The Nina Turner Show: Towards a Party of the People with Dr. Jane Sanders
Dr. Jane Sanders talks about her political life from childhood to creating the Sanders Institute, and calls for the Democratic Party to become the party of the people
Disclaimer: Nina Turner is a founding fellow of the Sanders Institute and is now the president of Our Revolution. At the time of filming she was not the president of Our Revolution.
Nina Turner: Dr. Jane Sanders, who I finally call … I fondly call you Dr. Jane. So I got to let the audience know. Welcome to the Nina Turner show on The Real News.
Dr. Jane Sanders: So glad to meet be here. I’ve been watching you, and really I’m glad to be on.
Nina Turner: Yeah. Happy, happy to have you. So we are here at Chi-town, Chicago, Illinois, for the People’s Summit. We want to know a little more about you. I mean, we know that you are Dr. Jane Sanders, the wife of, the right-hand woman of Senator Bernie Sanders. But share something with our viewers about you.
Dr. Jane Sanders: Well, I’m the mother of four and grandmother of seven, and those are the most important roles in my life. So wife, mother-
Nina Turner: I agree.
Dr. Jane Sanders: … grandparent. But I grew up in Brooklyn, Bed-Stuy, and moved to Flatbush when I was a teenager. I just have been involved in politics from a different kind of way, you know. I mean, we heard-
Nina Turner: What was your different kind of way?
Dr. Jane Sanders: Well, we heard from everybody, and it was so interesting that I thought, “Hmm. I didn’t grow up with political parents. I didn’t grow up with the idea of we’re all fighting for things.” They were regular folks, working, and my dad got ill. He fell and he broke his hip and there were some problems with that. He was in the hospital for two and a half years when I was two. So all my brothers had to quit high school … my older brothers to help support the family. My mom went to work and then went to secretarial school so she could get a better job. So I learned pretty early that lack of good healthcare, good insurance, is a real problem. He was in the hospital for the better part of every year until I was 14.
Now that oldest sibling, my brother, Benny O’Meara, had quit high school, and then became a blacksmith in Brooklyn. Then he became a trainer of horses and a rider. Long story short, he had a talent and he’s in the hall of fame. So when he made enough money, and my father was in the hospital when I was 14, he went in and he said, “I want him checked head to toe, because there’s something else every time,” and they said, “Oh no no no, we don’t do that. We only treat what is presenting itself at the moment, and that’s all the insurance will pay for.” He said, “I can do that for my horses. You can do that for my father. I’ll pay cash.” He wasn’t in the hospital again for ten years. Political awakening that was beyond belief, how unfair that was.
Nina Turner: So a lot of what you’re saying, Dr. Jane, a lot of families face that to this day.
Dr. Jane Sanders: They do, they do, and it’s not right. That’s why we need a Medicare for all, single payer system. This isn’t okay. I mean … health. It’s not just healthcare should be a basic right. Health, access to health.
Nina Turner: That’s right. You said that your father was a working man?
Dr. Jane Sanders: Yeah, he was a taxi cab driver.
Nina Turner: Taxi cab driver, and the reason why I point that out, because there’s kind of this spirit some times among certain people who believe that people don’t deserve certain things, or poor people don’t work, and the story that you’re sharing is that something happened … that could happen to anybody, happened to your father, and it changed the entire course of …
Dr. Jane Sanders: Of all of our lives.
Nina Turner: … your family. Impacted everybody.
Dr. Jane Sanders: Yep, and you never know when things happen. I mean, my brother Benny probably wouldn’t have been an equestrian. Who knows? My father was a teacher before that, but because he was sick so often, he couldn’t stay a teacher …
Nina Turner: In the classroom.
Dr. Jane Sanders: … and so then he became a taxi cab driver. I guess I’m partial to taxi cab drivers. I talk to them all the time …
Nina Turner: Yes, I do too.
Dr. Jane Sanders: … and they’re some of the smartest people I know.
Nina Turner: They really are. They know what’s really happening.
Dr. Jane Sanders: They do.
