The Ben & Jerry’s brand is synonymous with more than just ice cream, it’s often associated with the fight for justice. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield have been using their national platform of tasty ice cream to advocate on behalf of justice for a long time. We cover the Campaign to End Qualified Immunity, getting big money out of politics, and of course sprinkled in are some sweet treats about Ben Cohen.
Campaign to End Qualified Immunity (Also HoldCopsAccountable.org)
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Ben Cohen [0:02]
Everybody needs to use whatever power they have to change things. And you know, Ben and Jerry’s happens to have a national platform. So we’re using it.
Benn Marine [0:17]
From dirigo collective, this is Responsibly Different. Sharing stories of Certified B Corporations and our journey of joining them and leveraging business as a force for good.
Benn Cohen [0:28]
I don’t remember my life without Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. It’s always just been that special treat that you go out for with friends and family, along with millions of other families. What I love about Ben and Jerry’s is how well the brand has aged since Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, founded the company in 1978. At a time when mission politics with business could be perceived as a death sentence for brands on either side of the political spectrum. Ben Cohen has doubled down on his commitment to acting as a force for good with a barrage of organizations and movements designed to take down systemic racism and the system while he’s at it. Alright, cool. We’re recording all the places. Any questions for me before we jump in?
Ben Cohen [1:23]
No, let’s jump man.
Benn Maine [1:25]
All right, team. Here we go.
Benn Marine [1:26]
Let’s jump on in with Ben Cohen. Ben and Jerry’s has been long known for mixing politics with ice cream. And I imagine that you Jerry and the company have probably received some flack over the years from people not wanting politics in their ice cream. But overall, it seems that it’s worked out well, for both the causes you support and the Ben and Jerry’s brand. I’m curious, what is your advice for businesses that have strong values and beliefs, but maybe are a little hesitant or reserved about being public and being out there about it?
Ben Cohen [1:57]
You know, you just got to stand up for what you believe in, you got to essentially, what Ben and Jerry’s does is we stand up for justice, you know, that’s a kind of a basic American value, fairness, equality, justice, you know, the reality is that, you know, Ben and Jerry’s has about 50% of the super premium ice cream market. And in terms of the ice cream market in general, you know, super, pretty good ice cream is only about 10%. So we only need to survive a very, very small segment of consumers. And that’s the same for any business, really, the norm used to be that businesses felt like it was harmful for their business to take a stand. But, you know, business is doing, you know, controversial stuff all the time, you know, that there were a bunch of, you know, ads that are, you know, demeaning towards women or selling stuff based on, you know, sex so far, or hyper masculinity, or whatever. I mean, not everybody likes everything, that’s fine. But I think Moreover, you know, business is just another member of our society, it happens to be a very, very powerful member of our society. And as such, it needs to take a stand for the common good. If you have the most powerful element of society that says, I’m not going to take a stand for the common good, I’m not going to care about the common good. Your society is going to fall apart when Ben and Jerry’s takes a stand on social issues, people, people resonate with that, and you end up forming a bond with your customer. That’s really the deepest bond you can ever make. It’s, it’s based on shared values. The experience of Ben and Jerry’s has been that, you know, it was never about selling ice cream taking the stands. But the reality is that we keep on taking more and more and stronger stands, and we keep on selling more and more ice cream. So I wouldn’t worry about I mean, you know, you just got to know it goes with the territory. Sure. Some people are going to be against what you’re doing, and they’re going to be loud about not liking what you’re doing. You know, if if nobody was going to object, there’d be no need to take the stand in the first place.
Benn Marine [4:46]
That’s super real. And I think it also is testament that actions speak louder than words and customers are very savvy and are looking out for that stuff. So that’s, that’s a that’s a great point. I’m curious your thoughts on the B Corp movement. The movement towards using business as a force for good. How did you all hear about B Corp? And and ultimately decide to certify?
