Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Bernard “Bernie” Sanders is the son of Polish Jewish immigrants. While his higher education began with the study of psychology in Brooklyn, he soon transferred to the University of Chicago, where he ultimately graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. His political activities during his academic career consisted mostly of contributions to the Civil Rights Movement, as he was a student organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. After college, he moved to Vermont and worked in several fields, including carpentry, film-making, writing, and research.
Sanders began a humble political career in 1971, experiencing frustrating results for the following ten years. It was not until 1981, after a brief break from politics, that he found major success in the field by winning election to the office of Mayor in Burlington. He held this role until 1989, when he opted not to seek reelection and began teaching political science at Harvard University. Sanders returned to politics again in 1991 and won the seat for Vermont’s at-large congressional district, becoming the first Independent in congress in over 40 years.
Although Sanders traditionally runs as an Independent and describes himself as a “Democratic Socialist”, he caucuses with the Democratic party and generally enjoys their support. In 2005, Sanders declared himself a candidate for Senate representing Vermont, following the retirement of Jim Jeffords. Critically, his campaign won the endorsement of New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the Chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Schumer’s support meant that, although Sanders was as usual running as an Independent, any Democrat attempting to run against him would receive no financial help from the party. He also received endorsements from such notable Democrats as Harry Reid, Howard Dean, and even Barack Obama. Sanders would go on to win this Senate seat, and was reelected in 2012 with an impressive 71% of the vote.
Senator Sanders announced his candidacy for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, without fanfare, in a statement issued to supporters on Thursday, April 30, 2015. His road may be a long and difficult one with the expected backlash against his decidedly far-left political positions. Nevertheless, he is very well-liked, with 2011 polling finding him to be third among most popular Senators in the country, and making him a political force to be reckoned with.