Last Wednesday, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield (yes, the ice cream guys) hosted a discussion at Smith College in support of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. I got the chance to talk to both of them about their own lives, their support for Bernie, and any advice they had for college students.
Both Ben and Jerry have been on the campaign trail in full force. When asked where this political action began, Ben said, “Well, the truth of the matter is we’ve never campaigned for a presidential campaign before. The only reason why we’re out campaigning for Bernie is that he has so inspired us.” This inspiration was evident in the qualities Ben and Jerry brought up again and again: integrity and consistency. Jerry said, “Bernie is not for sale. He represents the interests of the people.” Both of them have had the chance to watch Bernie’s career from its humble beginnings about thirty years ago as the mayor of Burlington, Vermont, where they first opened Ben & Jerry’s in 1978. “Bernie is the real thing, he’s authentic, a candidate like him only comes along once in a generation,” said Ben. This notion – that Bernie is a unique opportunity – was something both kept returning to.
Jerry said, “What’s different about this, and what could be inspiring to young people and college age students is that everybody knows the system is rigged. We all know it. Bernie goes around talking about it, everyone shakes their head and goes yes it’s all for the one percent and corporations, but not everyone feels like there’s anything they can do about it. And this is the unique opportunity to have what he refers to as a political revolution, to get rid of that corrupt system so that it’s not rigged! And if we don’t change something, it’s gonna stay rigged and that’s just the way it’s gonna be.”
Ben seemed to be concerned that, though many young people support Bernie, not all of them make it out to the polls. He said, “You know, I just can’t emphasize enough that getting out and voting is so critical. […] When we were out there, campaigning, what we heard was that there were all these students that were in favor of Bernie, and going around wearing Bernie shirts and Bernie buttons, and what have you, but when it came down to primary day, [they would say] ‘oh I had too much homework, I was tired.’” As a solution, Ben offered to, “Party at the polls! Go down there and have a good time, but you just need to use your voices, son, because there’s not gonna be another opportunity to elect a candidate that will be so game changing.”
When asked if they saw a connection between their support for Bernie and their ice cream company, Jerry replied, “[there’s a] tremendous connection! You know, it’s the same values that caused us to run Ben & Jerry’s in a way that benefited the community and our employees is the same values that leads us to support Bernie.”
One way that Ben advocated for Bernie was by making an ice cream flavor for the candidate on his own – Bernie’s Yearning. “We eventually came up with this idea of Bernie’s Yearning, and it’s a participatory flavor. You open up the pint lid, and you see this huge disk of solid chocolate that covers the entire top of the pint, and below it is just plain mint ice cream. The chocolate disk on top represents all the wealth since the end of the recession that’s gone to the top 1%, and below it is the plain ice cream that represents the rest of us and the way you eat it is that you take your soup spoon and you whack it into a bunch of little pieces, and then you mix it around, and there you have it: Bernie’s Yearning.”
In addition to their thoughts on Bernie, both had words of advice for young people soon to go into the workforce. Jerry said, “Well, I think that people need to understand that values have value. So many times I think people that are graduating from college look at the idea that, they just try and find the job that pays the most, or go into a field of work that pays the most, but what they come to understand after working for a business that does not embody their personal values is that it is soul sucking. The reason why a lot of people are working is to get the money that they need in order to lead a happy life, and the reality is that if the place that you’re spending the majority of your working hours, which is the work place, is a place that’s sucking your soul, it doesn’t matter how much money they’re giving you, you’re not going to find that happiness. My advice is to lead with your values. Find a place to work or a business to start that is aligned with your values. And go from there.”