Ben Cohen [5:07]
Well, I love the B Corp movement. You know, I’ve known Jay Cohen Gilbert, who is one of the founders of the B Corp movement, you know, from from before there was the B Corp movement, you know, as as he was working on it, we, you know, we had some talks together. And I think that the B Corp movement is incredibly necessary, because for consumers, you know, they don’t have the time or the ability to check to see, you know, if a company is really doing what they say it’s doing. And what’s needed is a third party certifier. And a standard procedure to measure is a company working in the interests of society as a whole. And B Corp provides that third party that certification that that consumers can trust.
Benn Marine [6:08]
I’m curious, what got you interested in in social justice and politics? Is it something that you’ve always been super active in?
Benn Cohen [6:14]
Uh,no, I wasn’t always super active in it. I mean, I think that when Ben and Jerry’s got to be more well known, and, and people, you know, want to Jerry and I to come and speak, at some program, or, you know, to a group of college students who are business people, we said that, you know, we’re going to talk about the stuff that really matters. And we’re, I mean, everybody needs to use whatever power they have to change things. And, you know, Ben and Jerry’s happens to have a national platform. So we’re using it individuals, you know, can make a bunch of noise and let their legislators know what they want.
Benn Marine [7:04]
As a recent, Ben has used this national platform to promote two projects he’s passionate about, one is getting money out of politics. More on that later. And the other is ending Qualified Immunity. And I’m sure you’ve been hearing a lot about this in the news, so it feels important to kind of clear the air on it. Qualified Immunity was created by the Supreme Court in 1982, and originally had nothing to do with the police. Rather, it was created during the Nixon administration, to protect White House aides that executed the directions of President Nixon to retaliate against whistleblowers. The aides were granted immunity and the court extended this to all government officials, police officers, teachers, elected officials and so on. The court at that time believed that if government workers were held accountable for violating the Constitution, it would make their work more challenging and expensive to execute. This concern has been disproven, yet the doctrine lives on in so strong as it has ever been. The consequence of this doctrine is that police officers and other officials cannot be held responsible for violating the rights of everyday folks unless the person whose rights have been violated can prove that those rights were clearly established. What this translates to is that in the case of police officers, an officer cannot be held accountable for an action unless another officer or government worker was convicted of the exact same offense in the same precinct. This makes accountability for police officers and other government officials incredibly difficult. Why is this important now, because in the fight for social justice, and justice for the hundreds of unarmed black people that have been murdered at the hands of police all across the country in America, it’s a loophole that protects officers from civil accountability. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben and Jerry’s, are the Co-Chairs of the Campaign To End Qualified Immunity. And this topic was one that was the most important to Ben, for us to cover in our conversation. So I asked him how he got involved and why it is so important to him,
Ben Cohen [9:10]
Like so many millions of Americans, Jerry and I have both been outraged by all that we hear and see about police murdering unarmed black people, we that we’ve actually only known about it, uh, since a cell phone video became kind of ubiquitous. So this is something that’s been going on. You know, like, for hundreds of years, police have been abusing unarmed black people. But now, when we’re all aware of it, we see this over and over again. That, you know, I mean, my hope was always that Okay, we’ve all seen it on video, they’re going to stop doing it. And they don’t. And not only do they continue to kill unarmed black people, and I want to be clear that, you know, we’re talking about a sub segment of bad cops, there’s a lot of cops that are out there, you know, genuinely working above and beyond the call of duty to protect and serve. But there are some that are not those cops need to be held accountable, you know, I can’t better seeing these injustices happening, and not doing something about it. I mean, I think when you’re confronted by situations of injustice, you have, you know, there’s three reactions, you can either ignore it, you can complain about it, or you can do something about it. And I feel better doing something about it. The way Qualified Immunity works is they say that, you know, if a cop abused someone he’s not supposed to know, it’s illegal, unless another cop, in the same jurisdiction, had done exactly the same thing in exactly the same circumstance and was convicted for it, then and only then the law says, should the cop have known that it was illegal. And you know that that just doesn’t pass the sniff test, then I mean, that is outrageous. So we’re working to overturn that judicial doctrine. It’s not even a law of Qualified Immunity.
