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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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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