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Listen: The Yes Men Help Students Bring Humor to Serious Activism

Listen: The Yes Men Help Students
Bring Humor to Serious Activism

by Linda Hou '13

Yes Men
Mike Bonanno of the Yes Men helps members of the audience stage a social action campaign.

While some may think of pranks as childish, the Yes Men use them as a form of social activism. From switching voice-boxes of GI Joe and Barbie dolls to imitating Exxon executives, the Yes Men use impersonation and tricks to create sensational news that raises awareness of important social and political issues. Their projects have been reported on by major media sources like the New York Times and CNN.

The duo, known by their pseudonyms Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, recently came to Swarthmore to give a presentation about their past projects as a part of the Cooper Series. The next day, they hosted a workshop to help students plan an action of their own.

"We hoped to meet people, inspire people, and to be inspired," Bonanno says of their expectations of the lecture. Listen to their presentation to an LPAC Cinema packed with students, faculty, staff, and community members.

"I was extremely pleased with how accessible Andy and Mike were," says Associate Professor of Art History Janine Milaef, one of the organizers of the event. "They were completely without attitude and very open to student interaction. I think their unassuming presence alone helped students to realize that everyday people can make a big impact."

The Yes Men also invited the audience to call the White House to report the government's failure to follow Senate Bill 2125, a bill President Barack Obama helped to make law as a senator in 2006. The bill urges for action and aid by the United States to stop the continuous genocide in the Congo.

"I told the gentleman who answered the phone that I wanted to report a crime and he told me to call 9-1-1," says Ayman Abunimer '12, one of the few whose call made it through. "So I told him it wasn't that kind of crime and I asked him to just hear me out and pass on the message to Obama."

After exchanging a conversation about the act, Abunimer ended the phone call with an additional request: "While we're on the line, can you save Palestine, too?"

During the lecture, the Yes Men also described a student action last year during the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. At the event, a fake press release by Canada was published promising to reduce pollution emissions and to help developing countries to do the same. Along with the Yes Men and ActionAid, Blaine O'Neill '11 was a participant in the prank.

O'Neill, from Malibu, Calif., will further lead a group of about 50 students in an action against mountaintop removal. The initial planning was done during the Yes Men's workshop, in which they facilitated discussion and brainstorming and gave advice on how to accomplish different projects.

"We had a great time," Bonanno says."Smart and fun students!"