What is the Yes Lab?
It's a way for social and environmental justice organizations, and universities, to take advantage of all that we Yes Men have learned—not only about our own ways of doing things, but those we've come in contact with over the two decades we've been doing this. The Yes Lab has offices and access to a shared meeting space at NYU's Hemispheric Institute in New York.
How long has the Yes Lab been around?
For nearly two decades, the Yes Men have collaborated with NGOs to launch actions that result in enormous media leverage for social and environmental justice campaigns. The Yes Lab as it now exists was founded in 2010 to train activist groups to carry out actions like the rebranding an oil company’s ad campaign, embarrassing Canada, or helping a coal company’s impact on public health. In fact, many of the projects listed on our website were in fact carried out by groups of activists, not by us! Yes, yes, that means we're thieves.
How does a Yes Lab work?
Trainings can take the form of a single two-hour workshop to a week-long session. The actual media action that results can take anything from hours to weeks to pull off.
In a typical Yes Lab project, an activist organization will come to the Yes Lab with a target—a particular company, politician, corporate front group, bad government policy, or even an abstract idea—as well as a campaign goal: to affect public debate, push for legislation, or embarrass an evildoer, for instance. The Yes Men will work with the group remotely (by phone or Skype) to help them refine campaign goals, define the "ask," organize action teams, and so on. We'll then lead an in-person brainstorm (one, two, or three days, in a location convenient to the group) to develop the smartest, most effective actions around those goals, and then conduct trainings on the tactics we'll decide to use to reach our goal. Afterwards, we'll check in on the project until it's successful.
Is the Yes Lab only for activist groups?
Universities can also participate in the Yes Lab in partnership with activist groups. In this context, Yes Labs bring together students, faculty, an activist group or an NGO, and the Yes Men to devise effective (and educational) activist projects. The group oversees the project after the initial brainstorm, and makes sure it moves forward toward clear campaign goals. A Yes Lab of this sort can give students real-world experience while advancing an important cause they care deeply about.
How about individuals? Can individuals do Yes Labs?
No, sorry—Yes Labs are meant for activist groups and universities.
On that subject, whatever happened to the Action Switchboard?
The Action Switchboard was our attempt at a platform for individuals to propose projects and tap into our database to find collaborators—but it turns out it's really difficult to build a platform and even more difficult to make it come alive. So, no more.
What does a Yes Lab look like?
Each Yes Lab is tailored to fit the sponsoring group's needs, but the general content will include:
- Presentation of "laughtivism": developing effective, mediagenic activist projects around the issue at hand
- Brainstorming out numerous project ideas, evaluating the options, and choosing the best one
- Fleshing out chosen project(s) fully, and developing a complete action plan with timelines, deadlines, and chains of responsibility
- Trainings as needed, with the Yes Men and external trainers, to cover media handling, improv, writing, video editing, etc.
- Mapping out teams and determining additional staffing needs (which can come from the Yes Men's network if necessary)
- Bicycle, kayak, or paragliding tours of relevant local areas—or other fun activities of some relevance
Trainings can include stuff like:
- Writing press releases and other things for specific audiences
- Making catchy video pieces, including Video News Releases (VNRs) and viral videos
- Planning a big project from beginning to end
We also try to mull over:
- Using public spectacle to affect the public debate
- Using humor to open minds, share ideas, and change the world
- Figuring out what's effective
- Figuring out what we, ourselves, can do to change the world, given our skills and abilities
After the initial brainstorm, the Yes Men remain in touch to answer questions, offer advice, and generally help guide the process through to completion.
Does it work?
See our projects section. If Yes Lab participants put in the needed energy, the actions developed can garner a great deal of visibility for an issue—much more than a few paid ads—and can be a powerful tool within a full campaign. Also, you're pretty much guaranteed to have tons of fun doing it, at least part of the time.
Is it legal?
Of course. But at a certain point, once we've all brainstormed an idea and begun to put it into practice, you'll have doubts. At that point, you'll be tempted to ask your organization's legal team whether it's kosher; if you do, they'll raise a big fuss and someone on your team will get cold feet. We'll figure out a way to move forward anyhow, but it might be easier to just not ask in the first place and take our word for it.
Do people like it?
