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July 04, 2007

Watch And Learn

Posted in: Citizen action

yesmen.JPGDear Progressive Protest Organizers:

Forget the twenty-foot-high puppets. If you REALLY want to make an impact, PowerPoints and Brooks Brothers suits are much better, as the Yes Men showed us yet again.

Pretending to be representatives of an Exxon/Mobil subsidiary named “Vivolium”, Yes Men activists Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonnano managed to not only con their way into the Gas and Oil Exposition 2007 in Calgary, but also tricked the Expo’s organizers — which include members of Dick Cheney’s and George W. Bush’s buddies in the National Petroleum Council — into letting them the keynote luncheon address on the final day of the event.

I’ll let Wired.com’s Brandon Keim take it from here:

The NPC, which is led by former Exxon-Mobil CEO Lee Raymond, advises the White House on gas and oil issues. They were expected to announce the findings of a Raymond-chaired study, commissioned by the Department of Energy, on joint US-Canadian energy policy.

Instead, attendees of the day’s $45.00 keynote luncheon were addressed by the Yes Men’s Andy Bichlbaum, who identified himself as an NPC representative named Shepard Wolff.

After noting that current energy policies will likely lead to “huge global calamities” and disrupt oil supplies, Wolff told the audience “that in the worst case scenario, the oil industry could “keep fuel flowing” by transforming the billions of people who die into oil,” said a Yes Men press release.

Yes Man Mike Bonnano, posing as an Exxon representative named Florian Osenberg, added that “With more fossil fuels comes a greater chance of disaster, but that means more feedstock for Vivoleum. Fuel will continue to flow for those of us left.”

And the beauty of this? The Expo’s organizers and attendees didn’t catch on right away that they were being spoofed. (Though to be fair to them, it really must have been hard to notice: The “Vivoleum” presentation, if it were legit, wouldn’t be too far in spirit from the Enron employees mocking the California grannies who were dying because they couldn’t afford to run their air conditioning back in the summer of 2001.)

Sure, they felt a little uneasy when Bichlbaum and Bonnano led them in lighting Vivoleum candles allegedly made from a former Exxon janitor who died after cleaning a toxic spill. But it took the mock video of the janitor professing his desire to have his body rendered into candles to get one of the conference organizers to yank the Yes Men from the podium.

And even as they were being led away, they stayed in character:

As security guards led Bonanno from the room, Bichlbaum told reporters that “Without oil we could no longer produce or transport food, and most of humanity would starve. That would be a tragedy, but at least all those bodies could be turned into fuel for the rest of us.”

Noting that “150,000 people already die from climate-change related effects every year,” he added, “That’s only going to go up – maybe way, way up. Will it all go to waste? That would be cruel.”

This, my friends, takes brains. But more importantly, it takes discipline and courage.

We’re talking about something that has to be planned weeks, if not months, in advance. We’re talking about something that requires a good knowledge of the M.O. of one’s quarry. We’re talking about something that requires not just adoption of temporary camouflage appropriate to the setting, but the ability to go into and the self-discipline to remain in a character that’s plausible enough to fool some very sharp cookies.

This, my friends, is true brilliance.

The conference organizers and attendees are probably inured to people with puppets by now. Their limousines whisk them past the people waving signs outside so fast that the protesters are all just a blur that’s quickly forgotten once they’re safely inside the hall.

I don’t think that anyone at the conference that day will ever forget what the Yes Men did. Ever.


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