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 Update from the Field

The Yes Men (Mike and Andy) help troublesome organizations take their institutional logic to its rational extremes, exposing the realities of unmitigated corporate capitalism, corrupt political regimes and other really bad ideas. We call this “identity correction,” which is like “identity theft” except that everyone benefits.

From 1999 until 2003, we traveled around the world to important meetings of lawyers, managers, engineers, and policymakers, where we performed “identity correction” on the World Trade Organization (WTO), giving our expert audiences elaborate and outrageous lectures about WTO policy—as WTO representatives.

At every meeting we addressed, we found that we had absolutely no trouble fooling our experts—the same ones who happen to be ramming the panaceas of “free trade” and “globalization” down the throats of the world’s population.

Worse: we couldn’t get them to disbelieve us.

After three long years of this, we finally just dissolved the WTO, explaining to our audience of accountants, for well over an hour, why this was necessary. The response was stunning.

* * * *

We've been keeping busy since we shut down the WTO, the last event recorded in The Yes Men.

The WTO being no longer of this world, of course, we've had to turn our attention to other targets—for example, the Heritage Foundation. Heritage is the most influential think tank in Washington, the gray eminence behind much of Congress. Their fondest hope? That “the liberal welfare state can be brought to collapse,” in the words of their president.

On April 29, 2004, we attended a Heritage Foundation meeting in Chicago. In order to register (free), we'd formed a right-wing think tank (quick, a website!). On the (free) table space, not far from a table featuring books like Eco-Imperialism: Green Power, Black Death, we displayed our foot-long Roman warship and insane “position papers” (www.socialstability.org/papers/).

The 650 smiling, well-dressed zealots in attendance were with well endowed think tanks fighting “big government” ideas like public education and health care. Throughout the first day, we dove headfirst into the novel logic of conservative thought, attending stultifying after stultifying foray into the details of bringing U.S. “socialism” to an end.

We ended the day with a delicious (free) dinner hosted by Ed Meese, Attorney General under Reagan, best remembered for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal. The topic of the evening was “School Choice,” and the speakers enthusiastically let us know that public education was one thing they badly wanted to “bring to collapse.” Finally, Meese presented the Salvatori Prize in American Citizenship to Virginia Walden-Ford, a woman who had managed to extract her son from D.C.'s already gutted public schools via “School Choice,” for which she was an ardent lobbyist. Now he was in the Marines: standing ovation.

The next day, we arrived at the luncheon for another installment of free food. This time we sat right up near the front, so that we could be close to the stage (and Ed Meese). A few minutes after the opening prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance (in that order), we made our move.

The sound of a wine glass being dinged filled the room (the microphone had been left on). Conversation ceased as Andy, his face filling two screens on either side, announced a toast. "To that very brave woman, Virginia Walden-Ford, who yesterday proved that through individual initiative, all of us can rescue our children from shoddy government education so they can learn what they need to compete in a free American marketplace.

“But there is a nine-hundred pound gorilla in the room. Instead of fighting in the free American marketplace, this brave woman's son is fighting for what I think we all agree is a case of crony corporate welfare, a market distortion on a truly gigantic scale.

“Ms. Walden-Ford's story convinced me that our political choices in the next election are simply not adequate. And I propose that today, we draft a real free-markets candidate. And why not Ed Meese?”

Meese, sitting directly in front of the podium, made a very strange face as he heard his name. Applause rang out for nearly ten seconds.

All that remained was to inform the rest of the world....


Filmmakers Dan Ollman, Sarah Price and Chris Smith (American Movie) follow The Yes Men, a small group of prankster-activists, as they gain worldwide notoriety for impersonating the World Trade Organization (WTO) on television and at business conferences. When two of its members are mistaken for the real thing, they play along with the ruse and soon find themselves invited to important functions as WTO representatives. Delighted to represent the organization they politically oppose, they don thrift-store suits and set out to shock unwitting audiences with darkly comic satire, highlighting the worst aspects of global free trade.