On June 7th, 2017, Jane Sanders, the wife of former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, launched the Sanders Institute. The goal of the newly-formed think tank is to “revitalize democracy” by inserting progressive policies into the common political discourse. The Sanders Institute’s website includes a long list of policy issues that the organization is focused on such as Criminal Justice, Healthcare, and Sustainable Development. Also featured on the website is a collection of books, reports, and documentaries aimed at promulgating progressive issues to the masses.
Yet, the most interesting aspect of the Sanders Institute is the Sanders Institute Fellowship. The Fellowship consists of ten (not including Jane Sanders) prominent progressives from several different fields. Included are three economists, two politicians, and five activists. To understand the objectives and direction of the Sanders Institute, it is essential to acquire a better understanding of who these individuals are.
The Sanders Institute Fellowship involves three great economic minds. Robert Reich was the Labor Secretary under President Bill Clinton and is probably best known by progressives as the man behind the incredible documentary Inequality for All. He is also the author of over a dozen books focusing on the state of American labor and income inequality. Jeffrey Sachs is a globally distinguished economist and leads the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University as well as the UN Sustainable Solutions Network. He was recently a foreign policy advisor to Bernie Sanders and is one of the planet’s great anti-poverty minds.
Stephanie Kelton was an economic policy advisor to Bernie Sanders and will be teaching at Stony Brook University in the fall of 2017. She is a prominent proponent of a federal jobs guarantee and modern monetary theory.
In the Sanders Institute Fellowship, there are two politicians: Nina Turner and Tulsi Gabbard. Nina Turner was a State Senator for the state of the Ohio and a former candidate for the state’s Secretary of State position. She was a well-known surrogate for Bernie Sanders and hosts the Nina Turner Show on the Real News Network. Tulsi Gabbard is a current member of U.S House of Representatives from the state of Hawaii. She gained national attention after she resigned from her position as the vice chair of the DNC to support Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president.
In the largest subgroup of the Sanders Institute Fellowship, there are five fellows who are activists for a diverse array of causes. Harry Belafonte is a world-renowned musician and helped Martin Luther King Jr. organize the March on Washington. He has also participated in the anti-apartheid movement and was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP in 2013. Cornel West is a professor at the Harvard Divinity School and is one of the most famous progressive intellectuals in the United States. He has written dozens of books and essays and achieved national acclaim with the publication of Race Matters in 1994. Bill McKibben is one of the United States’ top environmentalists. He was a prominent figure during the protest of the Keystone XL pipeline and was awarded the Gandhi Peace Award in 2013. Danny Glover is a well-known Hollywood actor and has been part of several civil rights and pro-union demonstrations. While at San Francisco State University, he helped organize a student walkout to create a Department of Black Studies; he is deeply involved with the United Farm Workers and UNITE HERE. Ben Jealous was the President of the NAACP and is aggressively engaged in civil rights causes throughout the nation. On May 31st, 2017, he announced his candidacy for the Maryland gubernatorial election in 2018.
The Sanders Institute Fellowship brings together individuals from all across the progressive movement. The members of the Fellowship, each with their own niche, can utilize the Sanders Institute as a medium to formulate progressive policy and action. For example, when I contacted Jeffrey Sachs about what he aims to accomplish at the Sanders Institute, he expressed his determination to create “a new political consensus” centered around the globally agreed upon Sustainable Development Goals. All in all, the Sanders Institute certainly has a lot of promise to support the progressive movement. Time will tell whether the organization will have a substantial impact, but judging by the makeup of the Fellowship, the institution looks like it will have an influential, progressive voice.