How Bernie Sanders Turned a Meme Into Money For Charity

By: Kaytlin Thornton | Contributor

Nearly everyone on the planet has seen the photo of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders all bundled up in his winter coat and wool mittens at the 2021 presidential Inauguration. As soon as the world saw it, memes flooded the internet as viral media typically tends to do, creatively editing it into countless other pictures. This time, however, the memes have helped to raise money for charity.

Though the picture in question, a snapshot of Senator Sanders with his arms and legs crossed while sporting a pair of handmade recycled wool mittens, took the world by storm, Sanders himself wasn’t immediately aware of the now-infamous photo. 

“I was just sitting there trying to keep warm, trying to pay attention to what was going on,” Sanders said on Late Night With Seth Meyers.

After seeing the image’s popularity the day of the inauguration, Sanders and his team decided to add merchandise featuring the meme, everything from sweatshirts to stickers, to his campaign website. The collection was titled “Chairman Sanders,” and the first wave sold out in less than half an hour. 

Sanders chose to use the proceeds to help charities within the senator’s home state of Vermont. The meme has generated over $1.8 million for various charities, including Meals on Wheels, Feeding Chittenden, and Chill Foundation. 

“Jane and I were amazed by all the creativity shown by so many people over the last week, and we’re glad we can use my internet fame to help Vermonters in need,” Sanders said in a written statement. 

Sanders hasn’t been the only one getting attention from the meme’s popularity. Jen Ellis, a Vermont schoolteacher who made his cozy brown mittens, is also receiving a fair amount of fame for her handiwork. Though she hasn’t decided to mass produce them or anything outrageous, she did make three more pairs—two for donations for charities and one to auction off for her daughter’s college fund. 

Given all the chaos that has been going on in the world lately, it’s probably safe to say that turning a good-natured meme into a good deed is something that can put a smile on anyone’s face.