Wife and political advisor to Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders, Jane O’Meara Sanders, visited the University Concert Hall in UL Thursday night as part of the I.NY series of events.
Author and UL lecturer Joseph O’Connor interviewed Ms O’Meara Sanders as she gave an insight look into growing up in an Irish community in the heart of 1950s Brooklyn, her first fateful encounter with Bernie Sanders and where she thinks America can go from here.
Jane began the interview by describing her “idyllic upbringing in Brooklyn” and said that, “even though no-one in my family had ever been to Ireland, it was always talked about”.
Jane’s eight great-grandparents all hailed from different parts of Ireland including Tipperary, Cork, Westmeath, Mayo and Kildare.
She and Bernie first visited Ireland in 1985 where she says she, “fell in love with the place”.
Astonishingly, she and her future husband Bernie Sanders grew up only ten blocks away from each other but it would be years later until they met, at a mayoral election that Bernie was running in.
“I heard him speak and he embodied everything I ever believed in. I fell in love with his ideas right there.”
Jane then began working as a volunteer when he started in office. Much of their lives now revolve around politics, with even their honeymoon taking place in the then USSR.
Joseph then asked about the later years of Bernie’s political career, and most famously, his 2016 Presidental campaign.
“We kept talking about the idea, debating it back and forth. One day we were talking about it and a Vietnam war veteran came over. He said, ‘Thank you. I got my benefits after 30 years after calling your office.’ I said, ‘Now you have to do it.”
But the political campaign wasn’t all as rosy an experience as that. “It’s politics of personal destruction… It’s not enough to beat someone, you have to destroy them,” said Jane.
When asked about Hilary Clinton losing the 2016 Presidental Election, Ms Sanders said, “A cloud has stuck with her unfortunately and unfairly. How can she deal with this? My heart goes out to her.”
She described President Donald Trump’s inauguration as being, ‘Very hard for all of us,” and said that when Bernie lost the Democaratic nomination to Hilary Clinton, he backed Hilary because, “we knew he would be a very bad fit for the nation.”
When urging Bernie supporters to vote for Hilary, Jane said they stressed to supporters that, “This is not like any other election. This is not an option, you have to vote for Hilary Clinton.”
So will we see Bernie Sanders running for President again? She giggled. “I don’t know but his vision will be carried forward.”
That vision is one Jane describes as being one where, “no-one falls through the cracks.
“In America, people assoicate socialism with communism. It goes against the industrialist society, where it’s about competition not co-operation.”
Jane finished the talk on an uplifting note when asked what would she tell young people who have given up on politics.
“We don’t have the option to throw up our hands in despair. One elected official can make a huge difference, and once you have elected someone, you have to hold their feet to the fire. People need to vote, they have sat out on elections for too long,” she said.