Who is Bernie Sanders?

Who is Bernie Sanders?

Bernie Sanders is a candidate for President of the United States, vying for the Democratic Party’s nomination.

What are the major planks of Bernie’s presidential campaign?

Bernie’s campaign is about a progressive agenda that — among other things — will create jobs, raise wages, protect the environment, provide health care for all, increase access to higher education, reform our immigration and criminal justice systems, reaffirm our civil rights, promote a more sensible foreign policy, and reduce the influence of money in politics.

What does Bernie do now?

He’s the longest-serving independent in congressional history, currently serving his second term in the U.S. Senate, where he represents Vermont. Bernie won re-election in 2012 after earning 71 percent of the vote. Prior to becoming a senator in 2006, Bernie was Vermont’s sole congressman in the House of Representatives for 16 years.

What does it mean that Bernie is an independent?

Being an independent means Bernie is unaffiliated with any political party. While he’s nonpartisan, Bernie identifies as a democratic socialist.

What is democratic socialism?

Democratic socialism seeks to effectively combine free enterprise with transparent, public programs that maintain a minimum standard of living for everyone.

Bernie described “democratic socialism” in this manner back in 2006:

“I think [democratic socialism] means the government has got to play a very important role in making sure that as a right of citizenship all of our people have healthcare; that as a right, all of our kids, regardless of income, have quality childcare, are able to go to college without going deeply into debt; that it means we do not allow large corporations and moneyed interests to destroy our environment; that we create a government in which it is not dominated by big money interest. I mean, to me, it means democracy, frankly. That’s all it means.”

Of course, the U.S. is already a democracy, and a social democracy at that, but Bernie wants to level the playing field, which is more uneven than ever before. While he doesn’t want the government to run the economy, Bernie does want the government to ensure that the economy is set up to enable as many people as possible to contribute to its healthy growth. He also wants to change industry, so that workers have more rights, healthcare and education is available to all, and we have better public infrastructure in general.

Bernie believes we need to move away from a “government of the billionaires, by the billionaires, and for the billionaires,” and invest more in social programs that help more Americans get ahead — particularly in the face of a dwindling middle-class — and in turn encourage more equitable, sustainable economic growth for the entire country.

The last person to run on similar political beliefs won the election and saved America from the Great Depression. His name was Franklin D. Roosevelt (otherwise known as FDR) and his policies — via the New Deal — are part of why he is consistently rated as one of the greatest U.S. presidents ever, alongside Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.

So why is Bernie running for the Democratic Party’s nomination?

Over his many decades of public service, Bernie has worked closely with members of both major parties — as well as other independents — to make progress on important issues.

Indeed, even though he’s not a member of the Democratic Party, Bernie’s work over the years has led to his appointment to leadership positions on Senate committees and subcommittees.

And while Bernie’s been successful in winning office as an independent so far, it’s a different story when it comes to winning the White House. In fact, since 1852 only Republican or Democratic nominees have been elected to the highest office in the land.

That being said, Bernie isn’t changing his affiliation in the Senate, and believes it’s in the country’s best interest to move past the two-party system and create more viable options for voters.

What was Bernie’s story before he went into public service?

Bernie was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. to Eli and Dorothy Sanders, the second of two sons. Eli was a Jewish immigrant from Poland who suffered the loss of most of his family back in Europe during the Holocaust. Eli was a high school drop-out who “never made any money” although he worked very hard to support his family as a paint salesman, putting 25,000 miles a year on his car for work. Dorothy was a high school graduate who dreamt of a “private home” but made do with the rent-controlled three-and-a-half room apartment in which they raised Bernie and his older brother Larry.

Bernie’s lower middle-class, paycheck-to-paycheck upbringing has informed his political ideology. Of this, he’s said:

“The lack of money caused stress in my family and fights between my mother and father. That is a reality I have never forgotten: today, there are many millions of families who are living under the circumstances that we lived under.”

Bernie and his brother were educated at public schools in New York City. Bernie attended James Madison High School where he was a good student, wrote for the school paper, was captain of the track team, and won a state basketball championship. At Madison, Bernie got his first taste of politics when he ran for student body president. He lost, and became class president instead.

As Bernie approached the end of high school, Dorothy, who’d had rheumatic fever as a child, became ill. Upon graduating, Bernie enrolled at nearby Brooklyn College. After his mother died at 46 following a failed second heart surgery, Bernie decided to transfer to the University of Chicago, and left his hometown for the first time.

In Chicago, Bernie was very active in the civil rights movement, the generational issue of the time. He was active in both the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He organized sit-in protests against the segregated housing on campus, as seen in the photo below, and in 1962 was arrested for protesting segregation in Chicago public schools.

