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A Chat About Occupy with Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream

The ice cream guy talks with us about OWS, mesh networking, and his activist son.

by Brian Anderson
May 1 2012, 6:15pm

Early this past March, in the latest of late-editing stages for our newest feature documentary, Free the Network, I began hearing about a band of business leaders “planning to pour substantial funds” into various veins of the Occupy Wall Street movement. They call themselves the Movement Resource Group, and had already raised about $300,000 by the end of February (with sights set on another $1.5 million). Group members include Danny Goldberg, Nirvana’s former manager, and Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, of Ben & Jerry’s Super Premium Ice Cream.

Wait. Hold up. Ben & Jerry’s, I knew, is based out of Vermont. And I also knew that Tyrone Greenfield, an Occupier and communications director with the Free Network Foundation who we’d been following around, for the past half year, is a native Vermonter. Could it be? How many Greenfields could there be in the 43rd biggest state in the Union? Probably not a lot, right? Could Tyrone, to add a complex twist to a story about a group of open-source advocates quite literally building an alternative and easily accessible Internet free of corporate interference, be part—or at least close to maybe being part—of the One Percent?

I called up Tyrone, who confirmed the connection. “Yeah,” he said. “That’s my dad.”

And you know what? I didn’t feel the least bit crossed, even after months of extensive shooting and interviews. Tyrone never felt the need to make a big deal of his family backstory. I respected that. My co-producer and editors and I put it together, and that was that. But I was curious about a few things: Had the Movement Resource Group doled any funds to to the FNF? Was he getting shit for being the son of a guy whose company, however socially conscious, is owned by Unilever? And, well, how can I get through to his dad?

To the first question: No. Tyrone admitted that his parents afford him some financial support, but no, the FNF had received no direct stimulus from the MRG. To the second question: Not really, no. “If anything,” Tyrone told me, “people have just been like, ‘Oh, so what’s your favorite flavor?’” (It’s mint chocolate chip, if you’re wondering.) And to the third: Yeah, sure. He’d put me in touch.

So after a few obligatory rounds of email tag, I finally had a chance to catch up with Jerry over the phone on the eve of May Day. In the short amount of time we had, Jerry took me back to his first encounter with Occupy, boldly admitted his techno-ignorance, offered his support to anyone striking against a broken system, and raised a true no-brainer: Who doesn’t like free ice cream?

VICE: Just to be clear up front, Jerry, what exactly do you do? Walk me through your typical day.
Jerry Greenfield: Typical day? That’s easy. I don’t really have a typical day.

Ben [Cohen] and I both still work at the company. We’re employees, but we’re not involved in the management or the operations. So we kind of get to do what we want to do. We’re pretty much involved in initiatives that help support the social mission, or the environmental mission of the company, because those are the things that we’re interested in. And we also think they’re very beneficial to Ben & Jerry’s.

From the looks of the Activism page at your website, I imagine you and Ben stay pretty busy. And I see there’s a dedicated Occupy page. How did you first hear about the movement?
I actually first heard about Occupy from my son, Tyrone, who’d been at Zuccotti Park since day one. I got a message from him a few days in asking about getting some ice cream for the people in the park. And I thought, well, that’s interesting.

So I was able to arrange to get ice cream for folks. At the time there weren’t that many people in the park. This was probably a couple days into week two. There were probably about 250 people. So it was very early on. And I was able to get some ice cream there. That was my introduction.

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