” … highly readable guide to activist tactics and principles … “Neil Ungerleider, Fast Company Magazine
To learn from, expose, or disrupt the meetings of the powerful.
Cops and other agents of the state are always infiltrating our get-togethers, both for intelligence-gathering and in order to disrupt our work. Given how successful this tactic has proven when used against us, it only makes sense that we would respond in kind.
Why sneak into a meeting or conference? Maybe simply to see what’s going on, or to play a trick of some sort. You might not even know in advance what the trick will be. In 2004, Mike Bonnano and I snuck into the Heritage Foundation luncheon for conservative think tanks just to get acquainted with that world, and on the spur of the moment, seeing Ed Meese sitting next to the podium, I stepped up to the unguarded microphone and proceeded to nominate him for President. His reaction on camera is priceless.
Again and again, the Yes Men have successfully impersonated corporate presenters at conferences and pulled off some very revealing stunts see CASE: The Yes Men Pose as Exxon.
A completely different approach is to stage a guerrilla musical in the middle of the keynote speech of an evil lobbyist. That’s what health care activists did at a major insurance industry conference in 2009 see CASE: Public Option Annie.
Always make sure that one or more of your team is filming your action. Remember: it’s not the audience there in the room that you’re most concerned with, but the audience who will see your footage, read the press release, or benefit from the secrets you’ve liberated from behind closed doors see PRINCIPLE: Play to the audience that isn’t there.
In many cases, at least for run-of-the-mill conferences, the actual sneaking-in is so easy it’s almost an afterthought. Simply walk up to the table near the entrance that’s full of name badges; choose one, and say it’s yours (and, if asked, say you’ve forgotten your business cards). Take the conference materials you’ll be graciously offered along with the badge, and proceed inside, or, if you like, to your nearest copy shop to make a bunch of other badges with other names for your pals. Alternately, come to the table after the initial registration rush is over, perhaps midday (when only a few tags are left, probably belonging to no-shows), observe a tag, and then run out and print a few business cards (a sheet of pre-perforated cards and a copy shop will do the trick). Return and claim your badge.
No matter what you do when you’re inside the conference — whether impersonating your enemy or singing at them — it’s not likely to be perfect in the actual space and moment. A fake speech might go on too long, some singing voices may not be loud enough to hear, etc. That’s why you’ll want to document it yourself. By the same token, you’ll want to set up the action not for maximum impact in the moment, but for how you want it to be seen and heard via the photos and videos that you take and later supply to the press.