Bernie Sanders started with almost no support among voters and is now a serious contender for the Democrat nomination. In honor of him winning the New Hampshire election, I decided to write up some less-known facts about his life.
He won his first mayoral election by only 10 votes
Before Bernie Sanders became an elected politician he spent most of the 1970s campaigning in a serious of unsuccessful bids for United States senate and as governor of Vermont. Dissatisfied with the political arena, Sanders turned to making documentary films about the abuses of corporate power in America. His biggest project was a movie about the life of union leader Eugene Debs, however we could not secure distribution for the project. After the lack of success in political film-making, Sanders decided to get back into the politics game and run for the mayor of Burlington, Vermont.
Sander’s campaign for mayor against incumbent Gordon Paquette at first seemed like a long shot, but Sanders spent most of his time knocking doors and getting support from local unions, creating a lot of dialogue around his bid for mayor. The big break came when the cop union of Burlington pledged their support to Sanders, giving him the backing he needed to become the main competitor to Paquette. Still, the campaign was a close race. When the votes came in, Sanders found out that he won the election. But the margin was so close that it turned out Sanders won by only ten votes.
He recorded a collaborative folk album
When Bernie Sanders began his time as mayor of Burlington in 1981, the city had a variety of antiquated sound ordinances which stifled local artists. One of Sanders’s most popular actions as mayor was to get rid of the sound ordinances and allow the city to begin having outdoor concerts and music festivals, a trend that remains to this day. The local musicians were appreciative of Sanders’s policies, even if they were skeptical about his socialist stances on issues.
Out of gratitude local musicians Todd Lockwood wanted to make a folk album featuring Sanders and the local Burlington musicians. Lockwood called Sanders’s office and soon got a reply from the mayor indicating that he would be on-board for the project. The musicians convened at the local White Crow Audio studios (also the recording studio for early Phish albums) and got to work recording covers of classic Americana songs.
As interesting as the project was, Lockwood admits that Sanders was not a very good musicians. Folk singer Peggy Seeger, whose brother’s songs the Burlington group covered, also admits that Sanders was pretty terrible at the recording the songs. Although Seeger is supportive of Sanders’s policies, she points out that Sanders did not really sing any of the songs, rather he just recited the lyrics to music. While the album is not a masterpiece, it is an interesting part of Sanders’s early political history.
His brother Larry ran for English Parliament
Bernie Sanders’s brother Larry was born in New York but moved to England in 1968 and has since become involved in Green party politics. For his whole life Larry has lived in England, slowly losing his Brooklyn accent. But in 2015 Larry Sanders decided to enter the political scene by running for parliament in Oxford West and Abingdon.
Larry’s politics are nearly identical to his younger brother’s. Both are self-proclaimed socialists and focus on wealth inequality in their respective countries. Both Sanders talk about the amount of money that goes into political races and want to get corporate influences out of politics. Often Bernie Sanders has mentioned that Larry was one of the most influential people on the development of his political ideals.
Unfortunately for Larry he came in fifth during the parliamentary election, but has been outspoken of his support for Bernie’s presidential bid. Larry has a positive outlook on his election results. Even though they did not win, they picked up more support for the Green Party in their area and established new branches throughout the country. Like his brother, Larry believes in the power of grassroots movements.
He was arrested in 1963 during a demonstration
Bernie Sanders has a police record. In 1963 at the age of twenty-one he got arreseted for a sit-in demonstration and also fined for the charge of resisting arrest. As mentioned above, Sanders was extremely active in college politics, mostly against the segregation policies of his school and city. He organized various protests and became an outspoken advocate for African-American rights. During his year off from the college due to bad grades, Sanders became more politically active.
The flash point for Sanders came when black residents got eviceted from Chicago’s Hyde Park under racial pretenses. Sanders wrote angry opinion pieces in the local paper and organized a protest against the action as well as segregation in local schools. In four locations protesters marched and made speeches until police intervened. Sanders was at the Chicago location. 159 protesters including Sanders got arrested.
Sanders and three other leaders of the protest faced fines and a police record. While awaiting trial at a Chicago court-house, the four loudly sang until a sheriff put a halt to the singing. In the verdict Sanders got a $25 fine and a criminal record for the charge of resisting arrest. That did not deter Sanders and he continued as an outspoken advocate for African-American rights.
Bernie Sanders has his own video game
For Sanders’s 2006 senatorial race his team decided to create an interesting way to spread the message. The result of many brainstorming sessions was a simple side scrolling video game named “Bernie’s Arcade”. Designed with charmingly low-budget, the game features Sanders flying around in a biplane powered by environmentally friendly hydrogen.
Featured on his campaign website, the game had viewers fight off little symbols representing big money interests, fat cats in politics and the far right. Sanders’s airplane shoots and destroys these enemies with “fact sheets”. Throughout the game the player hears snippets from Sanders’s speeches and told to avoid the flying bags of money. While the game has since been removed from his website, the internet archives allow the curious to still play this charming little game.
He inspired an Allen Ginsberg poem
While Sanders made waves with his campaign announcement as a self-proclaimed democratic socialist, this has been his stance for years. Even when he ran in 1981 he was outspoken about his socialist beliefs and continued to talk about how he believed socialism would work for the country during his time as the mayor of Burlington.
During the 80s Sanders gained notoriety among the nation’s artists, poets and singers, with many of them visiting Burlington to meet with Sanders. Among them was poet Allen Ginsberg, famous for his poem Howl. When Ginsberg visited Burlington, he wrote a short poem called “Burlington Snow” about the socialist mayor coupled with meditations on nature and literature.
Ginsberg’s poem is playful and sincere, but was lost to time until a reporter for The Guardian brought the poem back to the public eye by publishing the handwritten version of the poem. This further solidified Sanders’s reputation in artistic circles.