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Time to Take the Mittens Off!

"If you like the Bernie meme, you’re going to love Healthcare For All."

Artist Jonas Never (@never1959) applies finishing touches to his mural of Senator Bernie Sanders in Culver City, California on January 24, 2021. Standing out in a crowd of glamorously dressed guests, Bernie Sanders showed up for the US presidential inauguration in a heavy winter jacket and patterned mittens—with an AFP photo of the veteran leftist spawning the first viral meme of the Biden era.  (Photo by CHRIS DELMAS/AFP via Getty Images)

Artist Jonas Never (@never1959) applies finishing touches to his mural of Senator Bernie Sanders in Culver City, California on January 24, 2021. Standing out in a crowd of glamorously dressed guests, Bernie Sanders showed up for the US presidential inauguration in a heavy winter jacket and patterned mittens—with an AFP photo of the veteran leftist spawning the first viral meme of the Biden era.  (Photo by CHRIS DELMAS/AFP via Getty Images)

I like as good meme as much as the next person who likes memes, but I have my qualms about the Bernie mitten moment.

For those who have been paying attention to something else, in the days after the Biden/Harris inauguration, a picture of Vermont’s Senator Sanders siting masked and in mittens went viral.  

Speedily engineered apps enabled anyone to sit Sanders at their protest, on their trampoline or in their favorite painting. Former labor secretary Robert Reich tweeted Sanders Photoshopped into Edward Hopper’s gloomy nighttime diner. I’m not sure why.

With over two million people dead from Covid around the world, and hundreds of millions forced into poverty while the richest thrive, we need radical systems change more than ever.In the Intercept, Naomi Klein mused about the meaning of the meme: was it lefty longing for the presidency that might have been—superficial street cred for unity-seeking centrists—or a defiant display of we-the-people power at a moment of he-the-President consolidation? 

I kept remembering what Tony Benn once told me. A long time Labour Party member in the UK, Benn never gave up on the socialist principles of his party’s founders. He fought his entire life against the rightward drift into neoliberalism and famously tried, and failed, to become the party leader. On a different ideological landscape, Benn in the UK played a comparable role to the one Bernie plays in the US.  

After decades in Parliament, Benn retired in 2001. Opposing wars, standing up for unions, he kept up the protest, but the further he got from power, the more fondly even his enemies began to regard him. Months before his death, I remember him saying, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they demonize you, and then there’s a pause and then you become a national treasure." He meant it as a warning.

It is not time yet for Bernie Sanders to become a treasure. With over two million people dead from Covid around the world, and hundreds of millions forced into poverty while the richest thrive, we need radical systems change more than ever. It’s not just Trump, but also the macho, racist greed and anti-governmentism that he rode in on that needs impeaching.

“If you like the Bernie meme, you’re going to love Healthcare For All,” tweeted Reich, when he came to his senses. 

That’s more like it. Like or loathe memes, it’s time for Sanders, and more to the point, Sanders-ism, to take its mittens off.

Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders interviews forward-thinking people about the key questions of our time on The Laura Flanders Show, a nationally syndicated radio and television program also available as a podcast. A contributing writer to The Nation, Flanders is also the author of six books, including "Bushwomen: How They Won the White House for Their Man" (2005).  She is the recipient of a 2019 Izzy Award for excellence in independent journalism, the Pat Mitchell Lifetime Achievement Award for advancing women’s and girls’ visibility in media, and a 2020 Lannan Cultural Freedom Fellowship for her reporting and advocacy for public media. lauraflanders.org

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