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Ben And Jerry’s Recipe To Save Democracy

CREDIT: BEN & JERRY’S
CREDIT: BEN & JERRY’S

Ben & Jerry’s unveiled a new social justice campaign — and a punny ice cream flavor to go with it — alongside the NAACP at a North Carolina rally on Tuesday.

The new flavor, Empower Mint, is a peppermint base with fudge brownies and swirls. The new campaign, “Democracy is in Your Hands,” is aimed squarely at the fallout from two Supreme Court cases: Citizen’s United and the 2013 gutting of the Voting Rights Act.

“We believe that these two things — the money in our political system and the attempt to disenfranchise certain segments of our voting population — are profoundly corrosive to our democratic system. And it is creating policies that are promoting deep inequities in our society,” Chris Miller, Ben & Jerry’s Social Media Activism Manager, told ThinkProgress by phone from the flavor’s premiere in North Carolina.

Ben & Jerry’s has long been involved in, in their words, the movement to “get the dough out of politics.” Last month, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the company’s founders, were arrested on the steps of the Capitol Building while participating in the Democracy Awakens demonstrations against the Citizen’s United SCOTUS decision and big money in politics (though they founded the company and still appear as brand ambassadors, Ben & Jerry’s is now owned by the conglomerate Unilever).

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But by linking money in politics to voter access, particularly among minorities, the company is wading deeper than ever into political waters.

“The biggest fraud of all is the very idea of voter fraud,” Ben Cohen said at Tuesday’s rally. “Its not about voter ID. Its just a thinly veiled tactic to throw up road blocks in front of young people and poor people — who tend to be black and Latino — to get to the voting booth.”

The company was joined at the unveiling by North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William Barber, who has led the fight against North Carolina’s extreme voter suppression law.

The biggest fraud of all is the very idea of voter fraud

The law, pushed through the legislature immediately following the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision to strike down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, rolled back many hard-fought and hard-won measures to make voting more accessible, including eliminating same-day voter registration, cutting down early voting, restricting where voters can vote from, scrapping a pre-registration program aimed to register young people, and adding strict voter ID requirements.

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“They have come to North Carolina because they recognize that this is the epicenter for voting rights, both because of the widespread attempt to suppress the vote by our state lawmakers and because of the fusion movement we are building to fight back,” said Barber, who is both the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging the voting rights law and the leader of the Moral Monday protest movement.

“Its not just sort of about highlighting the issue. It really is about driving people to take action,” Miller told ThinkProgress.

Although the flavor itself is one way to allow consumers to touch the issue, it’s just one piece of a broad, national campaign which will include using Ben & Jerry’s reach and resources to ask people to call their members of Congress to ask them to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act, as well as holding voter registration and voter pledge drives. The launch was also just the beginning of a specific focus on North Carolina.

“We’ll also be going deeper here in the state of North Carolina,” Miller said, calling the state the “front lines” of voter registration. “We’ve got a truck and assets here in the market that we will be using to support a broad coalition of groups who are doing voter registration, get out the vote efforts, and sort of poll monitoring over the course of this summer, fall, and as we move into the election season.”

An undisclosed portion of the profits from the new flavor will also go to support grassroots efforts in North Carolina.

“Years ago we had to sit down at the counter to get some ice cream,” Barber said at the launch, referencing the lunch-counter protests during the civil rights movement.

“Now, ice cream has come to us.”