Skip to main content

Stamp stampede on your dollar -- for democracy

By Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, Special to CNN
May 9, 2013 -- Updated 1415 GMT (2215 HKT)
Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield hope people will stamp their money to send a message to Washington.
Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield hope people will stamp their money to send a message to Washington.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ben and Jerry: After Citizen United, our government looks more like a plutocracy
  • We need a stampede to rout the special interests who have corralled congress, they say
  • Ben and Jerry: Stamp Stampede wants people to put a message on their dollars
  • If we don't stunt the influence of money in politics, we might lose our democracy

Editor's note: Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield co-founded Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream. Ben is the founder and Head Stamper at the Stamp Stampede campaign, whose goal is to help build the movement to amend the constitution to get money out of politics. Jerry is president of the Ben & Jerry's Foundation and promotes the company's social and environmental initiatives.

(CNN) -- When Jerry and I first started slinging scoops in 1978, we knew that it was about more than just the ice cream; it was about community.

Our first scoop shop was in a dilapidated gas station that we renovated with a small loan, a little pocket change and a lot of green wood. In the summer, folks would crowd around at the picnic tables late into the evenings and lounge on the grass laughing, talking and eating ice cream.

Ice cream brings people together. We might not agree on politics or religion, heck we might not agree on Chunky Monkey or Phish Food, but that doesn't mean we can't talk. And in that way, ice cream teaches us a lesson about democracy.

Ben Cohen
Ben Cohen

Democracy is the triple-deluxe droolworthy idea that the people can govern and be governed in turn, that We the People are the author and the subject of the law. In America, it's the idea that we can elect representatives who will rise above self-interest and work on behalf of the common good.

Jerry Greenfield
Jerry Greenfield

At least, that was the idea. These days, it looks a little different.

Thanks to Supreme Court cases such as Citizens United in 2010, which trampled over the last remaining semblance of campaign finance laws, our government looks a lot more like a plutocracy: a government where the wealthy rule.

The massive influx of corporate dough doesn't guarantee victory for Democrats or Republicans. But it allows wealthy donors to control the national conversation and drown out other voices, making it harder and harder for the people to be heard. It allows corporations to bully our representatives and influence their votes. All they have to do is threaten to throw gobs of cash against members of Congress who oppose them, and they can chill democratic debate.

When George Washington gave a farewell address to Congress in 1796, he talked about why the U.S. Constitution deserved the people's support and confidence. It wasn't because it contained immutable, universal principles; it was because the people wrote it and the people have the power to alter it.

Well, if we're going to save our democracy, we need a constitutional amendment that declares once and for all: 1) Money is not free speech. 2) Corporations are not people.

The movement to amend is already making big waves. Thirteen states and more than 500 municipalities have passed ballot initiatives calling on Congress to propose a constitutional amendment. More than 150 congressmen and President Barack Obama say they would support an amendment. But change won't happen if we sit back and let other people do the dirty work.

We need a stampede to rout the special interests who have corralled Congress. And that's what we're doing.

The Stamp Stampede encourages people to adorn their dollars, to beautify their bucks, to put make-up on their moola, to stamp money with messages that promote a constitutional amendment to get special interest money out of politics.

We know it's unusual, it's slightly subversive, but it's 100% legal (we checked into it), and it's precisely the kind of democratic action we need if we're going to win a constitutional amendment.

It's not enough for people to sign a petition. We need a petition on steroids. You can open up your windows and scream "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" But if we want Congress to hear us we need to join together in a chorus.

So take out your stamps and start stamping messages on your money. The average dollar exchanges hands 875 times. That means if a thousand people stamp one dollar a day for a year, the message would be seen more than 300 million times. If 10,000 people do it, the message would be seen more than 3 billion times. If we all do it, we'll flush "dark money" out of politics for good.

The time to act is now.

This is OUR democracy -- a government of the people, for the people and by the people. But if we don't stunt the influence of money in politics, we may very well lose our democracy to special interests.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1859 GMT (0259 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1900 GMT (0300 HKT)
John Sutter says the right is often stereotyped on climate change. But with 97% of climate scientists say humans are causing global warming, we all have to get together on this.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
Andrew Liepman and Philip Mudd: When we declare that we will defeat ISIS, what do we exactly mean?
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 2040 GMT (0440 HKT)
Thailand sex trafficking
Human trafficking is a multibillion dollar global industry. To beat it, we need to change mindsets, Cindy McCain says.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
The leaders of the GOP conferences say a Republican-led Senate could help solve America's problems.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1401 GMT (2201 HKT)
Nicholas Syrett says Wesleyan University's decision to make fraternities admit women will help curb rape culture.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Mike Downey says New Yorkers may be overdoing it, but baseball will really miss Derek Jeter
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1232 GMT (2032 HKT)
Quick: Which U.S. president has authorized wars of various kinds in seven Muslim countries?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Women's issues should be considered front and center when assessing a society's path, says Zainab Salbi
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 1805 GMT (0205 HKT)
A catastrophe not making headlines like Ebola and ISIS: the astounding rate of child poverty in the world's richest country.
ADVERTISEMENT