Five Lessons We Can Learn From The Yes Men

by Anthea Foyer with photography by Yvonne Bambrick

On Thursday April 14th Project Democracy & Department of Culture presented renowned culture jamming activists, The Yes Men. (more specifically, Andy Bichlbaum, one of the founding duo along with Mike Bonanno) to enlighten and entertain and inform us about their actions.

They definitely informed and entertained, but I would like to focus on the ‘enlighten’ part.

Artists have long been able to deliver powerful messages through their creations – sometimes overt, as with religious iconography, and sometimes subversive, through means such as the Yes Men deploy.

Yes Man Andy Bichlbaum delivers an interactive audio/visual extravaganza

So what did we learn from The Yes Men?

1. Develop actions that give journalists and the media an opportunity to focus on important issues that don’t get covered. The pranks provide the chink in the armour, and the catchy funny gotcha headline, and then it's up to the media to pry things open to explore the big underlying systemic stories. The media are always looking for newsworthy stories – give them something important to focus on.

2. Collaborate for powerful results. The Yes Men often work with activists, artists, and even media outlets to get their projects done. It is through these collaborations that they can pull off such large-scale events.

3. Open up your group and your ideas.  The Yes Men have created Yes Labs to open up the process to as many people as possible. There are now not just two Yes Men but many all iterating on the core ideas and values of the Yes Men. 

4. Be fearless. In 15 years of publically embarrassing large corporation and governments, the Yes Men have only been sued once. And, even in that situation (which is still in process) they have discovered a large number of groups and citizens who are willing to lend their skills, power and money to the cause. We live in a democracy. We should not be afraid to talk publically about issues that affect us all, and we should ensure that companies and governments accountable to the citizens – not the other way around.

5. Imagine a better future. Many of the Yes Men’s pranks are  powerful because they give us an opportunity to see what is possible. We often focus on what can go wrong or ‘worst case scenarios’, but when asking why people don’t vote, the answer is often that none of the leaders are inspiring or have vision. Artists can begin to incite the public imagination by presenting better possible outcomes for the future and let our leaders know there are alternative futures.

The line up to get in The Royal in started early

Department of Culture believes that through creative means we can all hold our government accountable, highlight inequities and to bring about positive social change in our country. We are seeing this everyday as creatives from across Canada are making videos, music, paintings, flash mobs, and a variety of other artistic messages to address our current national election. If you would like to see what is happening across the country please check out departmentofculture.crowdmap.com where we have been mapping creative actions from across Canada.

However, we want to see more! We have less than two weeks left during this election to make the citizens get out and vote, the politicians take notice of what the real issues are, and to get that damn Harper out of government.

This article first appeared on departmentofculture.ca

Project Democracy volunteers sold every single copy of the "fake" New York Times created and distributed in NYC by The Yes Men after Obama's election in 2008.