The Sanders campaign has a new set of posters spreading across the internet. Consisting of an outline of Sanders with his first raised in the air against an off-white background, his shape is filled in with a mosaic of blue, purple, yellow, and red silhouettes. The message is simple: “Not me, Us.”
“I wanted to make an atypical political poster with the people—not the candidate—the focus of the image,” said Aled Lewis, the British artist behind the posters, in an interview. “Bernie is an aperture through which the people are seen and heard.”
The posters were designed to evoke the revolutionary labor spirit of 20th century activism while incorporating the ethnic, sexual, religious and economic diversity of Sanders supporters of 21st century America. That was what drew Lewis to the Sanders campaign.
“Images of vast numbers of people gathered and united in a common purpose can be very powerful and evoke important moments in history,” he said.
“It’s in a long tradition of iconography of multicultural support for a labor oriented candidate,” said Joseph McCartin, a professor of labor history at Georgetown University, of the multilingual Sanders posters. But he distinguished between the recently released posters from those of the New Deal era: “The important difference in the Sanders campaign is building a movement rather than electing a great leader.”
Roosevelt’s strategists focused on the idea of electing a savior, partly because he shared the same name as his distant cousin — the trust-busting populist president Teddy Roosevelt. As evident in Ben Shahn’s iconic 1944 election posters, in which Roosevelt’s face looms large over the out stretched hands of racially diverse American workers with the words “Our Friend” in large, black letters.
The inclusion of an outstretched black hand was deeply symbolic, and an important message for the Democratic electorate, according to McCartin. “Roosevelt openly sought black votes and was the Democratic president who was responsible for black voters switching allegiance to the Democratic party,” he said. “At that time, blacks were kept from the vote in the segregated South. The image of the black hand was powerful and potentially explosive in the region.”
Sanders has sought to position himself as a successor to Roosevelt — his economic and social policies, though defined as “Democratic Socialism,” largely reflect the Roosevelt’s New Deal programs and approach to politics. “He acted against the ferocious opposition of the ruling class of his day,” Sanders said to a packed audience at Georgetown University last November. “Roosevelt implemented a series of programs that put millions of Americans back to work, took them out of dire poverty, and restored their faith in government.”
While there are a number of similarities between the images, the biggest difference is in Sanders’s message: his posters exist in over a dozen different languages, ranging from Arabic and French to Tagalog and Vietnamese.
Lewis, an active Redditor, said the multilingual posters were the result of feedback and collaboration from the online community, which houses a strong pro-Sanders community. Not long after he published the poster in English, a Chinese-speaking fan of Sanders republished the same poster in Mandarin, followed shortly by a Korean version of his poster. That sparked the idea to publish the same poster in numerous languages.
Despite living in England, Lewis follows the campaign closely, calling it a “full-time obsession.”
“When you examine Bernie’s message, you see it is interconnected with wealth inequality, racial justice, private prisons, healthcare, and gun control,” he said. “People know that the excesses of the financial markets and power wielded by relatively few wealthy individuals has gotten out of hand, but had largely accepted that these structures of power were insurmountable.”
Political posters are no longer just posters — they’re memes, spread across the internet by social media users who see their political opinions reflected in the material that they share. The Sanders posters have been shared over 8,000 times on Facebook since they were posted last Friday.
The last time a single image managed to capture the attention of the public was during President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, when Shepard Fairey created the iconic “Hope” poster that came to dominate the collective conscience of the American public. Lewis wanted to take a different approach. “Shepard Fairey’s Hope poster of Obama perfectly reflected people’s focus on Obama as an agent of change,” he said. “I wanted to take a step away from traditional political campaign poster themes and speak more about Bernie’s message of unity and the potential and power of the assembled and organized masses.”