This story was written by Ithaca Voice writers Rubin Danberg Biggs and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs.
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TRUMANSBURG, N.Y. — A co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream attended the 2015 GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance this weekend to promote the Stamp Stampede, a campaign aimed at reducing the influence large corporations have on politicians and elections.
“It’s about the power of numbers of people over huge amounts of money,” said Ben Cohen.
“Whatever you may care about … the reason why things are screwed up is because politicians are being paid large sums of money to pass laws that benefit those who already have so much at the expense of everyone else.”
Cohen said his group is a part of a much larger effort with one primary goal: pass an amendment to say that corporations are not people and that money is not speech.
The group, founded in 2012, has attempted to gain support for the proposed amendment by encouraging people to stamp messages on dollar bills. At their booth, Cohen and others from the movement methodically stamped bill after bill and sold stamps for people to ink their own dollars with phrases such as “NOT TO BE USED FOR BRIBING POLITICIANS.”
Cohen wore a shirt from his organization that said “The system isn’t broken, it’s fixed,” and also had a “We Are Seneca Lake” pin on his chest.
Cohen said he believes that the stamping method will linger in the public consciousness longer than traditional demonstrations. “The beauty of the stampede is that once you stamp a dollar bill, it goes into circulation and it stays in circulation for about two and a half years,” he said. “The impact is staggering.”
On average, each stamped bill is viewed by 850 people, according to the campaign.
“Politicians respond to overwhelming public demand,” said Cohen, expressing the group’s hope that the cumulative effect of these stamps, combined with the work of other similarly-minded groups, will influence politicians.
Cohen laughed with people who came by to chat or take pictures with the ice cream mogul as the scent of marijuana drifted by. But Cohen is serious about making a change in American politics.
“Music creates an emotional reaction in people,” he said, emphasizing the need for the stampede to continue even after the last tents had been packed up.
Cohen said that at Grassroots, “people’s hearts and spirits are open … [and] we need to start talking to them about doing things when they leave the festival that will continue the spirit and vibe of the festival.”
“It’s a public demonstration of support,” said Cohen of his stampede. “It’s infiltrating the money supply; we call it monetary Jujutsu,” a reference to the Japanese martial art method of using enemies’ strengths against them.
Cohen said that the Stamp Stampede plans to join the band Donna the Buffalo on its winter tour, including when they come to Ithaca on December 5.
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