Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry's ice cream and one of the deep pockets behind the Occupy movement, says he is helping launch a campaign this summer to highlight the influence of corporate money in American politics.
Cohen and the Move to Amend advocacy group will distribute rubber stamps with anti-corporate election spending messages so that the politically minded can mark their dollar bills. The end goal: To secure a constitutional amendment saying corporations do not enjoy the same protected rights as individuals and that money is not a form of speech.
Cohen plans to put a giant stamping machine on a national tour in August to encourage "thousands of people to buy rubber stamps and stamp any currency that comes into their possession," he tells Yahoo News. According to his attorney, this is legal, as long as the bills are still legible after the stamping. The Occupy movement tried the stamp tactic last October, defacing dollar bills with infographics that showed the income distribution in American society.
This round of stamps will include "Corporations are not people," "Money is not speech" and "Not to be used for bribing politicians," among other slogans.
The amendment for which Cohen is advocating would reverse decades of Supreme Court decisions, which have extended free speech and other rights to corporations and have ruled that spending money is a form of protected speech. The Citizens United Supreme Court decision in 2010 held that corporations and unions can spend unlimited amounts of money during elections as long as they are not directly funding individual candidates. (This led to the rise of independent super PACs, which have poured millions of dollars into this election cycle alone.) The decision overturned existing campaign finance laws.
Cohen expects this iteration of the Occupy campaign to be tougher than its first, when thousands of people "occupied" public spaces in cities around the country. "In some ways, it's kind of a more difficult and certainly a more time consuming task than occupying parks," he said. Nearly all of the Occupy encampments were gone by the winter, when local police and cold weather drove the protesters away.
Cohen announced in February that he had raised $300,000—some of it, surprisingly, from wealthy businessmen—to fund Occupy-related projects, and that he hoped to reach $1.8 million. Cohen's group, the Movement Resource Group, has raised only $100,000 since then, however, and he's not optimistic that it will hit the original goal.
Nevertheless, other Occupy operatives say they plan to launch new projects this summer. Adam Nelson, who has tried to hone Occupy's message through his public relations firm, tells Yahoo News that protesters plan to disrupt the Republican convention in Tampa in August, when the party will officially choose its presidential nominee. The group will try to project protest messages on nearby buildings from the rooms of hotel rooms and enlist local high school marching bands to circle the convention in a "massive Occupy marching unit."