Ben Cohen, ice cream maven and TrueMajority founder, answers questions
With what organizations are you affiliated?
What do your organizations do?
BLSP is a group of more than 500 business leaders in the U.S. who are committed to focusing on the most pressing issues we face (education, health care, environmental responsibility) by diverting a small percentage of our wasteful Pentagon budget to social needs.
TrueMajority.org began as a way to bring together progressives and provide them a vehicle to get involved in our democracy. We call it two-click activism — we’re your eyes and ears in Congress. We monitor how Congress is performing in relation to our 10 Principles. When something is happening that our nearly 500,000 members would care about, we send out an e-alert and provide a free fax and email service to their elected officials.
What, in a perfect world, would constitute “mission accomplished”?
It goes beyond Iraq. We need to be a superpower for peace and provide food and health care for all poor people in the world. We can do this.
What do you really do, on a day-to-day basis?
You want nitty-gritty? Here you go.
On Thursday, I spent the day working on the PantsOnFire-mobile — a 12-foot statue of George W. with his pants on fire — that has been touring around the country to educate the public about the lies the president has told over the last four years. More specifically, I installed some outdoor speakers to play some great tunes and an LED sign that scrolls through the lies the president has told.
I flew to Chicago in the evening for a book-signing event first thing in the morning. I spent the day talking to people about the book I just wrote with Jason Salzman, 50 Ways You Can Show George the Door in 2004. I had a great time chalk stamping on the streets of Chicago. That evening, I attended an event for Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities where I signed books, ate great food, and talked with tons of great people.
On Saturday, I flew to San Francisco to speak at a conference. I signed some books, ate some more great food, ate some ice cream, and drove around in a convertible.
Sunday … more of the same.
Monday … The weekend is a blur. I know it went well, but the details are vague. I fly to Denver in the evening.
What long and winding road led you to your current position?
After I got kicked out of a number of colleges, including a college without walls, I took an ice-cream correspondence course with Jerry and went from there.
What’s your favorite flavor?
How can business be a force for good?
By integrating progressive social values into day-to-day business decisions, like purchasing (from a nonprofit group, if possible), marketing (teaming with Rock the Vote for voter registration), and finance (using good financial institutions, like ShoreBank).
How many emails are currently in your inbox?
Who’s the biggest pain in the ass you have to deal with?
Who’s nicer than you would expect?
Conservative radio talk-show hosts.
Where were you born? Where do you live now?
New York. Vermont.
What do you consider your environmental coming-of-age moment or experience?
When I learned about environmental racism, when I learned that the most heavy-duty pollution is done in poor and minority areas.
What has been the worst moment in your professional life to date?
When Ben & Jerry’s got sold.
What’s been the best?
It will be when TrueMajority reaches half a million members, which we expect to happen soon.
What’s on your desk right now?
Correspondence. Stapler. Five-year-old stale cookie — but my dog likes them and I don’t think they’re half bad. Prospective hands for George. To-do list (for me and my assistant, Natalie). Bocce ball invitation. “No George in 2004” hat. TrueMajority cootie catcher (download your own). Instructions for the operation of a generator. Phone. Burlington book and other books. Pics of my daughter and me. Arm off of an Ann Coulter talking doll. Various T-shirts. Nose plugs (so I can hold my nose when I vote for Kerry).
Who is your environmental hero?
Rainforest Action Network.
What’s your environmental vice?
Driving a car.
How do you get around?
Car. Most recently, a Crown Victoria towing a 12-foot statue of George W. Bush with his pants on fire.
What are you reading these days?
What’s your favorite meal?
The seared tuna appetizer at Smokejacks in Burlington.
Are you a news junkie? Where do you get your news?
No. I get news from truthout.org.
Which stereotype about environmentalists most fits you?
I have a beard.
If you could institute by fiat one environmental reform, what would it be?
Make sure that the owners of polluting industries live in the area of their spew.
Who do you think (not hope) is going to be elected president in November?
This all depends on how well progressives and Democrats turn out to vote. I’m confident that if we can turn people out, Kerry will be the next president of the United States. So everybody — VOTE and BRING YOUR FRIEND TO VOTE and DON’T VOTE FOR RALPH NADER!
We need regime change at home.
Would you label yourself an environmentalist?
Yes, but I am not an environmental activist.
What was your favorite band when you were 18? How about now?
Grateful Dead. Now it’s Dave Matthews Band and Phish and Lucinda Williams.
What’s your favorite movie?
I kinda like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, A Thousand Clowns, and King of Hearts.
Mac or PC?
What are you happy about right now?
I am happy about the incredibly talented and dedicated staff we have at TrueMajority and Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities and the progress TrueMajorityACTION has made toward showing George the door in 2004. I’m happy about a lot of things. I’m happy about my lunch. We are in the middle of making a “Bush-B-Gone” infomercial. What can I say? You caught me at a good moment.
If you could have every InterActivist reader do one thing, what would it be?