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Bernie Sanders Turns Viral Moment into $1.5M for Charity

The inauguration of President Joe Biden on January 20th was a chilly affair. There weren’t many present, but those in attendance endured a windy 35° Fahrenheit (1.7° Celsius). Senator Bernie Sanders is from Vermont and used to the cold, but he’s also 79 years old. So no one can blame him for bundling up to watch the event in a warm coat, and handmade woolen mittens. He should have had a hat too, honestly. 

Brendan Smialowski, a freelance photojournalist, captured the image of Sanders sitting in a folding chair waiting for the inauguration to start, arms and legs crossed and a gritty expression in his eyes above his properly-worn mask. He posted it immediately to his photo feed and before the inauguration was even over, the image went viral. Something about the combination of expression, the oversized and very cozy-looking gloves, and Sander’s isolation at the center of the shot caught the collective imagination of the internet. Everyone and their brother immediately began cropping Sanders into every imaginable context – film scenes, classic paintings, sports events, you name it.

Bernie Sanders, who knows full well how the internet works, didn’t sleep on his fifteen minutes of spare fame. Immediately, he acquired the rights to the photograph and had his image put on a black, USA-made sweatshirt, and sold them for $45. All proceeds, every cent, went to Vermont’s Meals on Wheels programs, a collection of programs which support nutrition and outreach to low-income senior citizens. T-shirts were $27. Both sold out in a just five days, and his quick thinking raised $1.8 million.

“Jane (Sander’s 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,” said Sanders, who finds the popularity of the frankly grumpy image hilarious. He says he was just trying to keep warm.

“But even this amount of money is no substitute for action by Congress,” Sanders pointedly added. He is a staunch advocate for government safety nets over personal charity.

The famous mittens, it should be noted, were made specifically for Sanders by Vermont school teacher Jen Ellis from repurposed wool and fleece.

Source: CNBC

Editorial credit: Kari Bjorn /