The Yes Men Protest Canadian Bank’s Tar Sands Investment
Political pranksters stage a comical action at the Royal Bank of Canada
KATHLEEN MAITLAND-CARTER, TRNN PRODUCER: The American prankster activist group the Yes Men are becoming legendary for their comic hoaxes directed at corporations and governments worldwide.
NEWS PRESENTER: Another hoax by the Yes Men.
NEWS PRESENTER: The Yes Men.
NEWS PRESENTER: It’s a group of pranksters–
NEWS PRESENTER: –known for posing as corporate execs.
YES MEN ACTIVIST: My name is Fred. I’m from Halliburton.
YES MEN ACTIVIST: My name is Dick /ɪmˈpælə/.
YES MEN ACTIVIST: /hɪndoʊ sʌnbraoʊ/.
YES MEN ACTIVIST: Barry /slɪðmoʊr/.
YES MEN ACTIVIST: [incompr.]
MAITLAND-CARTER: The Yes Men impersonate entities in order to expose social injustice, a practice that they call “identity correction”, under the mission statement that lies can expose truth. They famously impersonated a Dow Chemical representative on the 20th anniversary of the Union Carbide Bhopal chemical gas explosion that killed more than 10,000 people and injured more than a half-million more, making it the worst industrial accident in history.
YES MEN ACTIVIST: Today I’m very, very happy to announce that for the first time Dow is accepting full responsibility for the Bhopal catastrophe.
MAITLAND-CARTER: They spoke at the Homeland Security Congress posing as U.S. government officials.
YES MEN ACTIVIST: On behalf of the Department of Energy, I’m very excited to announce today a great new plan. It’s beginning a process that will do nothing less than convert the United States energy grid into one that’s powered entirely by renewable sources.
MAITLAND-CARTER: They also impersonated the oil giant Halliburton.
YES MEN ACTIVIST: So this is the Halliburton SurvivaBall. We’ll be happy to take any questions.
MAITLAND-CARTER: They even managed to infuriate George W. Bush during his first presidential campaign through a fake website and accompanying bus tour revising his stance on environmental issues.
The Yes Men were in Toronto to premiere their new documentary, The Yes Men Are Revolting, at the Toronto International Film Festival. It was not your typical press invite, during a week filled with press screenings, stars walking the red carpet, and glitzy galas. Despite having previously documented protests, marches, and rallies, I did not know quite what to expect at a Yes Men event.
YES MEN ACTIVIST: You know, we couldn’t help noticing that RBC, the Royal Bank of Canada, is an official sponsor of the Toronto film festival in which our film is showing. And RBC happens to be one of the main tar sands investors, very heavily implicated in tar sands, big promoter of pipelines. And there’s something really wrong with this. So we’re doing a little action.
MAITLAND-CARTER: The Yes Men had a little help from their friends.
GITZ CRAZYBOY, INDIGENOUS ACTIVIST: This is me closing my bank account with RBC, because I’m kicking up an old divestment campaign for one of the funders of the tar sands extraction.
ACTIVIST: I think it’s important to do civil disobedience, because it puts pressure on companies and puts pressure on governments. It’s not just people outside walking in a rally; it’s actually impacting profits sometimes and raising awareness.
YES MEN ACTIVIST: Specifically, they’re invested in the tar sands. And they’ve made some moves, at least vocally, that they would do something about it, but that’s greenwashing at this point.
So the idea–what we’re going to be doing is going in there and having a party. But first, [incompr.] here, who’s from the region of the tar sands,–
CRAZYBOY: Ground zero of the tar sands extraction.
YES MEN ACTIVIST: –he’s going to be going in, closing his account.
CRAZYBOY: Essentially, that’s all we’re doing is we’re looking for, in the future, for all of us to have a tar sands free RBC. Basically that’s what we want to happen for mission goal in the end.
UNIDENTIFIED: Okay. So this is high bank [crosstalk]
CRAZYBOY: Yeah. So we’re going to go–.
CRAZYBOY: SurvivaBall’s [incompr.] as well.
And just to reiterate to everybody, this is a nonviolent direct action. It’s completely peaceful. It’s like a dance action. That’s what we’re doing. Alright?
CRAZYBOY: I’m having some issues with my account. The issues that I have are the investments that RBC has within the tar sands. Unfortunately, the community I come from is being heavily affected by the pollutions and the toxins coming downstream from the tar sands. So biodiversity is being lost, our fish are being polluted, and animals are being sick. They just released a report about mercury hotspots. These things cause cancer. They get into the biostream. We eat that and we end up dying. There’s a lot of cancer, a lot of people dying right now.
So what is it that you can offer me so that I might be able to stay?
BANK REPRESENTATIVE: [inaud.]
UNIDENTIFIED: That’s a very, very good question.
BANK REPRESENTATIVE: [inaud.]
CRAZYBOY: It’s just, you know, this is, like, a serious, pressing matter.
TELLER, ROYAL BANK OF CANADA: They know people are opposed to it.
TELLER: Oh, they definitely–believe me, they know.
But what I’m saying is, as a teller, there’s nothing I can do to influence that.
CRAZYBOY: So there’s nothing you can do for me right now.
TELLER: No. As far–.
ACTIVIST: What are you doing?
CRAZYBOY: I’m actually just closing my account.
ACTIVIST: You’re closing your account?
CRAZYBOY: I’m closing my account.
ACTIVIST: Guys! Guys! He’s closing his account!
ACTIVIST: Hey! He’s closing his account!
[MONTAGE OF THE ACTION WITH MUSIC]
CRAZYBOY: You get tunnel vision if you’re just doing things like reading all these depressing statistics, articles about where we’re going environmentally, where the environment is headed, where this country’s going, how fast of a pace, all over the world, global environmental issues.
But here [incompr.] [we energized them (?)] for a second. You know? We laughed about certain things.
MAITLAND-CARTER: Did that meet your criteria of a successful action?
YES MEN ACTIVIST: It was fun. I mean, you know, we had fun, and I think that the measure of success in this case was that it was fun. And then later we’ll find out if it gets a little traction on the internet or something or if it puts a little pressure on RBC. You know, RBC is a big film festival sponsor, too, and it’s a bit of a pathetic irony that they sponsor culture while at the same time destroying the planet by sponsoring the tar sands. So that’s–you know, hopefully more people become aware of that and it makes a difference as they advocate against them as, as they close their accounts.
MAITLAND-CARTER: This is Kathleen Maitland-Carter reporting for The Real News Network.
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