I had the opportunity yesterday, at the BALLE conference, to hear ice cream magnate Ben Cohen, of Ben and Jerry’s fame, talking about the point of intersection where the local business movement, Occupy Wall Street and the campaign to “get the money out of politics” converge. Here’s video of his presentation, during which he unveils his plan to send a Rube Goldberg-like contraption on a tour around the country, defacing American currency, in hopes of spreading the Move to Amend gospel. (He says that he’s had his legal team look into it, and it’s completely legal to stamp messages onto dollar bills.)
The conversation which followed Ben’s presentation jumped all over the place, as people in the audience, which numbered about 75, discussed everything from personal stories about having gone to prep school with Mitt Romney, to police violence against people of color in Oakland. The most interesting thing, for me, was the discussion on whether or not the local business movement should align itself with the people in the streets, fighting against the forces of corporate America. There was talk of BALLE member businesses putting “We support the 99%” decals on their doors. Some in the audience thought that it would be a great idea to declare solidarity with the movement. Others thought that it might negatively impact the burgeoning localist movement. One woman, while clearly sympathetic to the Occupy movement, suggested that small business owners are making significant progress in the fight against corporate America, and doesn’t want to jeopardize that. As long as we’re all moving in that direction, she argued, we don’t have to be overt in our intentions.
Regardless of whether or not BALLE members decide to act on Cohen’s suggestion, and use their stores as distribution centers for the roll-out of marked bills, it occurs to me that there may be opportunities to leverage the BALLE membership, which now includes some 22,000 independently-owned, place-based, values-minded businesses across North America. I’m not sure what it would look like, but I’ve got to think that there are opportunities not only to lobby Congress, but to get messages out quickly, through the network, to millions of customers. My thoughts on this are still forming, but it seems as though, now that the infrastructure is built, it might be worth exploring the possibilities. For instance, assuming the Supreme Court strikes down the Affordable Care Act later this summer, wouldn’t it be cool if all of the people working at BALLE member businesses wore “Put Single-Payer Health Care Back on the Table… And Start an Entrepreneurial Revolution” t-shirts? (I’m convinced that, if we had national health care, and people were no longer terrified of being uninsured, that tens of thousands of people would leave their jobs working for big firms, and start businesses of their own.) It’s not an overtly political message, but I think that it could have a pretty big impact. And that’s just one example. I’m sure there are dozens more.
More on the BALLE conference tomorrow.
Oh, and Cohen gave us all ice cream after he spoke… He must travel tons of the stuff.