In 1963, Bernie went to D.C. for the first time to participate in the march on Washington organized by Martin Luther King, Jr., and was among the hundreds of thousands who heard him give his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

He graduated in 1964 with a degree in political science. That year, Bernie bought land in Vermont — for just $2,500, according to public records.

Before moving to Vermont full-time in 1968, Bernie worked as an aide at a psychiatric hospital in New York, taught low-income preschoolers through Head Start, and helped register people for nutrition assistance programs.

How did he get into politics?

Upon moving to Vermont, Bernie became involved with the Liberty Union Party, a new, Vermont-only political movement, that was small, anti-war, and progressive. In 1972, he ran on the Liberty Union ticket for a special Senate election, again for a Senate seat in 1974, and for governor in 1976, never winning more than 6 percent of the vote.

Bernie thought he was done with electoral politics until 1980, when a friend showed him how well he’d performed in his prior runs among voters in Burlington, Vt. In 1981, Bernie ran for mayor of Burlington and won by a mere 10 votes. He was re-elected three times, with majorities each time. (Bernie decided not to run again when his last term as mayor was up, choosing instead to run for Congress, starting his 16-year stint in the House in 1990.)

What’s his family like?

Bernie met his wife, Jane — who had grown up 15 blocks away in Brooklyn, attending all-girls Catholic schools — right before he became mayor of Burlington in 1981.

Prior to meeting Bernie, Jane O’Meara had been a bank teller, cashier, and war demonstrator. After earning a degree in social work, she worked for the Burlington Police Department’s juvenile division. She helped pay off her student loans by joining AmeriCorps.

Throughout the 1980s, Jane was involved in starting a newspaper, a teen center, after school programs, and a day care. She and Bernie married in 1988.

Over the years, Jane earned a doctorate degree and worked as an educator and administrator at two colleges in Vermont. Today, she is a commissioner for a radioactive waste disposal oversight agency, as well as a commissioner for the Vermont Economic Development Authority.

Jane and Bernie have four children and seven grandchildren. Bernie calls Jane “a soulmate, a sounding board” for him.ja

Has Bernie been consistent about his views?

Very. If you look at his political record, which now spans three decades in political office (and two more when you add in his activist days), you’ll find that he’s been fighting for the same things, regardless of the political climate of the time.

In the below letter written during his failed run for governor of Vermont in 1976, Bernie already was campaigning for LGBTQ rights, environmental protection, healthcare-for-all, fairer taxes on corporations, fewer military engagements abroad, a more sensible drug policy, and women’s reproductive rights.

And the thing to note here is that while some people think of Vermont as a super-blue state — it is, these days — it was arguably one of the most Republican states up until about 1990. At the time Bernie was elected to Congress that year, Roll Call, the “newspaper of Capitol Hill” called Bernie’s victory over incumbent Rep. Peter Smith “one of the 25 most significant elections in American history.” This makes Bernie’s progressive platforms in the 1970s and through the 1980s all the more impressive for their bravery.

Wow, gay rights as part of his political platform in the 1970s? Sounds like he was on the right side of history there.

Yeah, and Bernie’s been on the right side of history quite a few times, which is why so many people like him.

He’s the only presidential candidate in the 2016 race, for instance, who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which banned LGBTQ Americans from marrying until the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional earlier this year. Bernie also voted against the Iraq war — which the majority of Americans now believe was a mistake — and against the Patriot Act, calling it an overreaching, Orwellian piece of legislation. He also was against the deregulation of Wall Street — watch him school then-Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan in 2003 — which led to the Great Recession of 2008.The list goes on, but that’s a sampler to get you started.

Too many politicians today govern in favor of special interests and securing their own re-election, but Bernie has never been beholden to corporate and other super-moneyed interests. Indeed, over his entire career, his biggest donors have been labor unions and union members — in other words, regular Americans.

Indeed, Bernie’s never cared much about the establishment, and that’s evidenced in the way he’s running his presidential campaign today. He’s chosen to remain an independent, refuses to take money from Super PACs, and has been hosting more rallies and fewer fundraisers than any other presidential candidate in the campaign so far.

Some might say you can tell by his hair that he’s more interested in solving problems than impressing people and donors:

What’s he like outside of the public eye?

Well, we know he really loves Willie Nelson and Motown:

Other than that, he’s really about sticking to the issues, rather than sharing about his personal life. As he often says, “This is not about me — it’s about you.”

I like his story. How do voters feel about Bernie’s views?

Bernie and a majority of American voters share the same views on the most important issues facing our families, communities, country, and planet today, according to polling data. Here are just a few examples:

Wow, I’m surprised he’s not more popular! Has he received any big endorsements?

