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The Monkey-Wrench Prank: An Interview With Tim DeChristopher

How the Yes Men inspired a climate activist to impersonate an oil speculator—and derail a multimillion-dollar federal land giveaway.

| Fri Nov. 13, 2009 8:00 AM EST

MJ: While the International Day of Climate Action on October 24 was a huge day for the climate movement and the lead-up to Copenhagen, I haven't heard much about direct action being planned. It sounds like there were a lot more fun events. Do you think there should be more of an element of risk, like the use of civil disobedience, at this point?

TD: I've had this discussion with Bill McKibben about how hard we should be pushing with this, and I know that what they were trying to accomplish with October 24 is bring more people into the movement and send one unified message to the negotiators at Copenhagen. But I absolutely think we need to keep pushing it. All of the new people that we bring into the movement with the fun things that are going on—we need to hang on to those people and continue to motivate those people and challenge them to start taking more actions and bigger actions. Costing the fossil fuel industry money is the only thing that's going to change the way they're acting. With our political leaders, costing them political capital or costing them the kind of social peace that comes when everyone follows along and participates in the system are the only things that are going to work. Showing them that we're not going to participate in a system that threatens our survival. That if they're not going to protect our future, we will. There'll just be a social uprising and social chaos as people do whatever they can to shut down this system that threatens our destruction.

MJ: Should climate activists keep trying to grow the movement before considering escalating tactics?

TD: I've talked to a lot of people in the movement who think that we need to keep convincing more people of the reality of climate change and that the key to our success is getting every single person to understand the science of this. I don't think that's a worthwhile pursuit. Around 30 or 35 percent of population doesn't believe in climate change and that's pushing up against a limit in our society because that 30 to 35 percent is a number we see a lot. That's about the number of people who don't believe in evolution. In a couple of polls two and half weeks after Hurricane Katrina 35 percent said President Bush did an excellent job of dealing with that crisis. We've got this section of our population that lives on a different planet and experiences reality in a different way and I think it's a hopeless battle to bring those people to reality. Historically that's not how change happens. We didn't get a civil rights act because the last redneck in Mississippi stopped being a racist. The problem is not that 35 percent of population still doesn't get it; the problem is that 65 percent do get it and aren't fighting.

MJ: What do you think it will take to get more people to take a stand?

TD: It just takes some of us demonstrating that we're not helpless and that we do have power to effect change in our society. The reason I was able to see my opportunity last December is that I went in believing that I could be an effective agent of change. I remember riding down [to the auction] thinking of all the impotent protests we'd been to before and decided that I was going to disrupt this auction one way or another. I didn't know what that would look like; at that time I thought it would be standing up and making a speech or something like that. I remember making the commitment that I wouldn't be helpless. That's what we need on a much larger scale. We need to find ways to make people believe that they really are effective agents of change and that the people can change where this country's headed.

Find Mother Jones' ongoing coverage of the Yes Men's recent Chamber of Commerce prank (and other Chamber shenanigans) here.

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