Ben Cohen, ice cream maven and TrueMajority founder, answers questions
It seems like every time you turn around, there’s another helpful website where you can sign a petition or some such. But does it work? — Anupa Choduri, Los Angeles, Calif.
Will online groups change the world overnight? No. But groups like MoveOn.org and TrueMajority.org are reaching out to hundreds of thousands of people who may otherwise not pay attention to politics at all. Actions taken at TrueMajority.org — along with the work of “off-line” groups — have helped to encourage elected officials to take a stand. (We needed every bit of pressure, for example, to defeat the wicked energy bill that Bush proposed last year.) When an elected official knows that there are tens of thousands of people behind them it makes it easier to have a spine. Online organizing — along with other types of activism — will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
I was very disappointed at the “sell out” of Ben & Jerry’s to a corporation that could care less about your goals. Why did you allow it? — Mark Wahl, Langley, Wash.
I did everything I could do as a member of the board of directors to prevent it. I wanted Ben & Jerry’s to remain independent. It’s possible I should have resigned from the board and tried to mount an independent campaign to keep it that way.
I believe that business can be one of the most powerful sources for progressive social change, but the real power resides in the people, as long as they use it — and that’s why I am working now with TrueMajorityACTION.org.
How do you feel about the contribution that avoiding animal products makes to sustainable living, non-support of factory farming, improved health, alleviation of world hunger, and promotion of non-violence? — Marylou Noble, Portland, Ore.
I respect and admire vegans and vegetarians. I personally have not been able to make such a commitment. I have reduced my consumption of meat, especially factory-farmed meat — although I am about to deep-fry 20 free-range turkeys for a fundraiser for the progressive mayor of Burlington, Vt., Peter Clavelle, who is running for governor. Contributions can be made here.
How about taking that love for the environment a step further and offering a line of vegan ice creams? I know a lot of vegans who would be overjoyed to resume patronizing your establishments, and I would be first among them! — Keegan Roberson, San Francisco, Calif.
Anything is possible. I’m not certain if anything is coming down the pipeline, but write/email/call the company. Why not organize a group: Citizens for Ice Cream Choices. I bet the media would love it. Vegans and those who are lactose-intolerant could show how big of a market they really are.
What can the average person do to make sure that the folks in charge know that we actually prefer to purchase organic and/or fair trade products in order to make sure that farmers and other folks in the retail industry are able to earn a living wage? — Sue Angell, Oberlin, Ohio
Keep voting with your dollar. It does matter. Think about the small, local food supplier that stays in business because you buy their organic products in the store or the farmer’s market. I hope you continue to do so.
We are definitely gaining ground, but we have to continue to educate consumers as to why it’s important to purchase those products.
So keep supporting the companies that support the things you care about and tell your friends and your friends’ friends.
How come you don’t run for president? — Elizabeth Walsh, Olympia, Wash.
I share a lot of the views of Ralph Nader, and he should not run for president. I’m supporting the candidate most likely to defeat Bush — that means Kerry. That ain’t me, that’s for sure.
Did you back Kucinich in the primaries? And what do you think of his continuing campaign against the impending nomination of (pro-Iraq war, pro-Patriot Act) Kerry? — Robert Alcock, Bilbao, Spain
I did initially back Dennis Kucinich and I still think he would make an amazing president. But right now I’m in full support of John Kerry. Kerry is far from perfect, but Bush is so bad that we have to vote Kerry in order to get rid of Bush. Kerry is our best shot at voting Bush out.
I supported Ralph Nader under the assumption that the two parties were the same and that Ralph was right about there being little difference between Bush and Gore. These assumptions turned out to be untrue.
While I agree with everything Ralph says on fair trade, the environment, corporate responsibility, and human rights, George W. Bush is the antithesis of everything I believe.
Check out RepentantNaderVoter.com.
I reeeeally want to help kick Bush out of office. I’ve donated money to the DNC, MoveOn, and the Kerry campaign. All my friends and family are on our side, and they will vote in November, so I don’t have anyone to convert. I don’t live in a swing state, so I can’t just go out and register voters. Please let me know what sorts of things I can do to help Kerry or what organizations I should get in touch with. Thanks for your advice, TrueMajority, and your ice cream, especially One Sweet Whirled. — Gaby Gollub, Washington, D.C.
You’re on the right track. Visit TrueMajorityACTION.org. In the next few weeks we’ll have all kinds of options for you to take action there. In 50 Ways to Show George the Door in 2004, we have a chapter entitled, “Help Defeat Bush in Swing States — Even if You Don’t Live in One.” This outlines resources for you to get involved.
Dave Matthews will be very happy to hear that One Sweet Whirled is your favorite.
How do you answer critics who contend that environmental protection costs jobs and money? — Lee Anderson, Hampton, Va.
If people tell you that environmental protection costs jobs and money, tell them to consider the social costs of not having environmentally friendly policies in place. Take public transportation. Most smart businesses know that it means fewer cars on the road so their employees can get to work faster and their merchandise can be transported within cities more quickly. In the long run, public transit actually saves money (not to mention the bonus of cutting fossil fuel-use and keeping the skies a bit more clear).
Environmental protections create more jobs than are lost as a result of them. They build the economy in new sectors, like renewable energy. Organic foods can keep small family farms in business.
As an activist, how do you keep from becoming cynical and bitter? — Virginia Afentoulis, Oakland, Calif.
That’s a rough one. In my book, 50 Ways to Show George the Door in 2004, the 50th way is “Have Faith.” We have to act together, and together we will make a difference. That’s what activism is about.
I like this quote from Robert Kennedy:
Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he or she sends a tiny ripple of hope. Crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, these simple ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
I have faith, and I act, and it doesn’t hurt to chill out with a pint of Cherry Garcia either.
What is the best way to get the media’s attention and make average Americans aware of the unilateral approach of the U.S. and our lack of participation with U.N. treaties? — Patricia Jurewicz, Eagan, Minn.
We definitely need to have more media attention for every progressive cause. There are a lot of people who don’t read Grist or listen to community and public radio. Those are the people we need to convince.
To get our issues into the infotainment media cycle, we need to be more creative and think outside the box. My friend and coauthor of 50 Ways, Jason Salzman, has also written a book called Making the News: A Guide for Activists and Nonprofits — it is a good tool for people who want to get their group or issue in the news.