Ben & Jerry's support for Occupy Wall Street melts away

Ben Cohen wants his van back.

Break-ups are never easy. What was once a perfect match between the liberal ideals of Ben & Jerry's founder, Ben Cohen, and the Occupy Wall Street movement has deteriorated into a bitter feud over a Ford Econoline Van. The honeymoon is most certainly over.

It all started last Autumn, when Ben & Jerry’s became the first major company to advocate the Occupy movement, releasing a declaration of support on its website and dishing out free ice cream to protesters in Zuccotti Park.

In March, Cohen shelled out some $30,000 for a passenger van dubbed “The Illuminator” to be kitted out with a powerful projector used to beam progressive, anti-capitalist messages onto dozens of buildings around New York.

Now, he wants it back.

Allegedly, the dispute arose when Cohen repeatedly criticised the van’s volunteer crew and demanded more direct control over its activities. The impasse culminated in a full out custody battle in May. The two sides eventually agreed to share the van until  the end of September, with Cohen now moving to repossess it.

Mark Read, the brainchild of the “Illuminator” project, claimed: “He’s a 1 percenter telling the 99% ‘I’m your boss’ ”.

“I think we all feel kind of betrayed and disappointed”, he added.

The quarrel comes after months of discord between OWS activists and their would-be bankrollers; an organisation called the ‘Movement Resource Group’, led by Cohen and other left-leaning corporate figures.  Allegedly, the group demanded changes to the Occupy command structure, which the protesters saw as undermining the sacrosanct principles of consensus and mutuality that the movement was founded upon.

Other protesters accused Ben & Jerry’s of trying to hijack the movement to promote the brand’s identity as a bastion of liberal values.

But as the sun sets on Occupy’s first love affair with a corporate suitor, they remain staunchly pegged to their ideals.

“We are the 99%, and we will be our own superhero”, a statement on the Illuminator’s website reads.

 

The "Illuminator". Photograph © Jessie Rocks

Alex Ward is a London-based freelance journalist who has previously worked for the Times & the Press Association. Twitter: @alexward3000

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Fears over Notting Hill Carnival reveal more about racism than reality

Statistically, the event is about as safe as Glastonbury.

Notting Hill carnival is terrifying. As soon as the sun sets, gangs emerge ready to prey on unsuspecting attendees with Red Stripe cans fashioned into knives. Children barter for drugs. Dancing is punctuated by ceremonial burials for those killed in between every dancehall tune. And that's just on the kids’ day.

Except, it's not true. Statistically, the event is about as safe as Glastonbury - if not safer, judging by the number of arrests. In 2015, Glasto was praised for its low arrest rate (75 arrests for a crowd of 135,000), but in the same year carnival had ten times the capacity and fewer than ten times the offences.

Despite these statistics, the police, MPs and newspapers seem desperate to paint carnival as a gang-run danger zone. The Met Police recently tweeted about a kilo of heroin seized in the run up to carnival, despite not even knowing whether the perpetrators were going to the event. MPs, such as former Kensington MP Victoria Borwick, are happy to fuel this fire, claiming to be concerned about the supposed “year on year increase in violence and physical harm to our police officers and members of the public”. Newspapers revel in publishing large spreads about the raids in the run up to the two days, despite lacking evidence they’re even connected. Break this down and it’s clear: this dislike towards carnival roots itself in racism - the presumption that a festival celebrating black, West Indian culture, frequented by a higher proportion of black British punters, must inevitably, be violent.

I have been attending carnival since the age of six, when my parents moved to the area (90s gentrification alert). I used to sell Ribena for a markup on my street, took part in the float my primary school ran and every year witnessed the incredible recontextualisation of the area. Gone is the whitewashing for a moment: the streets and houses become splattered in neon paint, jerk chicken boxes and Red Stripe cans. It is one of the best things to happen to the area, and its vast cultural value exceeds the bougie cafes and boutique clothing stalls that span the area.

And yet, every year, I have to dodge questions from relatives and friends about how dangerous it supposedly is. “Ooh, Notting Hill carnival. Bit scary, isn't it? Lots of angry youth who can get quite violent I hear. Didn't someone get stabbed last year?” Perhaps a viable question to ask anyone going to a crowded event. Except, why weren’t they asking me this when I flew to Amsterdam this year to go to a music festival?

There's another side of critiquing carnival that is equally infuriating, and that's that the fact that the event in some ways stands as a consolation prize to the original tenants of the area. In the middle of the 20th Century, Notting Hill was far from the Russian oligarch haven it is today. It was the Windrush Era, when black immigrants began arriving from the Caribbean. They came not out of some overwhelming desire to be freezing for 11 months, but because Britain was struggling after the Second World War, and desperately needed a labour force. Despite the demand, the West Indians were met with hostility and racism, forced to live in the worst areas of London. One of those places was Notting Hill.

Imagine, then, the audacity of shaming carnival. Imagine being forced by racism into a rundown neighbourhood, turning it into something fashionable, and then being priced out by middle-class white people. Imagine on top of that, having your legacy celebration degraded under the guise of safety concerns.

This year will feel different. It will be the first year ever under a Labour MP. It will also come two months and a half months after the Grenfell fire, where many of its residents and victims will have taken part in the event. Whilst there’s something defiant in these parades, it will be hard for the collective joy not to be marred by a knowledge that somewhere in this borough, bodies are being buried because of our council.

We need to see carnival for what it is: a celebration of a culture struggling to stay afloat in the area. Kensington continues to edge out those who may not be living in £2.5m homes - whether it’s with rising house prices, creating anxiety around an event or even putting lives at risk due to sheer disregard and greed. If you’re worried about going, I would avoid all large, crowded events in general, because there’s no use believing the vacuous and racist hype. Beyond getting splattered with paint and dancing too enthusiastically to Bashment, there’s nothing to fear.