The weather for President Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony was blustery, with snow flurries and a wind chill making the temperature like a frigid 33 degrees. Never let it be said that dyed-in-the-wool Vermonter Senator Bernie Sanders doesn’t know how to dress for winter weather.
Along with Amanda Gorman’s stirring poem, Senator Sanders’ now-iconic be-mittened outfit was one of the highlights of the day. Overnight, the look that launched more memes than we can count was pretty much ubiquitous.
The senator’s hunkered-down image—captured by the decorated photographer Brendan Smialowski—has been Photoshopped into classic paintings including Edward Hopper’s ‘Nighthawks’ and Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’. He’s been inserted into contemporary pop culture with winks and nods to ‘Sex and the City’, ‘Twilight’, ‘Game of Thrones’, and ‘Where’s Waldo?’ He’s even been swapped into Sharon Stone’s infamous cross-legged hot seat pose from ‘Basic Instinct’.
Some of my favorite Bernie Sanders sightings today: pic.twitter.com/Pxta5BO7Uu
— Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson) January 21, 2021
Apart from being an injection of some much-needed humor, Senator Sanders’ unexpected sartorial tour de force has had some other pretty amazing repercussions as well.
In typical carpe diem fashion, the Senator himself seized the moment by slapping a line of “Chairman Sanders” merchandise up on his campaign website—with all proceeds benefitting a variety of Vermont-based charities including local chapters of Meals on Wheels and several senior citizen advocacy initiatives.
The sweatshirts, tees, and stickers sold out in less than 30 minutes. Additional supplies were similarly snapped up faster than you can say “Jack Frost.” In all, Sanders reported raising in the neighborhood of $1.8 million in the span of five days.
“Jane 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,” Sanders said in a statement.
Jen Ellis, the Vermont elementary school teacher responsible for creating the world’s most famous mittens reported via social media that Sanders called to let her know “the mitten frenzy” had raised big bucks for a number of worthy causes.
Ellis said he didn’t reveal the amount, but tweeted, “[It’s] BIG and it’s amazing! Thank you!! Generosity brings joy.” In fact, Generosity Brings Joy is what Ellis named her new philanthropic website.
Ellis will be collaborating with businesses to design and create “Bernie Mitten Themed” products to benefit charity. Per the site’s mission statement: “These products are joyful, high-quality, and will help non-profits make up for some of the lost revenue of not being able to fundraise during the pandemic.”
Ellis wasn’t the only Bernie meme fan to use her crafty talents to raise money for charity. Tobey King, a woman from Corpus Christi Texas, put a crocheted Sanders doll she’d conceptualized and created up for sale on eBay, its proceeds also going to benefit Meals on Wheels.
Listed at a modest opening price of 99 cents, 167 bids later, the “Bernie Mittens Crochet Doll” sold for a gobsmacking $20,300. (King is keeping mum on who placed in the winning bid.)
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Meanwhile, the Portland, Oregon artist Mike Bennett has made a life-size cutout of Bernie in his now iconic pose for a charity auction. Through that initiative, over $3,000 has been raised in donations for Meals on Wheels.
When Senator Bernie Sanders suited up in his handmade mittens and Burton jacket to attend President Biden’s inauguration, it wasn’t symbolic, he was just trying to keep warm. However, when serendipity stepped in with a chance to spread that warmth metaphorically, it became the kind of gift that just keeps on giving.
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“This is the lesson life has taught me again and again,” said Jen Ellis. “If you give of yourself—not just material gifts, but your time, your goodwill, your kindness—you receive joy. It’s that simple. You don’t have to be rich to care; you just have to be human. We all have so many gifts, and the world is a better place when we share them.”
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