Benn Marine [11:47]
How has the Derek Chauvin case affected this issue?
Ben Cohen [11:50]
I think it’s really helped our effort to overturn qualified immunity. I think I think it’s raised the profile of what police officers do and what they what they usually get away with. I mean, the Derek Chauvin that he was convicted is highly unusual. It’s highly irregular, you know, it’s only because his case was so extreme, and that it was caught on good video recordings that he that he was, you know, that Chauvin was convicted? I mean, if there was no video recording, I guarantee you, he would not have been convicted, he would have gotten off scot free, based on Qualified Immunity.
Benn Marine [12:40]
I’m curious, is there a bill currently being worked on at the federal level?
Benn Cohen [12:45]
Yeah, one of the problems in terms of police reform is that I think there’s about 17,000 individual municipalities that have police departments. So federal legislation that can that those police departments have to abide by, is incredibly important. There is the George Floyd justice and policing Act, which has a bunch of different provisions in it, which was passed by the House. And it also contains a provision to overturn qualified immunity and hold cops accountable. And now it is being negotiated in the Senate. And it’s very interesting that the big sticking point in that law, which covers a whole lot of different things, is qualified immunity, because qualified immunity is the only part of that law that actually holds cops accountable. You know, I mean, if I’m an employee, and I have a choice, well, we can either hold you accountable, sir, or will not hold you accountable. I mean, who wants to be held accountable? No, of course, I don’t want to be held accountable. But that’s the job. You know, I know that as an employer, if we don’t hold our employees accountable, we don’t get the results we want. And that is the same with policing. I mean, you can give them whatever kind of training you want. You can make whatever rules you want. But if you don’t hold them accountable, if they don’t abide by those rules, or by that training, then it’s it’s kind of make believe,
Benn Marine [14:41]
and really, that the police should be protecting and serving really,
Ben Cohen [14:44]
Exactly and that most police do, but you know, how can you ever have trust in the police if you’re aware that they are acting in an in an abusive way. And there can never be good policing without trust. And, you know, the police understand that they say, We want the community to trust us. And Jerry and I, I mean, we’ve talked to the Fraternal Order of Police, we said, it’s a two way street, you don’t get trust unless you’re accountable. The big thing that we need right now is for people to get in touch with their senators, to tell them that they want to overturn qualified immunity. The best way to do it is by phone by talking on the phone, you just call the Capitol switchboard and they patch you right through and go to the the website, hold cops accountable.org, hold cops accountable.org, go to the website, put your email in, and then we will notify you when your voice is most needed. And we make it really easy for you to make your voice heard.
Benn Cohen [16:03]
But when we talk about passing important measures like this, is making sure that the legislative playing field is accessible to all and is a level playing field. I feel like a huge part of that. Is your work with stamps Stampede, can you talk a little bit about the gold stamp Stampede, you know, reversing citizens united and and all that?
Ben Cohen [16:28]
Sure. The goal of Stampede is to get big money out of politics. Politicians no longer represent people. They represent the money. The legislators, they mostly hear from lobbyists, and industry has a lot of lobbyists, regular old people they don’t. So the big issue in order to really get a level playing field in order to get a democracy back, that’s rule of the people instead of rule of the money is to get big money out of politics, you know, unless we do it, it’s not going to be a democracy. There’s some question to me as to whether it is today.
Benn Marine [17:11]
That’s true. And I think a huge important part of that, for folks to know, too, is that that so much of that money being spent is in media, and an influence in public awareness. And if only one side can get those messages out, it becomes we become a misinformed public to win and having an informed public is so important to that, that democracy. And so I feel like the work that you’re doing there is so important, where can folks go to learn more about Stampede and to get involved?
