of funds the college had raised to secure the bank loan.  Bernie and Jane Sanders insist that the investigation is politically motivated and there is no wrongdoing.  Burlington College closed in 2016 due to financial problems (Hartocollis, 2017).

This is the second marriage for both Bernie and Jane Sanders, who married in 1988 and have four children and 7 grandchildren. They are dedicated to the importance of family.

 

Importance

Bernie and Jane have established a new grassroots political force for fundamental change in the U.S.   His slogan of political revolution made an impact, most significantly on people under 30 years old. Sanders had more votes from that group as a democratic candidate in the primaries than Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton combined. 

Sanders’ ideology and political revolution movement calls for a “revolt by Americans” who are tired of the increasing economic inequality between the rich and poor.  While the U.S. economy has grown significantly in the last 35 years, most middle-class Americans have not seen a gain in their income (adjusted for inflation).  The richest one-percent of the population has seen the most gains (Reich, 2015).

By all indications, today’s young people are worse off financially than their parents; many move back in with their families due to large college debt.  They are not financially in a position to start families and they are concerned with global warming and the environment.  This is a large group of the U.S. population that wants to see change and are supporters of the Sanders’ mission and call for progressive change. 

The Sanders Institute has been established as a nonprofit relying on private donations to fulfill its mission to get people involved in issues related to “revitalizing democracy” with 11 progressive leaders “to increase the number of progressive voices in the mainstream media” (Weigel, 2017).  While Jane Sanders is the Executive Director of the Institute, she receives no salary. 

 

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

Bernie and Jane Sanders have been labeled hypocrites when it comes to philanthropy.  The release of their 2014 federal income tax returns showed a small amount donated to charity.  While the Sanders’ annual income is modest by some accounts at just over $200,000, their charitable contributions were $8,350, or approximately 4% of their income.   While the details of the charitable contributions were not provided, the Sanders have in the past supported parent-child centers and senior citizens groups.   In 2011, Bernie Sanders provided over $20,000 in book royalties to the Addison County Parent/Child Center in Middlebury, VT.  This center provides support for at-risk teens and their families.  In October, 2015, his presidential campaign received a donation from a notorious pharmaceutical CEO who had raised prices for HIV patient prescriptions. Sanders refused the donation and donated $2,700 to Whitman-Walker Health, a clinic that provides special treatment for HIV patients (Day, 2016).

Another criticism of Bernie Sanders was the creation of his independent nonprofit Our Revolution as a nonprofit 501(c)4 social welfare group in 2016.  Its difference from a 501(c)3 nonprofit, which is the most common and includes charitable, religious, education, and literacy organizations, is that a 501(c)4 can engage in lobbying efforts to correspond with the group’s social welfare causes.  By all appearances, the new nonprofit looked similar to the organizations that Bernie condemned during the Presidential campaign, as “an organization that’s going to raise money from billionaires to spend it all on TV”  (Rappeport, 2016).

Fundamental social change takes the work of many committed believers in the cause and dedicated volunteers.  Over 20 million people, including 2 million young people (30 and under) voted for Bernie Sanders in their state’s democratic primary.  During his presidential campaign, Sanders had over 70,000 committed volunteers (Gaudiano, 2015).  Many of these individuals have never been involved before, but they believe in his revolution for change. 

Jane Sanders is the Executive Director of the Sanders Institute.  The Institute’s website provides resources and links for books, research and reports, documentaries, congressional resources, and news that support the issues that the Sanders and other progressives feel most strongly about (www.sandersinstitute.com).  Sanders has a large following that believe in his progressive message and who are dissatisfied with economic inequality and the current political system that they believe is to blame.   

“Philanthropy is essential to the free, open, and democratic society.”  Forming nonprofits and voluntary associations empowers our society to support the causes they believe in. The Sanders Institute is representative of a nonprofit that helps identify problems, build coalitions and collaboration for providing solutions, and work toward changing public policy (Payton & Moody, 2008).

Over $225 million was donated to the Bernie Sanders Presidential campaign. Bernie Sanders ignited people to believe in changing the status quo or the way things have always been. While he hopes to continue the enthusiasm and momentum for political revolution and progressive change through the creation of these nonprofits, time will tell. 

 

Key Related Ideas

  • Political Revolution – educating voters about issues and getting people involved in the political process, invoking changes and improvements.
  • Progressives – people who advocate for progress and change, instead of things staying the way they are, especially in the political world. 
  • Climate Change – changes in the earth’s climate (global warming) due to changes in the atmosphere, which are argued to be caused by people, gasses and the greenhouse effect.
  • Economic Inequality – differences in wealth or economic well-being between a population or countries.

