Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno are the Yes Men, two men who have sabotaged many a meeting or PR campaign of the world’s most powerful transnational corporations and bureaucracies. By impersonating leaders of the world’s most powerful institutions, they’ve apologized for Dow Chemical for not properly compensating citizens of Bhopal affected by the gas leak disaster faulted to a company, United Carbide, Dow later acquired. They’ve gone to numerous meetings of transnational organizations, earning uproarious applause for proposing plans that belittle the value of human lives in the face of mega corporate profits. Drawing from work by the likes of Michael Moore and Sacha Baron Cohen, the duo doesn’t make political theater, they make politics theater.
The pair have made two films — “The Yes Men,” “The Yes Men Fix the World” — documenting their hijinks, but as the ramifications of capitalism are becoming all the more apparent and the progressive movement has gained new life, their new film, “The Yes Men are Revolting,” is all the more urgent.
Recognizing this urgency, the Yes Men are launching an Action Switchboard in conjunction with the film. The two are currently heading up the Yes Lab at NYU, a collective that helps activists garner the gumption to take on nonviolent direct action against capitalist corporate interests. The Action Switchboard is a way to reach more activists across the country with quicker consultations.
While Indiewire caught up with both men, Bonanno was hard to reach, working on the scene in the Rockaways, cleaning up from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. The team is launching a Kickstarter campaign for their new film “The Yes Men are Revolting” and their Action Switchboard.
As the men started showing up to actions during the heyday of Occupy Wall Street, they were surprised to see how robust that action is — and how much people at actions were happy to see them. “We went to Zucotti,” Bichlbaum told Indiewire, “to see what could we do to participate. People there would come up to us and say ‘You’re a big part of this movement! You’ve helped make this possible!’ At first, I didn’t quite know what they meant. We heard the news that people were plotting to launch OWS over the summer and we thought it sounded ridiculous.
“It occurred to me that all this stuff makes sense. Even if our actions seem to fail each time – actions against Halliburton, the US Chamber of Commerce, our fake New York Post edition after Obama’s election. You don’t seem to be having direct effect on these things, but there is an effect in people’s minds. I really do think that movements like this, formed of lots and lots of people do change things really significantly. In fact, they’re the only things that change things. From the Civil Rights movement to ACT UP, thanks to which millions of peoples’ lives were saved; there are cases in Eastern Europe of toppling dictators, all thanks to homegrown non-violent movements. I have infinite hope in what’s happening right now.”
As they get set to finalize “The Yes Men Are Revolting” — they plan to be done in Spring or Summer of 2013 — the Yes Men are thinking intensely about how best to reach more and more people, helping them plan actions. Bichlbaum explained, “With the Yes Lab, we help people plan creative direct actions around important issues that we care about. We’ll brainstorm: somebody will come up with an idea and they’ll need a bit of advice on how to accomplish it. They’ll need reassurance that they’re not going to land in jail forever. There’s no reason that we can’t do it remotely as well.”
And so the team is launching the Action Switchboard. With a bit more organization,” Bichlbaum added, “more coherent, better materials, and a staff to keep stuff moving forward, there’s no reason we can’t do the same sort of thing remotely. It’s basically doing what we do in person now, remotely.”
As activist-filmmakers, the Yes Men hope to share the tools, learned from Rosa Parks, the Freedom Riders, the Yippies, and ACT UP: documenting everything as much as possible and creating as much media attention as possible. “That’s one of the main things that we teach in these Yes Labs: you have to document everything as much as possible, both the process and the action. It’s one of the easiest things to fix to make actions more effective. You end up with stuff that can live on. Some actions are really fast, really evanescent. We give journalists the opportunities to write about important issues. At best, our actions have given journalists a lot of excuses to write about important issues.”
The new film will focus much on climate change, a topic which Bonanno, working on the Rockaways was experiencing first hand. Action is needed now more than ever, both men agree. Bonanno adds, “The isssue of money in politics is doing its work of destroying the planet. We want to give people the tool to follow up on that.”
The Yes Men’s Kickstarter video is embedded below and you can visit their campaign here.