Many people think Ben and Jerry started it.
In 1978, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield founded an ice cream company in an abandoned Vermont gas station and pledged a portion of their profits to charity and social projects.
But, America’s favorite dessert has been flavored with a social conscience long before Rain Forest Crunch.
A century ago, hot topics were often discussed by citizens who gathered to argue between licks at ice cream socials.
So by some measures, the CityVote Ice Cream Conferences spring from an American tradition of mixing cold confections with hot topics.
For Spokane and Coeur d’Alene citizens, however, these forums are something new, and even sweeter than a bowl of Cherry Garcia.
Here is why.
On Oct. 22, the major presidential candidates for 1996 have been invited to Spokane for a debate.
The topic: environmental issues, policies and concerns.
The debate is part of the national CityVote project to involve more urban people in politics.
On Nov. 7, voters in 18 cities around the country, including Spokane and Coeur d’Alene, will go to the polls to vote their preferences on a presidential ballot.
The CityVote debate and the early ballot are themselves unusual opportunities for Inland Northwesterners to have a voice in national politics.
The CityVote Ice Cream Conferences are an extra topping. Prior to the CityVote debate and vote, citizens of Spokane and Kootenai counties are invited to host backyard forums to discuss what does, and doesn’t matter to them about the environment.
Hosts of these CityVote Ice Cream Conferences will invite a dozen or so family members, friends, or co-workers over for an evening to talk about what is right and wrong about the way we think about, and act upon, environmental issues.
And, there is free ice cream for all.
Hosts of each forum will receive a $20 gift certificate, good at area grocery stores for ice cream and condiments to serve their forum guests.
The free ice cream and other support for the forums are possible, thanks to a $5,000 grant from the Seattle-based Bullitt Foundation.
The foundation, the largest in Washington state, is dedicated to the protection and restoration of the environment of the Pacific Northwest.
“We’re not looking to influence the elections, but we do think people need to be more involved in thinking about and voting on the environment,” said Kathy Becker, program director for the Bullitt Foundation.
“There is a disconnect with many people in urban settings on issues of the environment. People in cities don’t understand how their own lives and choices impact the environment,” Becker said.
“Projects such as the CityVote Ice Cream Conferences help people take time to think about the environment around them and get beyond the very over-simplified debate of jobs vs. environment. It’s not that simple. We have to have jobs and the environment.”
People who attend the CityVote Ice Cream Conferences may want to talk about the spotted owl, or salmon, or timber harvests. But the format is designed primarily to focus discussion on real-life experiences and concerns of people who live in the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene urban corridor.
That’s why each Ice Cream Conference Group will be asked to begin their discussions by answering four questions:
1) Tell us about your favorite spot in your yard, your neighborhood or the region. What is going on in that place now? How has its environment changed since you first went there?
2) Starting in your own back yard and working out into the larger world, what do you value in the environment and what don’t you worry or care about?
3) Would you want to be called an environmentalist? What do you think is the best definition, and worst definition, of an environmentalist?
4) When you think about government and elected officials, are there helpful roles they can play in the environment you care about? Are there harmful roles?
Someone at each forum will jot down responses to these questions and return them to The Spokesman-Review in the addressed, stamped envelope provided in the forum packet.
The newspaper will publish highlights of the conferences and forward the responses to CityVote.
CityVote will use the responses to frame questions for the presidential candidates appearing at the Spokane debate Oct. 22.
That’s the sweet deal: your thoughts and questions about the environment go directly to the presidential candidates.
Ben and Jerry’s made history with their ice cream-driven political statements and with ice cream. Now it’s your turn.
If you want to host a CityVote Ice Cream Conference call us at 509-459-5430, or FAX us your name, address and telephone number at FAX 509-459-5482 and we will send a packet.
, DataTimes MEMO: Chris Peck is the Editor of The Spokesman-Review. His column appears each Sunday on the Perspective page.
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