Ben Cohen [17:36]
That would be stampstampede.org. And we, we show you how to turn your money into media that you can, you know, you can buy a rubber stamp on that site, that you then stamp on the paper currency that comes through your hands. One of the stamps says not to be used by elections. The other one says not to be used to bribe politicians.
Benn Marine [18:02]
Soon after, Unilever bought Ben and Jerry’s, you started business leaders for sensible priorities. I’m curious what was that like going from ice cream to advocating for a shift in federal budget priorities?
Ben Cohen [18:14]
It’s a lot easier to sell ice cream. You know, it was a very complex, overwhelming task. It was something that I have a tremendous passion about. You know, it’s something that I’ve had a passionate about since I was kind of a little kid that at the time, we were in a cold war with the Soviet Union. And you know, I just had this image of these two countries, the US and the Soviet Union, who have this huge, huge pile of shiny new up to date, weapons, you know, kind of facing each other. And then in back of those two piles, you have all these people that are barely getting by, in terms of food, shelter, education, and, you know, a lot of the problems we have in our society of crime, drug abuse, domestic abuse, a lot of it is crimes of poverty. You know, we put people in situations where I, you know, they can’t afford to live. They’re constantly trying to juggle, do I pay the rent, or do I put food on the table. And, you know, when you’re in a constant situation like that, it’s always tense. And, and it leads to lots of problems and we just need to address the root problem, which is that we have structured and economy that’s working the way we structured it. The rich get richer and richer and the poor get poorer and poorer. As you sow so shall you reap, as they say.
Benn Marine [20:17]
By now many Ben and Jerry’s fans know about anosmia, which is the partial or complete loss of the sense of smell and taste. It’s the reason why your average pint of Ben and Jerry’s is so over the top in terms of flavor and texture. What a lot of people don’t know about Ben Cohen is that he held a barrage of wild jobs before getting into the ice cream game, McDonald’s cashier Pinkerton guard, Friendlies janitor, assistant superintendent, yard clerk, taxi driver, and the list goes on.
Ben Cohen [20:48]
As the Night Mopper at Friendlies, I look fondly on the sundays that I used to make for myself when I was locked inside at night. You know, my job with the Pinkertons was, uh, it was at the Saratoga Racetrack in Saratoga Springs. And my job was to from midnight to 8am was to guard what they called the Traverse Canoe, you know, there’s, there’s like three big races in thoroughbred horse, or horse racing. One of them is called the Traverse Sweepstakes. And it gets run at Saratoga Springs. And every year they paint this canoe that’s in back of the tote board. In the colors of the uniform of the jockey who won the traverse sweepstakes, and college kids used to like to steal that canoe. So my job was to guard it. And they gave me a whistle, and a covered holster with no gun. So I’ve learned that when you see those guys walking around with covered holsters, a lot of times there’s no gun on it.
Benn Marine [22:01]
I’m curious, what is something that people don’t know about you?
Ben Cohen [22:05]
Well, you know, it used to be that I don’t really have much of a sense of smell or taste. But now that cat is out of the bag. Something else they don’t know about me? Ah, gee, I used to be 50 pounds heavier when I was in charge of flavor development for Ben and Jerry’s.
Benn Marine [22:32]
Ben Cohen [22:33]
I sacrificed my body for my business.
Benn Marine [22:37]
That sounds like a super fun job, too. I’m curious what was kind of one of the best possible things to come out of Ben and Jerry’s, aside from the fact that you supply amazingly delicious ice cream?
Ben Cohen [22:49]
Well, you know, I remember when I was at the Occupy Wall Street protests down in New York City, and Jerry and I came down and we were scooping ice cream for the protesters in the park. And I really felt like this is why we’re doing this. This is what this is the ultimate best use of Ben and Jerry’s, to be supporting and feeding. And, you know, bringing some lightness to this group of of protesters that took a very principled stand about the issue of economic injustice.
