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Yes Men Activist Calls For Mass Public Pressure To “Change The Rules Of The Game”

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At an event yesterday with Brave New Films, Andy Bichlbaum, a member of The Yes Men, challenged activists and progressives to engage in mass civic actions as the only way to provide the pressure needed to produce lasting change. He said that so far, progressives have not done enough on this front, though things were changing.

Bichlbaum, promoting the new film The Yes Men Fix The World, has been in the news recently for perpetrating a hoax on the Chamber of Commerce, posing as a spokesman claiming that the Chamber would drop its objections to climate change legislation. A Chamber spokesman interrupted the press event and caused a confrontation in the room, which “made it live in the media,” Bichlbaum said. “At one point, a reporter said to us, ‘Look, are you an activist? I’m on a deadline!'” The CoC threatened legal action over the hoax, but Bichlbaum explained that they’ve never been taken to court in 10 years. “It’s not worth the additional exposure,” he said.

The Yes Men, formed in 1999 around the time of the WTO events in Seattle, say they engage in their unique brand of activism to raise awareness and expand the landscape of the possible. By spoofing corporate entities and having them take responsibility for their actions, they appeal to the public to make real these unreal events. “Public pressure is where it’s at… people basically want to do good, but in the corporate environment, that’s impossible when the shareholders decide. When we did the Dow Chemical spoof (Bichlbaum appeared on the BBC as a Dow spokesman to take responsibility for the disaster in Bhopal, India), their stock plummeted because we made it look like Dow was doing the right thing. We have to change the rules of the game. We have this thing called democracy and it’s all we’ve got… there are some good people in government, we need to give them the right pressure.”

Asked by me if people are delivering the right kind of pressure at this point, Bichlbaum said now. “But it’s starting to mount,” he said. He cited the work of Tim DeChristopher, an environmentalist who late last year posed as an oil developer and bought up multiple parcels at a public lands sale when he had no money to pay for it, ruining the auction and eventually leading to the Obama Administration canceling all the sales in that auction. He mentioned websites like BeyondTalk.net, where people can take a “Climate Pledge of Resistance” to engage in civil disobedience, actions that are being mirrored on health care and banking reform, as we will see next week in Chicago at the American Bankers Association conference (a labor/citizen’s group coalition called Showdown in Chicago is managing that). Other actions, like Stop the Chamber and the Climate Change Day of Action pushed by 350.org, show in various ways a renewed activist push to hold the politicians accountable to their promises.

“Pressure is mounting,” Bichlbaum said. “People are taking to the streets. There’s a lot of counter-pressure out there from corporations, so we have to balance that and make this government do the right thing.”

Obviously, activism is a long and often frustrating road. But according to The Yes Men, there’s little alternative to build a more fair and just world.

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David Dayen

David Dayen