Meme Game BERNing Up

By now, you’ve probably seen the Bernie Sanders Inauguration meme—sitting in his folding chair, legs crossed, mitten-clad hands folded, on the moon, at the last Supper, on a NY subway, atop a beam alongside Great Depression ironworkers, on the iron throne.


And this is not the first time. In early 2020, wearing the same Burton jacket he wore for the inauguration, he asked for donations while walking down a snowy street. His plea, “I am once again asking for your financial support,” was repurposed countless times where meme-ers  replaced “financial support” with their own plethora of requests from serious to silly.


But one has to ask, what makes Bernie so likeable—and memeable—amongst young progressives?


A self-labeled “Democratic socialist,” Bernie has served as a Vermont Senator since 2006, though he was a member of the House of Representatives and the mayor of Burlington for a period of time. Born to Jewish parents in Brooklyn, his family struggled financially and while attending the University of Chicago he became involved with the civil rights movement. At 79 years old, it would seem that Bernie’s age puts him at odds with Gen Z and Millennial Americans, though his policies do just the opposite.


Bernie has long advocated for free college and the cancellation of student loan debt. For universal health care coverage. For a minimum wage of $15—twice the current minimum. For the Green New Deal to shift to renewable energy. All of these policies address the concerns of young Americans. After all, we are going to suffer the consequences of climate inaction, we are going to bear the burden of ever-increasing healthcare costs, we are going to pay sky-high prices for college all with money we won’t have.


Nevertheless, while Bernie has been made into a meme, he has also harnessed the meme as a source of charity. His campaign’s “Chairman Sanders” meme merchandise has raised $1.8 million for food charities like Meals on Wheels America and Feeding Chittenden Vermont. One crocheted Bernie doll was even sold for over $20,000 on Ebay, with the proceeds going to Meals on Wheels America. Meanwhile, the other two pairs of mittens have been donated for auction to Passion 4 Paws Vermont and Outright Vermont.


Whether it’s his policies or his grandpa-esque inauguration attire or his thick Brooklyn accent, Bernie has found a way to connect with young voters in an unlikely fashion.