Benn Marine [23:40]
A couple questions from from the audience. Christy, a school teacher from Shaftsbury, Vermont, is curious about your creative process and wants to know what your favorite flavor of what your favorite flavor to create was, versus your favorite flavor to taste.
Ben Cohen [23:58]
Ahthe creative process. Well, a lot of it was channeling flavors from the collective flavor unconscious. I believe there are flavors out there rolling around in the collective unconscious that people yearn for, but did not yet exist. And I was able to channel those desires into, you know, tangible stuff. I think the flavor that I was kind of most honored to make was Cherry Garcia. The flavor name was a suggestion from some customers, you know, the, you know, the normal thought would be okay, cherry vanilla, but I felt like this needed to be a flavor that was worthy of honoring Jerry Garcia you know, the original inspiration was kind of taking one of those liquid center chocolate covered cherries that you sometimes see at the checkout counter, and smashing them up and putting them in ice cream. And so that was the concept. But in order to actually make it taste really good in ice cream, it took me about a year of going through there, you know, lots of different types of chocolate, lots of different types of thicknesses of chocolate. Lots of different types of cherries, you know, there’s your Northwest cherries, there’s your Michigan cherries, figuring out the size of the cherry, how the cherry should be cut the snap of the, of the skin of the of the cherry. So that was that was truly a labor of love came out with the really popular flavor,
Benn Marine [26:01]
My mom will really appreciate that because that is her favorite flavor. Um, another question from Petros, a high school student from Maine wants to know, if you and Jerry always envisioned yourself using your position to influence social change, or if it’s more of a recent development?
Ben Cohen [26:18]
it was an evolution. You know, at the beginning, when we opened up an old gas station in Burlington, Vermont, we were making ice cream in a rock silton ice freezer in the window. And, you know, we didn’t have any plans of being anything more than a homemade ice cream shop on the corner. And, but we felt like we wanted to be community based, we didn’t really know what that meant. And, you know, we were, we were sponsoring a festival festivals for the local community and, and a free outdoor movie series, and of course, donating money and ice cream to various organizations. And then as the company grew, and we, you know, had had more money available, you know, we were, we were essentially, you know, supporting more and more nonprofit organizations. And we started to understand that, you know, businesses most powerful tool is its voice. And we started to use our voice, our, you know, to advocate, you know, there’s philanthropy, and there’s advocacy, you know, philanthropy meets an immediate need, which is usually the fallout from a bad law, or the needs or the, or the fallout of a rigged economy, or, you know, or other problems in the society, but the basic problem, you know, to change those laws, or to change the way tax law works, or change government policies, that’s advocacy. And so at the beginning, we were not aware of, you know, the power of advocacy and the need for advocacy, and we were pretty much just given money away. And, and then, you know, the company went public, eventually, in that public offering, we established the Ben and Jerry’s Foundation, which got seven and a half percent of our pre tax profits, which was the highest amount of any publicly held corporation and, you know, so that that was going on. And so within it, within a year, we were overwhelmed with applications from so many worthwhile organizations, and we could only fund you know, I don’t know, 2%, whatever. And we realized that, you know, just giving away money was a kind of a drop in the bucket. And that we, what we really needed to do was change the root causes of what created that and, and that’s how we got into advocacy. And and the other part is integrating social concerns in our day to day business activities. So it influenced the way we decided to do purchasing. It influenced the way that we decided to open up scoop shops. We were integrating social concerns into those day to day business decisions.
Benn Marine [29:45]
What does a Ben Cohen flavored ice cream tastes like?
Ben Cohen [29:50]
You’re tasting it? It’s It’s sweet and salty. You know? It’s interesting. It’s now hip to be sweet and salty. I think Ben and Jerry’s was actually one of the first sweet and salty desserts which was a Chubby Hubby. It was a suggestion from a customer. And it’s chocolate covered peanut butter filled pretzels with in vanilla malt ice cream with a peanut butter swirl, I believe that’s sweet and salty. I am a sweet and salty kind of guy.