Nina Turner: You know, I talked to a cab driver the other day. He lives in New York, so you being a New Yorker, kind of your vantage point. He talked about the fact that now in New York and other major metropolitan areas like a New York, that people who are native born there feel as though they’re being priced out of being able to live there.
Dr. Jane Sanders: Oh yeah. Absolutely.
Nina Turner: What are some of your thoughts about people being displaced because a place is … they can no longer afford. Some of it is gentrification, but it’s just flat-out the more money you have, the more you are able to stay in place.
Dr. Jane Sanders: No, that’s right. The gentrification issue is really, really hard, and it’s happening all over the place. It’s interesting, like New Orleans right now is affordable, because people are afraid to go back. But the people who live there, there’s a revitalization, and businesses, dressmakers and restaurants, and all these wonderful things. A musician’s village. There’s a lot happening down there, and you can see the difference. Like when New York was that way back in the ‘50s and the ‘60s. It felt that way then, and I’m sure it felt that way long before I knew. But now, New York is becoming the city … a lot of it, the city of suits, you know?
Nina Turner: The city of Wall Street. No-one else need apply.
Dr. Jane Sanders: Yeah, yeah. Although there’s a lot of good artists that are there, but they have to be pretty well-off to be able to maintain-
Nina Turner: To be able to afford there. Lots of people are being displaced in this country, because … even Washington State, I talked to some folks that are saying Seattle is not as affordable, you know, because of the tech industry. So some of those things are blessings in terms of the …
Dr. Jane Sanders: Well, and the thing is that people keep on going back to the old solutions. Build affordable housing in a box, you know? Bernie, when he was mayor, did inclusionary zoning, which meant that whatever you built-
Nina Turner: Mayor of Burlington, Dr. Jane?
Dr. Jane Sanders: Mayor of Burlington, Vermont. But he did inclusionary zoning so that anybody who built, no matter how high price they were, 20% of them … of the building … the units had to be affordable, and they should be sprinkled within, instead of, “Okay, we’re building affordable housing over there.”
Nina Turner: We’ll put them over there.
Dr. Jane Sanders: Right. Then he also did the first municipal land trust, which was the city bought properties from people, and then sold them with an agreement that people would only realize a certain … I think like a 9% annual rate of return, which would stop the gentrification … maybe the 9% was too high. But the people would just say, “Okay, the city owns the land. We own the home. We could sell the home, but we can’t sell it for more than something else.”
We’re seeing, 20 years later, that people are still in their homes. More people are saying, “I want to sell to the land trust, because I want this home to always be for family,” and then he did it nationwide. Now, all over the world … in England they’re doing it. All based on what one mayor did back then.
Nina Turner: So one person can make a difference, Dr. Jane?
Dr. Jane Sanders: Yes. Yes.
Nina Turner: So that which brings me to the Sanders Institute. Can you talk to us a little bit about what’s your vision for the institute and what kind of impact you would like to see the institute make? You’re one of the sponsors of the People’s Summit.
Dr. Jane Sanders: Yes. Well, you know about the Sanders Institute because you are one of our founding fellows. But I’m glad to be able to tell your viewers. Well, the mission is to actively engage people and organizations and the media in pursuing progressive, bold solutions to environmental, economic, racial and social justice issues. We want to … a small goal … revitalize our democracy.
Nina Turner: Very small.
Dr. Jane Sanders: Very small. So-
Nina Turner: You don’t aim high at all.
Dr. Jane Sanders: No, no … well, you know. You know that. Aim high, aim low, you only get there.
Nina Turner: Right.
Dr. Jane Sanders: So we’re excited. We have 11 wonderful fellows that are going to be out there. Hopefully we’ll be like a speakers’ bureau for the fellows, saying, “Okay, we need to have more Progressive voices on these cable shows.” Because they talk the Democrats and the Republicans. Well, the Progressive-minded people, are the ones that we have to, you know-
Nina Turner: Do you think people will buy into that though, Dr. Jane? We’re so programmed to see most things through the lens of being a Democrat or a Republican, especially in this toxic political environment. What you’re trying to do with the Sanders Institute, with other fellows, with you and other people’s work, is that realistic? To get out there and not talk Democrat or Republican?
