Jane O’Meara Sanders, who campaigned alongside her husband Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) across the country last year, is launching the Sanders Institute to help progressive allies reach more people through events and traditional media.
“The purpose is to revitalize democracy in the support of progressive institutions,” Jane Sanders said in an interview. “Our feeling is at our point in time, our country is at a crossroads, and people are engaged in a political process that can be opaque. A vital democracy requires an informed electorate, civil discourse, and bold thinking. So we put together this team to focus on issues, but not in a partisan way, not in a way that just focuses on the latest crazy thing. It will not be about Trump; it will be about the issues facing the country.”
The institute, a 501c3 spinoff of Bernie Sanders’s surprisingly popular 2016 presidential bid, is leading with 11 “progressive leaders” who won new audiences by associating themselves with the Sanders campaign. Among them are Princeton’s Cornel West, Berkeley’s Robert Reich, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Maryland gubernatorial candidate and former NAACP president Ben Jealous and economist Jeffrey Sachs.
“We’re hopefully getting them to write for the website, talk about their opinions, make documentaries, hold events that people can watch on Facebook — things like that,” Sanders said. “We’ll have a lot of analysis, research and op-eds. Hopefully, it’s going to increase the number of progressive voices in the mainstream media.”
The Vermont senator, who is pictured on the institute’s website, will not be involved with its operations. Neither Jane Sanders nor the experts will take salaries.
“I’m not getting paid anything,” she said.
That’s relevant in part because, as the senator has become a more prominent voice in progressive politics, his wife has come under attack. In 2016, the muckraking news site VTDigger reported that Sanders had overstated pledges to Burlington College, where she had been president, before the college closed down. A Republican lawyer requested that the U.S. attorney’s office investigate possible fraud; this year, VTDigger reported that someone at the U.S. attorney’s office, as well as an FBI agent, had looked at the defunct college’s records.
Sanders said that the story hadn’t impeded the launch of the new institute.
“That’s one of the things that’s very sad about our politics today,” Sanders said. “The Sanders Institute will not be taking any potshots at people. But those sort of attacks have unfortunately become par for the course.”