The Yes Men’s Latest Stunt: Helping Activists Around the County Pull Off Their Own Pranks

The activists behind the group are known for pranking big corporate and governmental institutions. Now they have created a tool to help others do the same.

Michael Payne

"Andy Bichlbaum" and "Mike Bonanno" pose as Exxon Mobil executives at the Oil and Gas Expo in Calgary.

Andy Bichlebaum and Mike Bonanno — the pseudonyms of the two political activists behind the culture jamming group The Yes Men — have made international headlines for publicly pranking, among other corporate and governmental institutions, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the World Trade Organization and Shell Oil. But the duo is not content to keep their political stunts to themselves. The Yes Men are using the release of their upcoming movie, The Yes Men are Revolting, to launch a new tool, the Action Switchboard. The Action Switchboard, or A/S for short, aims to provide ordinary citizens with the tools necessary to stage creative direction actions.

If successful, the Action Switchboard promises to increase the public’s participation in public political stunts.

The group’s goal is to have the Switchboard operate kind of like Kickstarter, but for creative direct actions.” The service works by allowing registered users to propose political stunts. Each proposal, which the site calls a scheme,” is listed by issue and overall goal. Every scheme” has its own page, where its creators can request advice, money and technical expertise.

The Yes Men already have a database of over 100,000 political activists, but coordinating the skills and interests of that network has been a challenge in the past. By creating a centralized site where users can seek out people with specific skillsets, the group hopes they can finally tap into the creative power of their fans. Individual Switchboard Facilitators” will help activists connect with the people they need to, whether it be a carpenter in Idaho or videographer in Omaha.”

The Yes Men are part of a long tradition of creative direct action runs from Abbie Hoffman to Adbusters. If successful, the Action Switchboard promises to increase the public’s participation in public political stunts. Though the service is brand new, it already features dozens of projects, including a protest of the docking of Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet at the Port of Seattle and a fundraising campaign for a 61-year-old postal employee who recently landed a gyrocopter on the West Lawn of the Capitol building as a protest of government corruption.

The duo has never shied away from using new technologies to facilitate their political activism. In fact, the basic funding for their latest documentary came from social media — a Kickstarter campaign that resulted in over $146,000 in funding for both the film and the Action Switchboard. In recent weeks, Bonanno has also sought to raise money by selling the original set of The David Letterman Show. In a short Vimeo video released last week, Bonano shows off the set and announces that it is for sale; the set ultimately sold for over $20,000 on eBay. Bonano claims he found the set in the trash sometime around 1998.

The Yes Men are Revolting” had its U.S. release on June 12 at the AFI DOCs documentary film festival. The Action Switchboard is currently live and accepting proposals for creative direct actions. 

Michael Payne is a Summer 2015 editorial intern at Rural America In These Times. He is studying political science at the College of William and Mary.
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