The main way we've worked for the past 17 years has been as partners with activist orgs and university groups. Before that, we were more like lone vigilantes.
We were just two guys, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, who decided it would be amazing fun to stick it to the man—and then, thanks to a network of ultra-capable friends and allies, managed to infiltrate a bunch of conferences, produce some fake newspapers, and otherwise expose the wrongdoings of miscellaneous, mostly corporate evildoers.
Although our name contained the word "Men," that doesn't describe who we were, it describes what we did: use any means necessary to agree our way into the fortified compounds of commerce, ask questions, and smuggle out the stories of our undercover escapades to provide a public glimpse at the behind-the-scenes world of business.
We're an ever-expanding, increasingly diverse group who, through the Yes School, partner with activist groups on creative tactics to further campaigns, and train new Yes people in the process.
We call this sort of thing we (and many others do) “laughtivism” because, well, it’s funny. And it’s activist: the theory is, we’ll laugh bloodsuckers into oblivion and thus save the world. It doesn’t always work—the world still needs some saving—but, you know, the arc of history bends towards justice, even when it seems to be breaking.
See this "insight" for more on why we use humor, and for a few examples.
We started doing so sort of instinctually and chaotically back in the late 1990s, and then more deliberately after a successful project from 2004 that Greenpeace had a big hand in.
Then, around 2007, we began trying to build a more formal sort of workshop machine, that we called (and call) the Yes Lab. For a while, we helped produce partnership-based projects from the New School and NYU on a regular basis—but that was full-time plus, so it only made sense when there were salaries for some and funding for others.
We went even further down that rabbit-hole with the Action Switchboard, a platform for individuals to propose projects and find collaborators independently. But as it turns out, platforms are hard to make and it's even harder to make them work. And it turns out people work a whole lot better together in person.
So now we're back to the formal but ad-hoc model that began in 2004, where one or more of the Yes Men work somewhat loosely with an activist org to publicize our common issues. We also still organize occasional Yes Lab workshops, usually at the request of universities or sometimes activist organizations, but mainly it's much more project-based.
Individual projects (actions, tactics, whatever) never make change; only ongoing campaigns do. So far as we know, every non-violent action that has achieved has done so as part of an ongoing campaign by an activist organization, or as part of a movement. Browse around Actipedia's top "Why it works" menu for a few examples of historical and recent actions and how and why we think they worked. (Hint: it's always because they were part of a campaign.)
Also, it's not as lonely.
We're pretty bare-bones and scrappy these days, but one-time or recurring donations are welcome and do help keep the lights on. Recent donations have gone towards a wonderfully messed-up plan coming soon to a European country near you; other upcoming plans involve Cuba, the US border, and the devastation of global capitalism in the form of an unequal-opportunity virus. Donate
You can also book us to come give a talk!
You can do cool stuff and let us know all about it!