One of the frontrunners for the 2020 Democratic nomination is Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Bernie Sanders was born on September 8, 1941 in Brooklyn, New York to a working-class Jewish family. As part of a struggling working-class family, Sanders recognized early on America’s economic disparity. Sanders graduated from Brooklyn’s James Madison High School in 1959 and then enrolled in the University of Chicago. During his time in college, Sanders became involved in the Civil Rights Movement during his university days. As a member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), Sanders participated in a sit-in against the segregation of off-campus housing in 1962. He also served as an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and participated in the March on Washington in 1963. After finishing college in 1964 with a degree in political science, Bernie Sanders lived on a kibbutz in Israel before settling in Vermont. He worked a number of jobs, including filmmaker, freelance writer, psychiatric aide and teacher for low-income children through Head Start, while his interest in politics grew.
1970-2006; Early Activism
In the 1970s, Bernie Sanders made several unsuccessful bids for the Senate as a member of the anti-war Liberty Union Party. His first political victory came in 1981 when he was elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont, by less than 1% of the vote. Sanders was able to achieve this win with the support of the Progressive Coalition, a grassroots organization. He was re-elected three more times, proving that the self-described “democratic socialist” had staying power.
Known for his “eccentric appearance“, Sanders made an unlikely candidate for national office but scored a 1990 win for a seat in the US House of Representatives. Outspoken on the issues, Sanders criticized both parties whenever he felt they were in the wrong. He was a vocal opponent of the Iraq War, concerned about the social and financial impact that the conflict could cause. In an address to the House of Representatives, Sanders said, “As a caring Nation, we should do everything we can to prevent the horrible suffering that a war will cause.” Sanders also questioned the timing of military action “at a time when this country has a $6 trillion national debt and a growing deficit.”
2006-2016; Senate & First Presidential Bid
After eight terms in the House of Representatives, Bernie Sanders sought to switch to the Senate in 2006, running against Republican businessman Richard Tarrant. He managed to win with 65% of the vote despite his opponent’s significant advantage in funding. In 2010, Sanders made the news with his more than eight-hour-long filibuster against the extension of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for the wealthy. He felt that this legislation was “a very bad tax agreement” between President Barack Obama and Republican legislators. Sanders also champions campaign reform and advocates for an amendment to overturn the Supreme Court decision on Citizens United. Sanders has advocated for expanding voting rights and opposed the Supreme Court decision to disband part of the landmark Voting Rights Act. He is also an advocate for universal single-payer health care system. Driven by his sense of protecting the environment, addressing climate change and interest in renewable energy, Sanders is a member of the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works and the Energy & Natural Resources Committee.
In April 2015, Bernie Sanders announced that he was seeking the presidential nomination for the Democratic Party. In his political platform, Sanders called for increased tax rates on the wealthy, greater government oversight of Wall Street, eliminating the gender wage gap, and the implementation of a single-payer healthcare system. Additionally, Sanders called for the implementation of a non-interventionist foreign policy, criminal justice reform, taking corporate money out of politics, and the promotion of socially liberal policies. One of the trademarks that defined Sanders’ campaign was his call for a “political revolution,” which asked for everyday citizens to become active in the political process and be the change they wanted to see on any given issue. Although many observers initially discounted his candidacy as a “longshot bid,” Bernie Sanders was able to come within 12% of defeating Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination and was able to gain much support from millennial voters as well as individuals who were not previously involved in the political system.
2016-Present; Progressive Cult Hero
On February 19, 2019, Bernie Sanders announced that he would once again be a candidate for the Democratic nomination. Calling President Donald Trump “the most dangerous commander-in-chief’s in US history,” Sanders underscored the importance of taking on both President Trump and the far-right political movement within the US in his announcement speech. Within a week of his announcement, Sanders had received nearly $18 million in donations from nearly 400,000 supporters and was polling strongly, with the only candidate ahead of him being former Vice President Joe Biden.
Overall, Bernie Sanders is running on a strongly progressive and comprehensive platform reminiscent of his 2016 bid for the Presidency. Here are his positions on the key issues (as compiled from his campaign website, voting record, and public statements):
- Increase the federal minimum wage to at least $15 per hour by 2025.