"Of my now 5 years in climate organizing I think this was the most effective and meaningful action to have reached Canadians... and served as a forceful complement to all of the NVCD taking place across the country. Coverage of the action framed it as more influential than all our direct actions and 350.org Day of Climate Action actions combined." —Canadian Youth Delegation member, in reference to the "Blame Canada" project
"For years, I've cared deeply about social justice issues. But this is the first time I've felt I could really have an effect." —Student, Columbia College, Chicago, after Yes Lab brainstorm in September 2010
"The Yes Lab provided the perfect incubator for our students' activism. Their perspective on protest will never be the same." —Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin, Associate Professor of Journalism, Columbia College, Chicago
"The impact of the Yes Men projects during Climate Week NYC was far beyond our wildest hopes. I have tremendous respect for how much they were able to achieve and I credit their dedication, discipline and creative genius." —Susan Alzner, Global Campaign for Climate Action, in reference to the "Survivaballs" and "New York Post" projects
"The fight for a sane climate policy has science behind it, and justice, and prudence. That's not gotten the job done, so we need some organizing too-including the witty and piercing kind of organizing the Yes Men specialize in." —Bill McKibben, Founder, 350.org
"After a few consultations with the Yes Lab, we were able to hatch our very own Yes Men-inspired intervention. Using the tools Andy and Mike forged through years of path-breaking creative activism, we not only got our voices heard in the media debate, but transformed the debate in ways we'd previously thought unimaginable." —Laurence Fabre, Committee for the Reimbursement of the Indemnity Money Extorted from Haiti (C.R.I.M.E.)
"I've been inspired by their work. They are some of the most brilliant activists that we have working in this country." —Tim DeChristopher, climate activist who, through impersonation, single-handedly saved over 100,000 acres of pristine land from oil and gas drilling.
How do I sign up?
If you're ready to commit staff time and energy, including one coordinator who can make it happen, and one higher-level person who can make decisions you can stick with, then please email us with a description of your organization and what you have in mind. If you want to sign up as a possible participant in future Yes Lab projects, please sign onto our database.
Is there a fee?
Yes. It keeps the Yes Lab (a non-profit) in the black, pays the "sherpa" and whoever leads the brainstorm, and serves as a guarantor of the activist group's commitment to the process. Also, it makes it clear whose project it is—yours, not ours!
What if our activist group doesn't have any money—either for the fee, or to fund whatever project we come up with?
You can do a fundraising campaign using Kickstarter or something like that. We'll help you with that. We also have a limited budget to take on projects with no funding attached. A great idea is a great idea.
What is a "sherpa"?
A "sherpa" is a member of the Yes Lab team who is very familiar with "laughtivist" techniques and can help guide a project through to completion. Sherpas are also an ethnic group who migrated to the most mountainous region of Nepal around 400 years ago looking for Shangri-La. So it's really not ok to call our team members "sherpas." We'll stop.
Can I become a "sherpa"?
Yes. See the Yes School.
The Yes Men have been doing their thing for over 20 years now. Their idea was always to inspire others to also use creative means to drive media attention to important issues and help shape public opinion. But no matter how many times the Yes Men have told people how fun it is, they still get questions like: "Won't we get sued?" And in 20 years of doing this they've only been sued once—and it was fun!
Who are the Yes Men?
We’re two guys, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, who—thanks to a network of ultra-capable friends and allies—infiltrate conferences, produce fake newspapers, and do various other weirdness in order to expose the wrongdoings of miscellaneous, mostly corporate evildoers. Oh, and we record the whole thing to get it out to the world through social media, news channels, and our own movies.
We call this sort of thing “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.
On this site you’ll find stories from our past adventures, revealing some of the dirty details so that you can pull off your own. (And if you ever wonder “How did they do that?” just ask! We’ll be happy to add more details to satisfy demand.)
Laughtivism is fun, relatively easy, and is part of the tapestry of resistance – so if it appeals to you, why not do some of your own?
We’re two weirdos who decided it would be amazing fun to stick it to the man. We’ve never been able to hold down normal jobs, except when posing as representatives of Halliburton, Exxon, Shell, Dow, and the Federal Government, so we’ve made a career out of it: a tactic we call “Identity Correction.”
We’ve been pulling off these types of schemes for 20 years, and now we want to help more people take part in smart, fun activism against the forces of evil. Check out our movies, other videos, and past projects for hard evidence that this stuff can make a difference. Or, just take our word for it. Do you think we’d lie to you?
For any inquiries, please contact us here.