Bernie Sanders: the man, the mitts, the legend

Bernie Sanders raises millions for charity


Noe Foehr

Noe Foehr shows off her Bernie Sanders inspired crewneck, donning his famous Inauguration Day pose.

Although Inauguration Day was a scaled-down affair this year, it was nothing short of eventful. Outfits from Lady Gaga’s “Hunger Games” inspired outfit to Michelle Obama’s plum-colored Sergio Hudson belt intrigued watchers, but perhaps the most notable outfit was Senator Bernie Sanders’.

He dressed in handmade and upcycled mittens and a Burton Snowboards coat, becoming an internet sensation. Sanders sparked thousands of photoshopped memes, cropping up in movie posters and album covers. His campaign team worked to release tees and crewnecks donning his photo that quickly sold out. 

Jen Ellis, the woman who knit Sanders’ trademark mittens, was quickly sought out for comment.

I was just blown away. I mean, people wear famous fashion designers to the inauguration, and there was Bernie, wearing mittens that I made, you know, in my craft room, with a sewing machine that my mother gave to me when I was 12,” Ellis said.

A lot of good came from Sanders’ outfit choice, one of the most notable being the massive donations made possible from his picture. All proceeds from his merchandise sales were put towards charities like Meals on Wheels Vermont and The Vermont Parent Child Center Network

“Jane [my wife] 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.

Sanders wasn’t the only one with plans to capitalize on the opportunity. Ellis took advantage of the spotlight as well. She made three more pairs of her signature mittens, donating two to auctions for Passion 4 Paws Vermont and Outright Vermont, respectively, and the last pair to be auctioned off on eBay for her daughter’s college fund.

Ellis recognized she could not knit enough for everybody who wanted a pair, so she also joined with the Vermont Teddy Bear Company to better meet the rising demand. 

“I can’t be more thrilled because I personally can’t make 18,000 pairs of mittens,” Ellis said, “Everybody will get their mittens – everybody.”

That’s not all, though. Ellis is donating proceeds to the Make-A-Wish Vermont charity, which the Vermont Teddy Bear Company often works with.

Burton Snowboards also joined in the giving. They donated 50 jackets in Sanders’ name to the Burlington Department for Children and Families.

Inspired by the people and donations surrounding her, Tobey King decided to do her part as well. She crocheted a doll of the viral picture and put it on eBay, insisting that all money would go towards Meals on Wheels America. In less than a week, the doll’s winning bid was $20,300, and eBay announced their intentions to match the donation, raising the total to more than $40,000 for charity. 

These donations all trace back to Sanders, whose recent goodwill has only garnered him more admiration, leaving a lasting impression on supporters. Though going to a good cause, the high demand for these sweatshirts is a sign of the increasingly problematic ‘stan culture’ of politicians.  

Supporters begin to idolize their favorite politicians in the way that they idolize celebrities. This parasocial relationship grants politicians an untouchable status, allowing people to view their actions through rose-tinted glasses. 

This has become more and more apparent in recent years as social media and technology have taken on lives of their own. Followers of Kamala Harris dubbed themselves #KHive, while Alexandria Ocasio Cortez garnered lots of attention following her Among Us stream. 

Younger generations, in particular, have become critical of this. 

“When politicians establish themselves as a celebrity, they establish a base who believes they can do no wrong,” Timothy Duffy, a sophomore, said. “Inevitably, this creates toxicity, as with any fanbase.”

Duffy is not alone in voicing his concern. Teenagers flood social media to criticize blind loyalty to politicians, insisting that it’s damaging.

When politicians establish themselves as a celebrity, they establish a base who believes they can do no wrong. Inevitably, this creates toxicity, as with any fanbase.”

— Timothy Duffy

The perception of politicians and their policies is clouded when supporters idolize them, fostering the mindset that they bond with them despite never having interacted. 

Politicians favor strategy, keeping goals of reelection and relevance. They do what it takes, meaning that they make decisions to best support themselves, rather than the country, government, and people in many cases.

The idolization of politicians doesn’t only stem from complete, blind faith. It can be active and harmful on smaller scales, which makes it more challenging to catch.

Although many believe Sanders’s actions are certainly admirable, it is important for people to keep their perspective unbiased and not allow his publicity moves to fog the realistic mindset necessary when dealing with politics. 

Still, good deeds are good deeds, and Sanders’ contribution furthered financial security for Vermont charities.

He turned a silly meme into millions of dollars for Vermonters,” Donna Bailey, co-chair of The Vermont Parent Child Center Network, said.