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By Olivia Ward

October 17, 2011

Hate hanging out in the rain? Feet fried by all those marches?

For would-be protesters who want to make a splash without camping in puddles, the public pranksters known as the Yes Men have moved beyond the Occupy-the-city movement to Occupy the Boardroom.

The Yes Men — famous for their political hoaxes including a farcical multi-pronged attack on Ottawa’s environmental policy — sent out a call to arms on Monday to those who want to deliver their message to the “top 1 per cent” who are hogging the lolly in North America.

“There are many ways to do this,” their Yes Lab division wrote in an email. “There’s the telephone, of course, and there’s email. Or how about giving them an award, or paying them a visit in costume?”

Using a click-on list of executives from some of North America’s biggest financial corporations, followers are urged to select a “pen pal,” plan a gag and send the resulting images, video, audio or text to the recently-launched address

“The funniest interactions that reveal the most about the 1 per cent . . .will win prizes,” the site says.

The Yes Men are no strangers to farcical stings. The anti globalization activists have hoaxed corporations from ExxonMobil to Dow Chemical and Halliburton with phony phone calls and synthetic speeches, spoofed the New York Times and New York Post, and famously hit on the World Trade Organization with mock advice that urged corporations to buy votes.

The leaders, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, have posed as executives, and in one of their best-known stunts, donned giant inflatable blobs in the guise of invincible protection against earth-shattering climate change.

Their “pen pal” protest scheme piggy-backs on the Occupy the Boardroom website co-founded by Austin Guest of Jobs With Justice in New York, part of the Align social justice coalition. Guest had worked with the Yes Men on earlier campaigns, and they enthusiastically lent a hand.

“I first got the idea from a ‘99 per cent’ blog, posting people’s photographs,” said Guest in a phone interview. “It was a mass public confessional where everyone talked about their own stories, and it ended up with something unified. I wanted to take that and direct it at the 1 per cent who weren’t listening and see if we could do it on a massive scale.”

The original plan was to list the email addresses of more than 100 top bankers. But the group worried about being charged with computer abuse if the bank websites crashed.

Nevertheless the site is up and running — and seemingly a runaway success.

“Instead of signing a petition, which is easy, we wanted to ask people to do something harder,” said Guest. “As of 12 hours ago we’ve got response from 157 different countries, 70,000 (people) and close to 4,000 submissions. That’s in only two days.”

The pen pal scheme is also a way of drawing in political artists, who will enjoy competing for “the coolest way to outfox execs,” he added.

But followers who aren’t in a humorous mood are sending their own stories, often heartbreaking ones.

“We had one from somebody whose parents committed suicide because they were behind on their mortgage,” Guest said. “The responses are rational and articulate. They very much belie the image of hippies running rampant. People don’t really feel the government is listening to them. The democratic instinct is buried and it’s dying to get out.”

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