The Yes Men Get Serious: Hijinx, Revolution and a Man Named Alessio Rastani

posted by Rainforest Action Network

The Yes MenOh, The Yes Men. Whether it’s appearing on network television as a Fortune 500 industrial polluter, sending out a false press release (or three), or successfully representing Exxon at a major industry conference, The Yes Men are always hard at work, fearlessly “impersonating corporate criminals in order to humiliate them.” Now, with the new Yes Lab project, Andy and Mike are helping other activist groups (like RAN) use Yes Men tactics to take down the toughest of campaign targets.

This Wednesday evening, The Yes Men will be honored with the Art of Activism Award at Rainforest Action Network’s annual gala REVEL. I interviewed Andy and Mike before the big night to hear the latest on their hijinx, arrests, lawsuits and revolution… As well as the true identity of one Mr. Alessio Rastani.

During a recent interview with BBC, the self-proclaimed “stock market trader and trainer” Alessio Rastani revealed sentiments which few traders were previously willing to admit, like dreaming about recessions to capitalize off of and his now infamous quote: “The governments don’t rule the world. Goldman Sachs rules the world.”

The Internet went wild with theories that Alessio Rastani was part of The Yes Men, and Huffington Post UK even published wild speculations that Alessio was indeed Andy Bichlbaum. What do you have to say about all this?

It’s flattering to be associated with a rare moment of televised honesty coming from a trader. Unlike most of the bigger fish who play the financial markets, Rastani did something decent by warning the 99 percent of us who are not filthy rich about the slow collapse of the markets. That’s a hell of a lot more decent than the likes of Goldman Sachs, who have a well-documented history of lies and obstruction which are all designed to fleece more people at the bottom of their pyramid schemes.

You’ve pulled off dozens of hoaxes — posing as Dow Chemical apologizing for Bhopal, derailing Chevron’s “We Agree” ad campaign, and even distributing a fake edition of the New York Times announcing the end of the war in Iraq. Which prank has personally been the most fun? Which do you feel has been the most impactful in the world?

Fun and impact don’t always go hand in hand.

They are separate questions.

Our action with RAN and Amazon Watch against Chevron’s absurd “We Agree” greenwashing campaign was definitely among the most successful. It was successful at torpedoing the launch of Chevron’s campaign, but it was also very fun to watch so many folks join in on the action. Each time more hilarious remixed ads got sent into the site, we had another good laugh at Chevron’s expense. As for the most impact: We don’t really know… but even if we had the money I don’t think we’d hire a giant multinational company to find out!

You’ve made it this far with few arrests (one due to an unpaid ticket for cycling through Washington Square Park) and even fewer lawsuits, but the U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit back in ’09 in response to your announcement at the National Press Club that the Chamber had reversed its stance on climate change. What’s the latest update? Are they still just as pissed?

The Chamber lawsuit against us is sitting on a judge’s desk in Washington, where it’s been for the last two years. It could in theory move ahead at any moment. The Chamber are still, of course, horrid!

The Yes Men Fix the World was indeed the most laugh-out-loud documentary I’ve ever seen. Rumor has it you’ve got another one coming. Tell us about The Yes Men Are Revolting: A Feature Length Call to Arms.

For years we’ve been doing our thing as the Yes Men, and now we’re making our methods available to more folks than ever through the Yes Lab. But our methods are good for tactical interventions – and if we want to see big changes, which we need right now to save us from ourselves, we need to move into strategy. We need mass action, and some places in the world have been getting it. So we’re jumping on board – trying to join the non-violent revolutionary movements that intend to displace the system we’ve got with something sustainable.

So few people know this, but the two of you actually have “real” paying jobs on top of all the work you do devising elaborate hoaxes. What are you up to exactly?

We teach. Andy is at NYU, and Mike is at RPI. Luckily, that lets us do our thing… and we have lots of great students who come work with us to join in on some Yes Lab action.

Your focus seems to be moving from professional pranksterism to fostering revolution. What’s the bridge between the two and how are you crossing it?

Revolution requires creativity and a sense of humor! Every non-violent revolution needs creative communication, to build the ranks of the movement, to give it an identity and to speak to people who are not already in the streets. Whether you look at Women’s Suffrage, the Indian Independence Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, or even the recent revolutions of the “Arab Spring” you can find lots of examples of creative acts that were deployed tactically to contribute to the movement and to the success of revolution. That’s what we’re trying to work on, in whatever way that we can.

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