The action that gave birth to the Yes Lab.
Shortly after launching a battalion of Survivaballs at the United Nations in the fall of 2009 to urge action against climate catastrophe, we heard from a group of activists in Washington, D.C., the Avaaz Climate Action Factory, who drew our attention to Public Enemy #1 of sane climate policy: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
While the U.S. Chamber often flies under the radar, in recent years it has become more visible by launching multi-million-dollar advertising campaigns and lobbying blitzes to derail a sensible climate bill in the Senate (not to mention spending hundres of millions to oppose health care reform, employee free choice and even pushing to kill sensible banking regulations that could thwart another economic meltdown). With the fate of the Senate climate bill very much up in the air, and only months to go before a major UN conference on climate that the U.S. Chamber was furiously trying to derail, our Action Factory friends felt that these people needed to be unmasked, and quick.
Lo and behold, a mere one week later, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce surprised everyone with a dramatic announcement at the National Press Club, reversing its position on climate change policy, and promising to immediately cease lobbying against the Kerry-Boxer bill, the leading piece of legislation in the U.S. Senate meant to reduce CO2 emissions.
Within minutes of the U.S. Chamber's announcement, it was dramatically and comically revealed that the "U.S. Chamber spokesperson" was an impostor, and the press conference an elaborate hoax to draw attention to the U.S. Chamber's backward position. For this we have to give thanks to Eric Wohlschlegel, the visibly rattled U.S. Chamber of Commerce spokesperson who barged into the room and declared the event a fraud. In the ensuing stand-off, both Wohlschlegel and "Hingo Sembra" (our U.S. Chamber rep.) accused the other of being a fraud. "Can I see your business card?" Wohlschlegal demanded of his doppleganger. "Can I see yours?" parried Sembra. After an extended impasse in the battle of the business cards, Wohlschlegel beat a hasty retreat, handing every journalist he could collar a business card. (See video here and Rachel Maddow's coverage on MSNBC here.)
The Action Factory and Yes Men ruse was covered by media around the world, putting the U.S. Chamber's greedy and destructive influence on our politics in the spotlight. As for the Yes Men, besides being named plaintiffs in a lawsuit against them and "John and Jane Doe 1-20," it was the collaborative nature of the project—developing and executing an amazing plan over the course of three or four days—that left us inspired and ready to think big. That desire led us on to other amazing collaborations, and ultimately the launch of the Yes Lab itself.
Rachel Maddow. Chamber of Commerce Punked
The Washington Post. Pranksters Stage Chamber of Commerce climate event
Mother Jones. The Yes Men Punk the Chamber
The New York Times. U.S. Chamber sues activists over climate stunt