On April 30, University of Chicago alum Bernie Sanders (A.B. ’64) announced his 2016 presidential campaign run. The 73-year-old Independent Senator from Vermont is the first confirmed challenger to former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Sanders has served almost two terms as Senator, 16 years as representative of Vermont’s at-large congressional district, and eight years as mayor of Burlington, Vermont.
Sanders defined his political platform last Thursday, in which he emphasized how he would champion green energy systems, thwart trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, push for a single-payer health-care system, dramatically increase government spending on education and infrastructure, and topple the “proliferation of millionaires and billionaires.”
His left-wing views and disapproval of the role of money in American politics stem from his lower-middle-class upbringing in a poor, Jewish family. “My dad came to this country at the age of 17, dropped out of high school, never made any money…. We didn’t have a whole lot of books,” Sanders said in last Thursday’s press conference. He said his father, Eli, was a Polish immigrant who sold paint to support his family. Sanders told The New York Times that his family’s financial situation left a lasting impression.
As a low-income undergraduate student at the University of Chicago in 1961, Sanders said that he felt out of place. “When I went to the University of Chicago, I began to understand the futility of liberalism,” Sanders told a reporter for Monday’s edition of Chicago Magazine. Sanders was an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, joined the Youth People’s Socialist League, and was chairman of the social action committee of the Congress of Racial Equality. According to a February 14 article in The University of Chicago Magazine, Chairman Sanders led approximately 33 people to a sit-in protest along the walls adjoining former University President Beadle’s office.
“I was not exactly a stellar student,” Sanders said in the article, and said that he began college majoring in English. Soon after, he switched to political science and graduated in 1964. He pursued the majority of his education in the basement of Harper Library and spent his time reading Marx and Freud. He told the author that he remembered Harper Library fondly. “A very good, a very fine library. I remember being down in the stacks. I don’t know what they call them now. Buried down there,” Sanders said.
His upbringing and experiences at the University have since shaped his political career, as evidenced by his consistent, public attack on the country’s wealthiest one percent. In last Thursday’s press conference, he acknowledged that such platforms would result in the loss of wealthy donor contributions. “I’m not going to get money from the Koch brothers; I’m not going to get money from billionaires,” Sanders said, but emphasized his belief in the power of small contributions from middle-class Americans to fund major campaigns.
Since his announcement six days ago, Senator Sanders has raised more than $3 million in four days via contributions to BernieSanders.com, from approximately 75,000 contributors, averaging $43.54 each, according to The Huffington Post.
In an interview on ABC’s “This Week,” George Stephanopoulos asked whether someone who calls themselves a socialist could win the race, let alone defeat Hillary Clinton. Senator Sanders delivered the following reply.
“Don’t underestimate me.”