Ben Cohen fights the good fight

You’ve got to love Ben Cohen’s personal determination to remain rooted in the counter-culture, no matter how globally corporate his namesake, Ben & Jerry’s, has grown to be.

I don’t say this with so much as a drop of sarcasm or irony.   Here’s someone who made good in corporate America; and actually continues to try to do good.  That he has the resources to pursue this end is delightful.  

Mr Cohen is who most of us day-dream believers hoped to be one day, when the world would surely be at peace and our benevolent genius amply rewarded.

Focussing on Mr. Cohen’s latest adventure in grassroots activism, Stamp Stampede, which advocates for a Constitutional amendment remedy to Citizens United, Seven Days Ken Picard offers this overview:

“Some people think that all we need to do is overturn Citizens United and everything will be fine. That’s not true,” Cohen adds. “You overturn Citizens United and you go back to pre-Citizens United, when money was still corrupting politics. So we need to go deeper.” To do so, he contends, requires eliminating the right of corporate personhood altogether.

The idea is to use currency itself as a vehicle to carry the demand for reform.  To that end,  Stamp Stampede is distributing rubber stamps to be applied to paper money, carrying messages like

“Money is not free speech,” “Corporations are not people” and “Not to be used for bribing politicians.” The goal is to get as many people as possible to stamp their paper currency with these messages.

And in conjunction with another group that seeks to reverse the impact of Citizens United, Move to Amend, Mr. Cohn has personally invested $60,000. to take the show on the road.

a rolling, Rube Goldberg-esque contraption he describes as “a piece of traveling kinetic art.” Part sculpture, part political roadside attraction, the Amend-O-Matic is like a food truck, but for money stamping. Mounted on the back of a van, it stamps bills of various denominations with pro-amendment slogans.

The Amend movement is not without its detractors, however.  Representative of the wet-blanket contingent is South Burlington attorney, James Leas:

As Leas points out, hundreds of constitutional amendments have been proposed since the Bill of Rights was ratified 221 years ago but only 17 have been adopted. Pushing for one to end corporate personhood, Leas says, is “a wild goose chase” that will do nothing to get corporate cash out of elections.

Then there is the legal question: does stamping messages on dollar bills constitute defacement, and is it therefore against the law; or is it, too, protected as free speech?

It’s doubtful any action can be taken against Mr. Cohen’s money stamping activities, and if such a thing came to pass, it would only bring more attention to the message of the campaign.

I, for one, think it’s a great idea whose time has come.  As Mr. Cohen points out, a dollar passes through an estimated 1,750 hands in its lifetime, so it is an ideal petition vehicle; a “petition on steroids,” as he puts it.

So what if it won’t be easy winning a constitutional amendment?  It shouldn’t be easy!  And campaigning for such an amendment doesn’t preclude action on other fronts against the impact of the Citizens United decision.  

Bring on the dollar stampers and Ben’s infernal machine!  I’m all for this object lesson in how money “talks.”

About Sue Prent

Artist/Writer/Activist living in St. Albans, Vermont with my husband since 1983. I was born in Chicago; moved to Montreal in 1969; lived there and in Berlin, W. Germany until we finally settled in St. Albans.

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