Ben and Jerry founder speaks out at GrassRoots

The Ben half of Ben and Jerry’s hasn’t been responsible for any of the ice cream maker’s management since 1996, but his latest mission is just as sweet, if just as noble.

Ben Cohen wants to get money out of politics.

The 64-year-old founder of the ice cream maker brought his latest project, the Stamp Stampede, to Trumansburg’s GrassRoots festival, where he spoke several times throughout the weekend about his mission to remove the influence of money from national elections.

Dragging a wagon loaded with stamps, numerous attendees at the festival flocked to Cohen, shouting out questions as we pulled by.

“Are those numbers you’re telling us accurate?” One man yelled, pointing at the giant inflatable bar graph highlighting inequality in campaign funding set up by the Stampede’s table.

“Would I give you innacurate numbers?” Cohen shouted back, a smile never leaving his face.

Begun in 2012 in the lead-up to the presidential election, Cohen and his group are working to make as big a splash as possible before next year’s elections roll around. Devised with the mission of overturning the ruling of Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee, the Stampede seeks to remove the classification of non-profit and for-profit organizations as able to contribute unrestricted amounts of money to political endeavors.

“The cool thing about the stampede is to give people something tangible they could do, an easy way to take action,” Campaign Manager Edward Erickson said. “Ben was inspired by the Occupy movement, having people coming into the streets to protest inequality. He realized there were people who supported the movement who wouldn’t be able to go, and he wanted to give them something easy to do that could go anywhere.”

The movement, as far as GrassRoots is concerned, is centered around a table where stamps are sold and information is provided. These stamps bear a litany of phrases to stamp on dollar bills, such as “not to be used to bribe politicians,” or “not to be used to buy elections,” a visual trope the Stampede believes makes a powerful statement.

“There’s been a long history of using currency and the viral circulation of currency to drive political units,” Erickson said, naming the pennies distributed during the women’s rights movement as an example. “There’s something inherently viral in money, and now when people find these stamped bills, they post it on Twitter or Instagram. I think this makes it a very multi-lateral guerilla marketing campaign, online and in the streets.”

The campaign also has a local connection, which will have the Stampede riding alongside Donna The Buffalo on their upcoming tour and continuing to spread their word at two other GrassRoots festivals in Shakori Hills and in Virginia Keys.

“We’re going to kick up some dust,” Cohen said. “The idea of being at a festival or a concert is that’s where people’s hearts and spirits are open. They feel a lot of community, and this is a place to express our togetherness and to discuss taking our country back from corporations.”

Ithaca resident and founding partner of Ben And Jerry’s Jeff Furman set up the partnership, helping to lend into the festival’s and their founding band’s new attitude on taking a stand against money and politics.

“A few years after we started it, the band really got behind it,” Furman said.

Though it’s a musical show, GrassRoots thusfar has provided the organization quite the stage to deliver their message to a captive audience who are not only together in setting, but in their cause as well.

“It’s been a natural fit, between musical communities and us,” Erickson said. “We have a carnival type approach to activism and the message really works out well at festivals.”

Follow Nick Reynolds on Twitter @IJCityWatch

http://www.ithacajournal.com/story/news/local/2015/07/18/ben-jerry-founder-speaks/30354975/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *