Meme of Senator Bernie Sanders Goes Viral Worldwide
Those who are not students of U.S. politics might be asking why the latest social media craze features an older gentleman in a dark puffer coat sitting in a folding chair and wearing large woolen mittens with a zig-zag pattern.
Bernie Sanders, a U.S. senator from the small and often very cold New England state of Vermont, was seated at the presidential inauguration of his former rival, Joe Biden, dressed for warmth rather than fashion.
And the world can’t seem to stop getting enough of the image. Tweets and posts have received millions of likes and shares.
At 79, the senator, who is often referred to as Bernie when people talk about him - was more popular with younger voters during the Democratic primary than younger candidates. Now, after his appearance at the inauguration, he is everywhere.
The photo of him sitting with legs and arms crossed comfortably has been superimposed into images from around the world – showing him with the K-pop boy band BTS; dancing with South Korean K-pop star Psy; or as overlord Wizard of Oz. Other images show Sanders sitting outside a mosque in Aleppo, Syria, or watching a half-naked Putin take a polar plunge. There is also a superimposed image of Sanders on the moon.
The photo was snapped by Washington-based photojournalist Brendan Smialowski during the Jan. 20 inauguration unlike any other. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, and the Jan. 6 attack on the capitol, only hundreds were allowed to attend the event, and their seating was scattered apart to deter airborne virus contamination.
Senator Sanders sat alone, looking characteristically grumpy behind his surgical mask, observing the scene.
But after days of his image being shared around the world in various settings, the senator appeared to be delighted and amused in an interview with CNN.
“Not only are we having fun, what we’re doing here in Vermont is we’re going to be selling around the country sweatshirts and T-shirts, and all of the money that’s going to be raised…will be going to programs like Meals on Wheels that feed low-income senior citizens,” Sanders said.
“It turns out actually to be a good thing, not only a fun thing,” he said.
To engage younger constituents in government, the senator’s office is sponsoring its 11th State of the Union essay contest, in which Vermont high school students are invited to write about issues important to them. A diverse group of past winners has written about voter suppression and Islamophobia.
“Over the past 10 years, more than 4,600 students throughout Vermont have written essays about critically important issues, including climate change, access to mental health care, criminal justice reform, and much, much more,” according to his website.
The annual State of the Union address by the president of the United States to a joint session of Congress is typically a report card on how the country is doing and what plans the leadership has for the future.
Biden, as is the case for presidents starting a first term in office, will not give an official “State of the Union” address. Presidents traditionally are in office for a year before they give their first “State of the Union.”
But Biden will speak to the joint session of Congress in a few weeks.
No doubt, Senator Sanders will be there. And everywhere.
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Biden Cancels Federal Student Loans for Nearly 153,000 Borrowers
President Joe Biden said Wednesday that while a college degree was still a ticket to a better life, that ticket is often too expensive, as he announced he was canceling federal student loans for nearly 153,000 borrowers.
Biden, who is in the midst of a three-day campaign swing through California, made the announcement as part of a new repayment plan that offers a faster path to forgiveness, putting the spotlight on his debt cancellation efforts in his reelection campaign.
"Too many Americans are still saddled with unsustainable debt in exchange for a college degree," he said from a local library before he went on to campaign-related events. Loan relief helps the greater economy, he said, because "when people have a student debt relief, they buy homes. They start businesses, they contribute. They engage."
The administration began sending email notifications on Wednesday to some of the borrowers who will benefit from what the White House has called the SAVE program. The cancellations were originally scheduled to start in July, but last month the administration said it would be ready almost six months ahead of schedule, in February.
"Starting today, the first round of folks who are enrolled in our SAVE student loan repayment plan who have paid their loans for 10 years and borrowed $12,000 or less will have their debt cancelled," Biden posted on social media Wednesday. "That's 150,000 Americans and counting. And we're pushing to relieve more."
The first round of forgiveness from the SAVE plan will clear $1.2 billion in loans. The borrowers will get emails with a message from Biden notifying them that "all or a portion of your federal student loans will be forgiven because you qualify for early loan forgiveness under my Administration's SAVE Plan."
In his email to borrowers, Biden wrote he had heard from "countless people who have told me that relieving the burden of their student loan debt will allow them to support themselves and their families, buy their first home, start a small business, and move forward with life plans they've put on hold."
More than 7.5 million people have enrolled in the new repayment plan.
He said Wednesday that it was the kind of relief "that can be life-changing for individuals and their families."
"I'm proud to have been able to give borrowers like so many of you the relief you earned," he said, asking the crowd gathered for his speech how many had debt forgiven. Many raised their hands.
Borrowers are eligible for cancellation if they are enrolled in the SAVE plan, originally borrowed $12,000 or less to attend college and have made at least 10 years of payments. Those who took out more than $12,000 will be eligible for cancellation but on a longer timeline. For each $1,000 borrowed beyond $12,000, it adds an additional year of payments on top of 10 years.
The maximum repayment period is capped at 20 years for those with only undergraduate loans and 25 years for those with any graduate school loans.
Biden announced the new repayment plan last year alongside a separate plan to cancel up to $20,000 in loans for millions of Americans. The Supreme Court struck down his plan for widespread forgiveness, but the repayment plan has so far escaped that level of legal scrutiny. Unlike his proposal for mass cancellation — which had never been done before — the repayment plan is a twist on existing income-based plans created by Congress more than a decade ago.
Biden said he remained steadfast in his commitment to "fix our broken student loan system," working around the court's ruling to find other ways to get it done.