In a world of mobile banking, web memes, and wildly propagating virtual social networks, rubber stamped messages on dollar bills is decidedly #OldSchool. But the StampStampede.org -- headed by marketing-mastermind Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream -- has adopted an innovative strategy to integrate online/offline engagement and mobilization in order to cultivate a community of activists and give voice to the vocal-chord thrashing frustration that American's feel towards a bankrupt political system where cash is king. The idea is to encourage people to stamp messages on their dollars in support of a constitutional amendment that would effectively state: 1) Corporations are not people; 2) Money is not free speech. Not only does it offer support to the growing movement to amend the constitution to finally get money out of politics for good, but it offers real lessons for social integration and grassroots virility.
The Holy Grail for content producers is that one image, that one video, that one web-comic that captures the salivating, side-cracking, eye-misting audience connection. It's the content that must be watched, detested, loved and shared. Viral content can spark a conflagration that burns hot and fast, but it's unpredictable, non-replicable and ultimately burns out. As a result, the Stampede has set out on a different path -- it's not about viral content; it's about a viral movement. As each stamped dollar enters into circulation, it becomes a cumulative, accelerating and sustained show of public support for a constitutional amendment to get money out of politics.
There is something inherently viral about the circulation of money. The Federal Reserve Bank estimates that every dollar bill remains in circulation for about 4.8 years or approximately 1750 days. If you write a small message on a dollar, it has the potential to generate over 1000 impressions. If you write a small message on a thousand dollars, it has the potential to generate 1,000,000 impressions and so on. At this point you might be thinking, yeah but isn't it illegal to write on currency? It's not. According to multiple first amendment lawyers, legality depends on intention. If you have no intention of defacing the currency to render it unusable or to promote a for-profit business, it's 100% legal. Cohen - with inspiration from Where's George and Occupy George -- transformed currency to carry a political message that transcends political ideologies. It's what Cohen calls "monetary jujitsu - using money to fight money in politics."
The Stampede integrates the viral nature of money with the popularity of DIY, the flexibility of e-commerce and searchablity of hashtags -- #GetMoneyOut -- in order to generate snowballing-support that overcomes the unpredictable, flighty, and ephemeral nature of viral content. As more stamped dollars enter the marketplace, more people begin to create sharable, eye-catching, clickable online content. As the message spreads across the web, it translates into a growing stamper community who pumps more stamped dollars into the economy. And the cycle continues and grows. The Stampede website estimates over 22 million dollars of stamped cash is already circulating. With well over 8,500 stampers and upwards of 20 million dollars of stamped cash in circulation, the stampede has become a swelling tsunami of people stamping, spending, pinning, posting, tweeting, and sharing stamped dollars.
While winning a constitutional amendment is no easy task, it's precisely this type of creative thinking in conjuncture with grassroots organizing led by groups like Move to Amend, Free Speech for People, Common Cause, Public Citizen and People for the American Way that we need if we're going to transform the broken system of campaign finance. After all, to quote one of the messages stamped on dollars: "the system isn't broken, it's fixed."
Follow Edward Erikson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@EdwardErikson