Last night I headed over to Cinematheque on Miami Beach at 1130 Washington Avenue. Cinematheque is a delightful art house cinema that includes a small library, art gallery, cafe and, of course, a film screening room. Cinematheque is the headquarters of the Miami Beach Film Society, and has a full calendar of fun events. Once a month, Cinematheque partners with the Environmental Coalition of Miami and the Beaches (ECOMB) for “Cinema Green”:
“Bringing about environmental change and awareness in our community is one of ECOMB’s primary goals. And this is exactly what Cinema Green Project is all about: through the screening of environmental documentaries, educate and increase the awareness among Miami-Dade County residents about pressing ecological issues in South Florida and around the world.”
I arrived early, and had the great pleasure of sitting with committee members from ECOMB, including Miguel Pena, Gabriole Van Bryce and Luiz Rodriguez, while Briana Saati of Miami New Times interviewed Mr. Cohen. (I highly recommend the resultant article). The evening became, for me, one of those synergistic events where so many of my passions came together – environmental concerns, politics, activism (including the Occupy movement) and even green building.
I always knew that Ben Cohen is a life-long fellow tree-hugger, and that he put those ethics into his ice cream company from the beginning. In 1985, he founded the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation to fund community-oriented projects that promote “social justice, environmental protection and sustainable food systems.” What I didn’t know until last night is that he has tangled with our government and big corporations over environmental causes before. More than a decade ago, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream took an active position against bovine growth hormones (rBGH) came out. “We ended up having to sue the federal government for the right to tell people what was not in our ice cream,” he said.
So late last year he helped launch the Stamp Stampede movement to promote a constitutional amendment to get money out of politics. From the Stamp website: “It doesn’t matter what issue you care about – education, poverty, Wall Street, spiraling healthcare costs, you name it – at the end of the day, the absolutely massive amounts of money in our politics is at the root of our problems,” said Cohen. “That’s why we have to stamp out the corrosive influence of money in our government and politics.”
Last night, he told New Times Magazine reporter Briana Saati: “I was working on a campaign to shift national budget priorities out of the Pentagon and into education and healthcare and housing and poverty programs, and that was really hard. A lot harder than selling ice cream. It doesn’t taste as good as ice cream; it’s not as fun as ice cream; and going up against the Pentagon is tough. They’re really big and they have a lot of heavy duty weapons and they have a lot of money, so compared to that, this campaign about getting money out of politics is incredibly popular. It’s just about as popular as ice cream, really”
And it’s as fun as ice cream, too! After the film, they brought their Amend-O-Matic contraption to the front of Cinematheque to stamp bills in a carnival-like atmosphere on the first day of its 2013 nation-wide tour. The Amend-O-Matic attracted crowds of people with its bells and lights. I even found myself explaining the purpose to a group of Japanese tourists and others who were drawn over by the spectacle – which is exactly the idea. As Mr. Cohen explained, each bill will be seen by approximately 800 people in its lifetime: “If you stamp 10 bills, that’s 8,000 people… if you do it for 100 days, that’s 800,000 people and it really makes your voice powerful. I like the idea of it being economic Jiu Jitsu; it’s using money to get money out of politics.” I do too, Mr. Cohen. I have my stamp and I’m ready to join the stamping madness.