About the Yes Lab
What's the Action Switchboard?
What is the Yes Lab?
At the moment, the Yes Lab is mainly a series of brainstorms and trainings to help activist groups carry out media-getting creative actions, focused on their own campaign goals. It's a way for social justice organizations 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 decade and a half we've been doing this sort of thing. The Yes Lab has offices and access to a shared meeting space at NYU's Hemispheric Institute in New York where we run the research based Critical Tactics Lab.
How does a Yes Lab work?
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. But we're currently developing a feature that will enable individuals to propose projects and tap into the Yes Lab database to find collaborators.
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 hang-gliding 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 while doing it.
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?
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 guarantor of the activist group's commitment to the process.
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.
The Yes Men have been doing their thing for over 12 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 12 years of doing this they've only been sued once!
Who are the Yes Men?
Please visit www.theyesmen.org/faq.