 

Key Related People

  • Millennials is the name given to a group of young people in the U.S. coming of age in the 21st century.  Typically they are under the age of 30 in 2017.  This group supported Bernie Sanders during his run for President of the U.S. and they were excited about his ideas for social change.  The phrase “feeling the Bern”, and the websites www.feelthebern.org and www.peopleforbernie.org were created by young people who followed and supported Bernie Sanders.
  • Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State under President Barack Obama, was Bernie Sanders’ opponent in the presidential democratic primary in 2016.  While Bernie ran a good campaign, he lost to Mrs. Clinton, who became the first woman to ever win a Presidential nomination from a major political party.  Bernie was gracious in his defeat and supported Mrs. Clinton in her race against Republican Donald Trump.  Her Twitter handle is @HillaryClinton.
  • Danny Glover is an actor (Lethal Weapon movies), philanthropist and one of 12 individuals serving as a Fellow to The Sanders Institute.  His focus on philanthropy and advocacy is access to healthcare, education, and economic justice.  He is also a UNICEF Ambassador and United Nations Ambassador.  His Twitter handle is @mrdannyglover.
  • Donald Trump is the President of the U.S.  He was campaigning for the Republican ticket at the same time that Bernie Sanders was running on the Democratic side.  They had little in common and had a dislike for each other based on their wildly different campaign issues, including healthcare and tax cuts.  His Twitter handle is @realDonaldTrump.

 

Related Non-Profit Organizations

  • The Sanders Institute, a nonprofit established as a progressive think tank, is an organization where many experts and leaders from all walks of life deliberate, meet, brainstorm and innovate toward new, progressive ideas related to social justice. The Twitter handle is @TheSandersInst.
  • Our Revolution is a nonprofit that was established to continue the Bernie Sanders political revolution and it raises funds to “Revitalize American democracy, empower progressive leaders, and elevate Political consciousness” (www.ourrevolution.com).  The Twitter handle is @OurRevolution.
  • The “I Stand with Bernie” Presidential Campaign raised over $225 million dollars for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.  The majority of those dollars donated were by individuals (rather than big companies or businesses). 

 

Reflection Question - How can we encourage young people to register to vote and become more informed about local, state, and federal political candidates? 

 

Bibliography

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  • Catanese, David. “Bernie Sanders Sets the Bar for Democrats Ahead of 2010.” U.S. News & World Report, Sept. 15, 2017. https://www.usnews.com/news/the-report/articles/2017-09-15/bernie-sanders-sets-the-bar-for-democrats-ahead-of-2020
  • Day, Chad. “Sanders Gave 4 Percent of Income to Charity in 2014.” The Boston Globe. https://www.bostonglobe.com/2016/04/15/sanders-gave-percent-income-charity/Po0Qvqfvnzo5SV3ZbOKvEL/story.html
  • Dube Dwilson, Stephanie. “Jane O’Meara Sanders, Bernie’s Wife: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know.” Heavy, February 20, 2016. http://heavy.com/news/2016/02/bernie-sanders-wife-jane-o-meara-age-how-met-job-bio-who-married-children-family-president-photos/
  • Gaudiano, Nichole. “Sen. Bernie Sanders to Explain his Democratic Socialist Views.” USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2015/11/18/sen-bernie-sanders-explain-his-embrace-democratic-socialism/75987572/
  • Harper, Jennifer. “Not Done Yet:  Bernie Sanders Launches a New ‘Revolution’.” The Washington Times. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/jul/27/bernie-sanders-launches-a-new-revolution/         
  • Hartocollis, Anemona. “U.S. is Investigating Jane Sanders over Burlington College Bank Loan.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/10/us/jane-sanders-vermont-burlington-college-investigation.html
  • Leonard, Sarah. “Why Are So Many Young Voters Falling for Old Socialists?”  The New York Time. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/16/opinion/sunday/sanders-corbyn-socialsts.html
  • Lynch, Conor.  “Bernie Sanders, The Socialist Revival and the Unexpected Upsurge of Millennial Marxism.” Salon, August 12, 2017. https://www.salon.com/2017/08/12/bernie-sanders-the-socialist-revival-and-the-unexpected-upsurge-of-millennial-marxism/
  • Newlin Carney, Eliza.  “Nonprofit Structure Backfires on 'Our Revolution'”.  The American Prospect, September 1, 2016, http://prospect.org/article/nonprofit-structure-backfires-our-revolution
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  • Sanders, Bernard and Chamois Holschuh. Bernie Sanders: In His Own Words:  250 quotes from American’s Political Revolutionary. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing, Inc. 2015
  • Traister, Rebecca. “Wife of Bernie Sanders Suddenly Invisible.” The Cut, October 13, 2015. https://www.thecut.com/2015/10/wife-of-bernie-sanders-suddenly-invisible.html
  • Williamson, Kevin D. “Bernie’s Strange Brew of Nationalism and Socialism.” National Review, July 20, 2015. https://www.nationalreview.com/2015/07/bernie-sanders-national-socialism/

 

This paper was developed by students taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University in 2017. It is offered by Learning To Give and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.