There is something immensely satisfying about seeing stuffy old establishment figures getting their comeuppance. And there’s even better about seeing them made to look utterly stupid. It was no surprise, therefore, that the Yes Men – ‘hackers of public perception’ – went down a storm at re:publica 14.
In front of a packed (and we do mean packed – standing room only) audience of several thousand, duo Mike Bonnano and Andy Bichlbaum spoke about how they pretend to be the very people they are targeting. The main part of their keynote, the opening event of this year’s re:publica, was dedicated to a story of how they infiltrated a Homeland Security conference in Washington.
The action was caught on film, and was designed to provide a relatively uplifting end to the pair’s latest film, a work about climate change which they admitted was rather depressing.
We don’t want to give too much away, but suffice to say, the day included with a passionate speech from Andy (pretending to be a Department of Energy official) about the need for the US to perform a complete about-face and dedicate itself to converting to renewable energy sources.
These supposed plans included putting solar panels, wind turbines etc all over the country, and for them to be owned by whoever owns the land they stand on – a significant boon for Native Americans, whose reservations are ideally suited by being extremely windy and extremely sunny (something which would act as “reparations for genocide,” Andy added).
Thus there was another ‘government official’ – this time supposedly from the Bureau of Indian Affairs – who persuaded the gathered delegates, made up of defence industry experts, lobbyists and even high-ranking military officers – to perform a bizarre circle dance.
It was, frankly, hysterical, but it also revealed a strange thing. This rather grey audience, who you might expect to sit passively with dirty looks on their faces as Andy laid out his revolutionary ideas, were actually very enthusiastic, and clapped all the points. They were genuinely excited about renewable energy, and switching to it quickly.
“If we lead they will follow” – few people actually want to see the world die, was the message.
Facilitating Direct Action
The Yes Men also revealed some details about the Action Switchboard, a kind of Kickstarter for social action projects which support a campaign goal of interest to one or more NGOs.
Those with ideas for taking action can present their plans, and the more than 100,000 subscribers can see them and, hopefully, provide the resources necessary to carry them out.
“It’s a platform for facilitating more direct action,” said Mike. “Yes, we need to sit down in the roadways, yes we need to go out in the streets and protest, but we also need to do every other thing that we can possibly think, of like intervening in these business meetings, because the alternatives… if we don’t do everything that we can and we fail, then at least we will have tried. But if we don’t do everything we can, and we don’t succeed, the result is, of course, on our shoulders.”
Serious stuff. So it was good, then, to end with a look back at the time the Yes Men pretended to be from the US Chamber of Commerce and held a bogus press conference, only to be confronted by a real representative… “Where’s your business card?” “Where’s yours?”
If you haven’t seen it, stop what you’re doing and watch.
And if you want to attend the second and third days of re:publica on May 7 and 8, you can still buy tickets on the door – more info here.