Bernie has been publicly endorsed by many – from Dr. Cornel West to Danny DeVito to Glenn Greenwald to Ben & Jerry (of ice cream fame). He’s also been endorsed by many unions, including National Nurses United – the largest professional organization of nurses in the country.

Check out the growing list of Bernie’s endorsements at our Endorsement page.

How’s the campaign doing so far?

Bernie’s message around building a grassroots campaign without corporate money, and of course, his stances on all the issues, is resonating, and there’s a bunch of proof.

For one, Bernie is the only major candidate in the race who is liked more than he is disliked by voters in the first two primary states, Iowa and New Hampshire.

His campaign’s last FEC filing showed it had received donations from 1.3 million donations from 650,000 individuals averaging $30. In fact, Bernie has raised more money from individuals — i.e. not Super PACs — than any other candidate in the race.

But the dollar amount Bernie has raised is actually less impressive than the number of people who have gotten involved in his campaign. For context, he’s attracted more donors than a previous successful grassroots presidential campaign: Barack Obama’s. Obama’s first campaign didn’t hit the amount of donors that have donated to Bernie’s campaign so far until late winter 2008.

Tie the donations to the people showing up at Bernie’s record-breaking rallies: roughly 4,500 in Kenner, La., 5,500 in Denver, Colo., 10,000 in Madison, Wis., 11,000 in Phoenix, Ariz., 13,000 in Tucson, Ariz., 13,000 in Houston and Dallas, Tex. (two events the same night), 15,000 in Seattle, Wash., 24,000 in Boston, Mass.,  27,500 in Los Angeles, Ca., and 28,000 in Portland, Ore.

Not only is no other presidential candidate pulling crowds even close to this size, Bernie’s rallies also attest to the appeal of his message in “blue,” “purple,” and “red” states, and his strategy to build a nationwide movement, not one along traditional partisan lines.

Indeed, Bernie’s presidential campaign is proof we can still build a political movement around regular people, and not moneyed interests!

I want to know more about Bernie’s record on and proposed policies on all the important issues our country faces.

You’ve come to the right place. Head over to the home page  (or click on the Issues tab in the navigation page on the top of this page) and start exploring a fact- and source-based, FAQ-style breakdown of everything you’d ever want to know about Bernie past, present, and future. You can go back to the home page at any moment by clicking on FeelTheBern.org in the navigation bar.

How do I get involved?

Get involved with the official campaign:

You can sign up to volunteer, donate to it, sign up for updates, and find out about official events near you (and how to host your own).

Register to vote & then get out the vote:

Make sure to understand what the deadlines are around registering to vote in your state, and make sure you know whether your state has an open or closed primary so you can vote for Bernie.

In closed primary states, you may have to register as a Democrat ASAP if you aren’t currently. (New York, you’re first: you have to be a registered Democrat by October 9, 2015!) In semi-closed primary states, you may have to register as a Democrat or Undeclared if you aren’t currently. In open primary states, it doesn’t matter how you’re registered — but you have to be registered to vote, with updated personal information.

And if you’re 17 now, but will be 18 by the general election on November 8, 2016, some states will let you vote in the primaries, even if you’re not 18 by the time those roll around.

Once you’ve registered to vote, make sure you get out the vote by sharing the details with everyone you know!

Join the grassroots:

There are also lots of grassroots volunteer groups brewing, online and offline, which can use your help, however you want to offer it!

Visit the Grassroots Resources page to learn how you can get involved with great people working to elect Bernie — beyond general-interest groups, there are some for specific demographics and ones in each state.

You can also volunteer with us. :-)

Share this website with everyone you know!

Knowledge is power, and an informed voter is much likelier to vote in his or her own interest — not to mention in the interest of the issues that affect his or her community, country, and planet — if he or she has access to more information rather than less of it, and ideally sooner than later.

Bernie is one of the few politicians out there who we like more the more we learn about him, and as his supporters, we have to use all the great facts, data, videos, quotes, and policies out there to tell his story, because we can’t count on the establishment media and political process to do so. We built this website to make it really easy for anyone to learn about Bernie, and then share what they’ve learned about Bernie with others.

Use the social share buttons on the left-hand side of every page on this site, to share FeelTheBern.org via email, Twitter, and Facebook. Also, if you like a specific section on a page, highlight it and easily share that excerpt with friends, too!

Finally, link to us! The more inbound links this website has, the higher up in search engine rankings it will be. And don’t just link to feelthebern.org, link to issue and category pages specifically so that searches like, say, “bernie sanders student debt” will bring up our Education issue page. The way to do this is to make sure that when you link to our Education page, you’re using good keywords in the hyperlink. For instance, this would work well: “I really admire Bernie Sanders’ views on addressing student debt.” :-)