Shortly after launching a battalion of Survivaballs to draw attention to the climate crisis in advance of the COP15 (that we had some fun at as well), we heard from a group of activists, the Avaaz Climate Action Factory, who wanted to collaborate on embarrassing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
We didn't know it until the Action Factory told us, but the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is not a government agency. Rather, they're the world's most well-funded lobbying organization, and they specialize in multi-million-dollar ad campaigns and lobbying blitzes to derail sensible bills around health care, labor, banking regulation... and of course carbon emissions.
At the time we met the Action Factory, the Chamber was trying to destroy a climate bill in the Senate. We came up with a plan: together, we'd pull off a press conference. The Action Factory rented a room at the National Press Club, together we crafted a speech, Andy travelled down to DC... and oof, there is so much to tell here. (WATCH THIS SPACE!)
To make a long story short, 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. (Excerpt from our film and news coverage coming soon.)
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.
Coming soon: the rest of the story, including the lawsuit!
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