Hundreds of people crossed police lines with us on Monday and were arrested on the steps of the U.S. Capitol for protesting, the climax of a week of demonstrations and marches against the ways money in politics corrupt our democracy, and demanding the return of political power to the people. We were arrested for our act of nonviolent civil disobedience. In our view, if the laws are unjust, then we should be getting arrested to protest them. After all, this is how most of our nation’s most important social movements — for women’s suffrage and civil rights, against the Vietnam War — have moved forward: people putting their bodies in the streets.
After being detained by police at the Capitol for about four hours, we were released and told to come back Tuesday morning to pay our $50 fines. (After making such arrests all week long, Capitol police were apparently tired of hauling people in.) We were happy to arrive at the police department to pay up; in fact, we came early to stamp the cash of fellow fine-payers as they waited in line.
What’s this stamping business? It’s part of the Stamp Stampede, our 4-year-old campaign to get money out of politics, in part by rubber-stamping U.S. currency. Today, the Amazing Amend-o-Matic Stamp Mobile, a rolling resource for activists who want to stamp their cash with anti-corruption messages, was installed in the American Visionary Arts Museum in Baltimore. Despite our busy Monday, we still made it to the museum to enjoy the installation.
Of course, this wasn’t the first time we’ve carried out a public demonstration only to end up in cuffs. We’ve each been arrested before — Ben twice, in the run-up to the Iraq War and while protesting genocide in Sudan, and Jerry once, on that latter occasion.
Our activism — which we’ve taken on as full-time work since the sale of our company in 2000 — is all part of a philosophy we imbued into Ben & Jerry’s, and one we continue to carry out today. As a company, we wanted Ben & Jerry’s to be values-based: to treat workers, customers, and the environment fairly, and to never put profits ahead of people. Getting money out of politics is the only way, in our view, to ensure that these benefits are eventually available to everybody. Special-interest lobbying is what has kept the United States from forming good policy on climate change, national health insurance, student debt levels and much more.
But we’re now living in a moment of revived commitment to real democracy. Several different movements — like the voting rights movement and the movement to kick big money out of politics — are banding together for change, bringing people of all races, genders and backgrounds together to demand transparency and a voice in our government.
Part of the reason for today’s momentum is Bernie Sanders, the Democratic presidential candidate from our very own Vermont. Though we’ve never actively campaigned for a presidential candidate before, we had firsthand experience as members of Bernie’s constituency with what an honest, high-integrity person he is. We knew Bernie has always stood for working people, people in poverty, people who are oppressed.
The way that big money sits atop society exerting pressure on the rest of us is part of what inspired Bernie’s Yearning, a flavor Ben whipped up in honor of Sanders’s candidacy. It’s not an official company product, but we think it gets the message across: to mix it up into good mint chocolate chip ice cream, you have to use your spoon to whack through a solid “1 percent” of chocolate at the very top. For both of us, the fact that Bernie is running a campaign without deference to big donors isn’t just the cherry on top — it’s an integral part of his genuine belief in a functional democracy.