Ben & Jerry’s founders underwrite campaign protesting Chinese support for Sudan

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(Host) The co-founders of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream are underwriting a campaign to protest China’s support for Sudan.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield launched a three-vehicle caravan to San Francisco, where protests are expected to greet the only U.S. visit of the Olympic torch.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd was at the caravan’s sendoff from Burlington City Hall.

(Cohen) “This is China‘s `torch of disgrace.”’

(Sound of torch lighting and burning)

(Sneyd) For years, Ben Cohen has been a big believer in taking his marketing on the road. And that goes for his political marketing, too.

So he’s taken three modified vehicles that he’s used in other political initiatives – including the Barack Obama presidential campaign – and outfitted them as a rolling protest against China.

A large pipe rises out of the back of one. It’s connected to a propane burner so it imitates the Olympic torch that’s making a world tour en route to Beijing and the summer Olympics.

(Cohen) “It is modeled exactly after the actual Olympic torch that’s going around the world. On top are what on the actual Olympic torch are lucky clouds of hope. On our torch are the black clouds of terror. And beneath it you see illustrations that were done by children refugees of the terror in Darfur.”

(Sneyd) There’s plenty more symbolism in this rolling protest.

Among the drivers of the vans will be Vermonter Mamer Ajak, one of the “lost boys” of Sudan, who fled the violence of his homeland.

(Ajak) “China buys 60 percent of Sudanese oil and that oil is supposed to be for good. It is not intended for bad. Because China is buying it without being responsible, that money is being used to buy weapons to wipe out Darfurians, the southerners, the westerners and the northerners.”

(Sneyd) Critics accuse China of being complicit in the atrocities that have taken place in Darfur, a region of Sudan. They say China should use its influence on the Sudanese government to bring in peacekeepers and humanitarian aid.

Greenfield says human rights have been trampled and people killed for far too long in Sudan without one of its major patrons doing anything to stop it.

(Greenfield) “It’s something that we cannot allow to continue to happen and we need to ramp up the pressure and this is a unique opportunity to do it.”

(Sneyd) Cohen and Greenfield say publicity initiatives such as theirs might be effective because China is so conscious of its international image as the Olympics approach.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

AP Photo/Alden Pellett

Sangay Dhondup, left, a Tibetan refugee who moved to Burlington 10 years ago, talks about China with Bior Bior, a Sudanese refugee for seven and a half years.

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