- Implement a “green jobs” public works and infrastructure program reminiscent of the New Deal-era programs put forward by President Franklin Roosevelt.
- Enact a universal childcare program.
- Sign into law the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would work to reduce the “gender wage gap” and eliminate ender discrimination at the workplace.
- Guarantee all workers paid medical leave, family leave, and paid vacation time.
- Pass the Workplace Democracy Act, which makes it easier for workers to join unions without the fear of retribution on the part of their employers.
- Implement a humble foreign policy which focuses on democracy, human rights, diplomacy and peace, and economic fairness as opposed to warfare and funding the US military-Industrial complex.
- Allow Congress to reassert its Constitutional role in war-making, so that no President can wage unauthorized and unconstitutional interventions overseas.
- Eliminate American support for the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, which has created the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe.
- Rejoin the Iran nuclear agreement and seek to restore diplomatic ties with Iran.
- Work with pro-democracy forces around the world to build societies that work for and protect all people.
- Protect a woman’s right-to-choose amid efforts by Republican lawmakers at all levels to overturn Roe v. Wade.
- Reinstate the federal assault weapons ban, expand background checks on gun purchases, and close the “Gun Show” loophole as a way to address the rise in mass shootings in recent years.
- Decriminalize marijuana by removing it as a Schedule I drug at the federal level, paving the way for states to legalize it without fear of the federal government stepping in. Sanders is also in favor of the sale and tax of marijuana at the state level in a similar manner to alcohol and tobacco.
- Stand up for the rights of LGBTQ+ Americans and work to pass the Equality Act, which would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity among the prohibited categories of discrimination or segregation in places of public accommodation.
- Abolish the death penalty and work to encourage all countries to eliminate this inhumane practice.
- Work to demilitarize police forces and hold police officers accountable for abusive practices
- Start to roll back the practice of mass incarceration for the first time in over 50 years.
- End the practice of cash bail, which preys on nearly half a million low-income prisoners in the US.
- Abolish private prisons, end profiteering in the criminal justice system, and reduce recidivism by focusing on rehabilitating currently serving prisoners through education and job-training programs.
- Work to address the root cause of many violent crimes through programs that promote better policing and prevent domestic and sexual violence
- Work to confront America’s entrenched history of racial inequality head-on.
- Pass legislation that creates more jobs, raises the minimum wage, and increases access to education and training. Also expand social safety net programs and guarantee affordable healthcare and nutrition programs so that we enable working families of color to get ahead.
- Directly combat voter ID laws and felony disenfranchisement at all levels.
- Eliminate residential segregation and expand access to quality affordable housing, as both have a pervasive and disproportionate impact on minorities in the US.
- Supports studying the idea of paying reparations to the descendants of slaves in the US as a way to reduce income inequality for African-Americans.
- Implement a single-payer healthcare system for every American as a way to bring the number of uninsured individuals down to zero.
- Until a single-payer system is implemented, work to expand and improve the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) and Medicare/Medicaid.
- Increase the number of Community Health Centers for low-income individuals
- Make mental health services available to all individuals regardless of their income.
- Work to control prescription drug costs and tackle fraud at the highest levels of the big pharmaceutical companies.
- Pass meaningful immigration reform that includes a path to legal residency of citizenship for most undocumented immigrants in the US today.
- Support the DREAM Act, which creates a path towards permanent residency for young undocumented immigrants.
- Increase opportunities for qualified individuals to take steps towards permanent residency.
- Believes that all public colleges and universities should be tuition-free, and all current student loan debt should be canceled.
- Supports implementing high-quality, affordable early childhood education.
- Favors colleges and universities hiring more faculty and increase their percentage of tenured and tenure-track professors.
- Supports not requiring students to reapply for financial aid every year.
- Supports reducing student loan interest rates and cancelling all existing student debt.
- Phase-out the use of fossil fuels such as oil, gas, and coal and move aggressively towards renewable energy sources as a way to combat climate change.
- Stop building nuclear power plants and find a solution to the growing nuclear waste problem.
- End fossil fuel subsidies
- Transformation to a sustainable energy system based on energy efficiency and renewable energy sources will create thousands of jobs.