September 23, 2013

Ben & Jerry's cofounder wins Common Ground fair's educational exhibit prize

Ben Cohen's Amend-O-Matic StampMobile meant to bring attention to influence of corporate donations on politics

By Rachel Ohm
Staff Writer

UNITY — On a muddy dirt path lined with vendors selling mate tea and organic tacos, Ben Cohen stood in the rain and held up a shiny blue ribbon.

click image to enlarge

Ben Cohen, left, cofounder of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream, speaks with George Stanley at his booth, featuring the Amend-O-Matic StampMobile, at the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity today.

Staff photo by David Leaming

click image to enlarge

A dollar bill that was stamped by the Amend-O-Matic StampMobile, a traveling exhibit by Ben Cohen, cofounder of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream, at the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity today.

Staff photo by David Leaming

The ice cream magnate and cofounder of Ben & Jerry's wasn't shy about proclaiming to fairgoers that his Amend-O-Matic StampMobile, a mobile contraption of brightly colored wood, plastic and metal, won first place for most educational exhibit at the Common Ground Country Fair.

The machine, which lived at the fair for the last three days, is making its way from Los Angeles to Florida as Cohen, 62, tours the country stamping dollar bills for a cause.

"It's a call to action. If we can get the message out on a dollar bill, we have a potential audience of thousands," said Cohen, who began the tour in February and was joined for part of it by iconic 60s bandmates David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash.

Visitors to the StampMobile Sunday were lining up to get their bills stamped and for the fun of watching them travel through the contraption. Once strapped onto a flat wooden platform, the bills travel on a journey that sends them sideways, upside down and eventually under the weight of a stamp that reads, "Not to Be Used for Bribing Politicians."

The message, one of four stamps being used along Cohen's tour, is meant to bring attention to the Supreme Court's 2010 decision Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, which made it legal for corporations to contribute unlimited funds to political campaigns, although not individual candidates or parties.

The others are "Stamp money out of politics," "Corporations are not people, money is not free speech" and "The system isn't broken, it's fixed."

Visitors to the StampMobile could send their bills through the machine for no cost and walk away with a political message.

Gabriel Willow, 35, of Brooklyn, N.Y., also won a stamp through a Wheel-of-Fortune like device that his dollar bill passed through in the StampMobile and had stamped all of the money in his wallet with Cohen's message.

"It was exciting," said Willow, who said that although he didn't know very much about the Citizens United decision, he planned to read about it on Cohen's website, the link to which is also part of the stamp.

"It's fun and it's something tangible," said Lauren Connolly, 36, also of Brooklyn. "Often times decisions like this can feel so removed from real people, but it's a small way to feel like you are taking action. When I see that bill in my wallet, I will keep the message in mind."

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

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