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Truthdiggers of the Week: Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s Fame

Posted on Apr 23, 2016

By Natasha Hakimi

    Jerry Greenfield and Ben Cohen serve ice cream at the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park, Manhattan, in 2011. (Paul Stein / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Every week the Truthdig editorial staff selects a Truthdigger of the Week, a group or person worthy of recognition for speaking truth to power, breaking the story or blowing the whistle. It is not a lifetime achievement award. Rather, we’re looking for newsmakers whose actions in a given week are worth celebrating.

Among the 1,400 activists arrested during the recent Democracy Awakening and Democracy Spring protests were two very familiar faces and even more recognizable names: Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, co-founders of the international ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s.

Monday’s protest took place at the steps of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., where 300 activists, including Cohen and Greenfield, were detained. It was the culmination of several days of demonstrations and marches aimed at getting big money out of politics, as well as demanding that Senate Republicans do their job and confirm President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee.

(READ ALSO: Chris Hedges’ piece on being arrested at the Democracy Spring protests, “Revolution Is in the Air.”)

In an interview with CNN, the two businessmen spoke out against a major issue plaguing our democracy:

“The reality is that our government has been corrupted by big money,” Cohen said. “We live under a system of what John McCain calls ‘legalized bribery.’ The huge contributions from major corporations and the ultra-wealthy are what’s driving the process in Washington.”

Greenfield added that he believes big money undermines the political process. “We need a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizen’s United, to overturn this idea that money equals free speech and that corporations are the same as people. Those two things are completely absurd,” Greenfield said, while sporting a Bernie Sanders shirt and pin.

“The movement is getting stronger and stronger, and that’s what you saw in Washington,” Cohen said.

The ice cream giants are not new to activism, though in the past they’ve chosen forms of protest that had less to do with jail and more to do with ice cream. In recent years, the company they co-founded and are still associated with publicly (though they no longer own it) has released a “Save Our Swirled” flavor in favor of action on climate change, as well as a marriage-equality themed “I Dough, I Dough” ice cream.

On Earth Day 2005, the company made a record-breaking 900-pound baked Alaska and served it in front of the Capitol building to protest proposed oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And last month, Cohen created a flavor in support of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. According to the website Quartz:

[Cohen] independently released a (very) limited edition ice cream in support of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, the senator from Ben & Jerry’s home state of Vermont. The flavor? Bernie’s Yearning, a mint ice cream topped with a large chocolate disc representing the top 1% of American earners. The message? Break up the rich chocolate, mix it in with the rest of the pint, and share.

Cohen and Greenfield have also gained their progressive credentials in ways not involving ice cream. For example, while they headed it, Ben & Jerry’s had a 5-to-1 ratio policy, in which no employee could make more than five times the salary of the company’s entry-level workers. Ben & Jerry’s has also been involved with the Children’s Defense Fund and has refused to use recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) or GMO products in its ice cream.

Although the two entrepreneurs sold their company in 2000, Ben & Jerry’s was still proud to announce on its site that its founders had been arrested Monday:

Earlier today, our cofounders, Jerry Greenfield and Ben Cohen, along with hundreds of other activists, were arrested as part of Democracy Awakening’s direct action on the steps of the U.S. Capitol Building.

We spoke to them just before it happened. “The history of our country is that nothing happens,” said Ben, “until people start putting their bodies on the line and risk getting arrested.” …

It all comes down to a simple idea that we believe in whole-heartedly: if you care about something, you have to be willing to risk it all—your reputation, your values, your business—for the greater good.

Since their release, Cohen and Greenfield have continued to advocate for change in a political system that has come to benefit the few over the many in a number of ways.

Thus, for reminding us in refreshing and often delicious ways that activism comes in all shapes, sizes and flavors, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield are our Truthdiggers of the week.

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