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Ice cream king makes money scream

The man who brought us Cherry Garcia, Phish Food and New York Super Fudge Chunk has a distaste for the mint that is American politics. So Ben Cohen is fighting back the best way he knows how, with persuasive slogans — and ice cream.

The co-founder of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream will be in Miami this weekend with his Stamp Stampede tour, in which he and a group of volunteers stamp dollar bills with red-ink words of protest: One stamp says, "Not 2 B Used for Bribing Politicians." The other reads, "Stamp Money Out of Politics."

"The Stampede is a grassroots action to build the movement to get money out of politics by stamping messages on paper currency," Cohen says. "The Supreme Court has said that money is free speech, and we are taking them at their word. We're legally making our money scream."

Cohen will appear 3-5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 15, at Culture Camp, a four-day series of workshops on music, dance, cooking, sustainability and community building at Virginia Key Beach Park in Miami through Feb. 18. The events will kick off the Virginia Key GrassRoots Festival of Music, Art and Dance, running Feb. 19-22, with performances by Donna the Buffalo, Jim Lauderdale, Afrobeta, Elastic Bond, Locos por Juana and the Spam Allstars, among many others. Several of the musicians are scheduled to appear at Culture Camp.

Cohen also will have a load of Ben & Jerry's ice cream at Culture Camp, with the first 300 servings for free, and the rest for sale.

More than 30,000 people from every state are now stamping dollars with Stampede slogans, Cohen says. Stamps will be for sale at Culture Camp, and others can be purchased on the website for his 2-year-old nonprofit organization, StampStampede.org.

"If just one person stamps three bills a day for a year, that will create a million 'impressions' as the bill gets passed around," says Cohen, in the lexicon of ice cream advertising. Many of the dollars are showing up on Instagram and Facebook, he says.

"On my way out of Vermont, I got 200 singles from the bank, so I could stamp 'em and spend 'em on my trip," says Cohen, speaking by phone from the airport in West Palm Beach. "Last night, I was at Hurricane Alley in Boynton Beach, and I was going through them to stamp and give them to the waiter, and there were two that were already stamped."

The Stamp Stampede, which seeks a constitutional amendment or other legislative limit on political spending, is a nondenominational protest campaign, Cohen says. But recent reports that the Koch brothers plan to spend nearly $900 million in the upcoming election cycle worry him.

"It's changed our country from what used to be a democracy, when it used to be one person, one vote to now, what is it, a plutocracy? It's one dollar, one vote," he says.

Cohen, who no longer has a role in running Ben & Jerry's (it was sold to the conglomerate Unilever in 2001), says he takes plenty of licks for being one of the "super wealthy" he faults. Cohen says he's spoken out for raising taxes on people in his own tax bracket.

"It always surprises me that the expectation is that people are not motivated by a sense of equality or justice or human rights," Cohen says. "It's the assumption that you, me, Ben Cohen, rich guy, I'm only interested in my own narrow self-interest. And that's not really what they talk about on Saturday or Sunday in church or temple or mosque. It's not what a community is based on. It's not what being a citizen is based on. It's based on having the interest of the whole at heart. That's what Ben & Jerry's was about, and that's what I'm about."

Ben Cohen will lead a workshop 3-5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 15, opening day for Culture Camp, a four-day series of workshops on music, dance, cooking, sustainability and community building Feb. 15-18 at Virginia Key Beach Park, 4020 Virginia Beach Drive, Miami. Tickets start at $15. The Virginia Key GrassRoots Festival of Music, Art and Dance will take place Feb. 19-22. Tickets start at $25. Ticket prices do not include vehicle entry fee or camping fee. Call 786-409-5261, or visit VirginiaKeyGrassRoots.com.

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