It may come as a surprise that the Occupy Illuminator van, the mobile projector that’s played a role in everything from the OWS protests at Union Square last spring to rallies against the expansion of NYU’s campus earlier this month, was originally funded by Ben Cohen, the “Ben” of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Cohen put up the money–about $30,000–in January of this year after hearing OWS activist and NYU adjunct professor Mark Read speak about attaching a projector to a van in order to expand the group’s message after its eviction from Zuccotti Park. Cohen and Read agreed to terms for launching and operating the project: Cohen would put up as much as $65,000, which included a $250 daily rate for Read, and Read would see to it that the van would run for five to six nights a week by April.
Now, citing a breach in the agreement, Cohen is taking the van back into his own possession and away from Read and the Illuminator Affinity Group, the activists who had been running the van. It’d be easy to pain Cohen as the corporate bad guy here–as Read does, calling Cohen “a 1 percenter telling the 99 percent, ‘I’m your boss,'” and telling DNAinfo he “didn’t want to have to bother with the messy part of being in a democracy,” –but let’s step back for a second. Read was getting up to $1,000 a week–something like what he’d be making after taxes on a $65,000 per-year salary, according to my unscientific calculations–to run the van five to six days a week, and he wasn’t doing it. Yes, six days a week is a lot of work, but it’s a job Read agreed to do from the outset. It’d be like if I stopped showing up to work half the time and acted incredulous when ANIMAL fired me.