Benn Marine [30:24]
Any final thoughts you want to leave with folks?
Ben Cohen [30:26]
You know, there’s this great quote from Ralph Nader. If we had justice, we wouldn’t need charity. And so I’m working on justice.
Benn Marine [30:43]
At the ripe age of 70 Ben Cohen is living a well deserved quiet life punctuated with moments of intense political discourse. From stamping dollar bills to urging citizens to call their local politicians in a bid to end police brutality. Ben Cohen can’t get away from using the platform he’s worked at for more than 40 years as a force for good. And that leaves a nice taste in your mouth.
Benn Cohen [31:20]
Thank you so much for tuning in this week to learn more about Ben and Jerry’s and using business as a force for good. I have links in the show notes to where you can go to get involved in the campaign to end Qualified Immunity, and to work towards ending money in politics. To learn more about the amazing impact Ben and Jerry’s as a company is having, you should check out our interviews with two of their suppliers, Episode Five with Greyston Bakery and Episode 11 with Rhino Goods. Greyston has an incredible open hiring program creating access to jobs for all who want them, no background check, no interview, no resume, just good jobs. Greyston makes all the brownies for Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Rhino Foods makes the delicious cookie dough and your favorite Ben and Jerry’s flavors and have some incredible pro worker initiatives including an income advanced program worker share opportunities and an open book policy. For those of you who have been following along on our journey with the podcast, you know, this was a slightly different format than what we’ve done with previous episodes. And we want to know what you think we’re going to be giving away three B Corp gift boxes full of B Corp goodies at random to those who participate in our survey, all you need to do is go to our Instagram, follow our page, click on the survey link in bio and complete the survey. The survey should take you less than five minutes and helps us know how we can best serve you. We want this content to be helpful and a value to you. And we can’t do that without you and your input. Next time on Responsibly Different I chat with Diana Marie Lee, and Samwell Gonzalez from Sweet Liberty.
Samuel Gonzalez [33:01]
I think part of the problem then is that we were all born to this capitalistic white supremacy culture that has us creating workplaces that don’t work for the majority of people. They only work for maybe the top 2% of the population. And so I think part of the challenge when you’re an individual who’s burning out struggling trying to figure it out is that it’s a systemic problem. And then it gets reduced to the level of i’m not I’m not cutting it, I’m not coping, I need to figure something out. So what I will say is like it we’ll talk about that later, maybe. So I think part of it is like we have to dismantle the way we do things and we have to reimagine how we conceptualize it actually practice work. Because the majority of people in the world, including in the US have to work for a living is not an option, right. It’s not like we have to work. And you know, the data is showing that. Overwhelmingly, if you look at the data from like the American Psychological Association, or like, on a global level, the World Health Organization, money is no longer the number one stressor for people. It’s work.
Benn Marine [34:10]
We’re all in this together. Till next time, be responsibly different. This is a production of Dirigo Collective we want to welcome Claire Closson, our Outreach Manager and Jeremy glass, our copywriter. In addition to contributing questions and scripts for this episode, Jeremy is also the writer behind most of our resource articles on responsibly different Comm. Custom music was created by our very own Kevin Oates, and this episode was hosted and edited by yours truly, Benn Marine. To learn more about dirigo collective you can visit us at dirigo collective comm or follow us on social media
Get involved with your local politics, visit OpenStates.org to see who your local reps are and what’s happening in your area. You can even search for particular types of legislation and filter by state. Another great resource for getting involved is Ballotpedia.org, use the search bar at the top of the site to search for your state or a particular issue you care about.
You may also call the United States Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 and they will connect you with the office of your legislator. When you leave your message for your senator, be sure to state your name, the town in which you are from and that you are a constituent of theirs. Urge them to take action to pass The Ending Qualified Immunity Act to hold bad police officers accountable. You can also add why it is something you care so deeply about.
Ben & Jerry’s & the Poor People’s Campaign