Dr. Jane Sanders: I think we have to give it a try. I think the media will be the hardest sell. I think the people … I mean, 51 … more than half the people consider themselves independents, and the younger people much more so. On the other hand, the Democratic Party is supposed to be the party of the people. It hasn’t been for a long time. It’s been going in the wrong direction. We’re trying to wrest it back so that it starts to be true to its roots, and we see-
Nina Turner: Not all the way to its roots though. Not today, Dr. Jane.
Dr. Jane Sanders: Oh, not all the way, no. Definitely.
Nina Turner: We don’t want it to go all the way back.
Dr. Jane Sanders: FDR. FDR. Not all the way back. That was not good.
Nina Turner: No, not at all.
Dr. Jane Sanders: So we’re hoping to … we’re going to be nonpartisan. We’re not going to talking Democrats, Republicans. We’re not going to be taking part in the politics of personal destruction at all.
Nina Turner: Amen.
Dr. Jane Sanders: You know that’s how we roll. We’re just not going to do that anyway as individuals, so … and to a person. That’s every one of the fellows. But we’re also going beyond that. We have a very active website that will have op-eds and research papers and original content. We’ll go back around the country and meet some of the people I met during the campaign, and I want to resonate their voices. I want to amplify their voices. Because the things that are going on all over this country, with Native Americans and with 21st Century Jim Crow, is unacceptable. We learned a lot, and I know American people, once they know and they learn as much as we’ve learned, they won’t stand for it.
Nina Turner: Yeah. I totally agree.
Dr. Jane Sanders: I want to shine a light on that.
Nina Turner: We need that. We need that light. I know Dr. King once said that darkness can’t drive out darkness, only light can do that.
Dr. Jane Sanders: Right. As I travel the country with Bernie, and just even here, meeting people, hearing their stories, you can’t help but be moved and want to make a difference in their lives. There are so many good people that are having such difficult times, through no fault of their own. Through circumstances that were beyond their control. As a mother, as a grandmother, I couldn’t accept that for my kids or my grandchildren. I can’t accept it for the people out there, whether they’re my age, older, younger. I think once you’re a mom, you have empathy that has … and there are a lot of people that are not moms that have that empathy built right in.
But I just think that it’s not fair. America is supposed to be a just society, and it isn’t, and we, every single one of us, has to take whatever opportunity we have to make it better. We can’t be self-interested, “What’s good for me,” or focused only on ourselves, but focus on the other. I think if everybody does that … and that’s what I tell my grandchildren, you know, “Well, think about how that person feels.” So I guess that’s it. What we heard as children. We didn’t hear, “Be empathetic,” necessarily, but we said, “You know, take into mind how that person feels.”
“Why do they want what they want? Why are they experiencing what they’re experiencing, and how can you help? How can you be a positive influence or a positive person to just … even to just listen is enough sometimes.” So everybody out here that is here today, 4,000 people, I looked at them. They were listening to you this morning and they were taking it in. Watching the faces, they are thinking, “I could do this.” You could see the wheels turning. It wasn’t … not everyone will run for office. But they’ll do something.
Nina Turner: In moments where you felt heavy during that election, what gave you solace? How did you find your comfort? How did you get back to that place of stasis?
Dr. Jane Sanders: See … I really … it is the people. When we’d go out there, and you could feel the energy, you could feel the love, then you’d walk the rope line and talk to people, and all the time they were saying, “Thank you. Thank you. You’ve made a difference in my life.” Bernie and I would walk away and, invariably, we’d say, “We can’t let them down.”
Nina Turner: Yeah. Wow. We can’t let them down. I want to thank you so much for being a doer of the deed. Thank you, Dr. Jane, for joining us.
Dr. Jane Sanders: Thanks for having me, Nina.
Nina Turner: You have been watching the Nina Turner show on the Real News Network.