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Pranksters Sink the WTO

They started out as small-time pranksters. But when their fake WTO website began drawing invitations from around the world to speak on behalf of the World Trade Organization, they rose to the challenge.
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Sydney speech, May 21, 2002

Today, I have come to accept that my devotion to orthodox free trade methodologies has betrayed me.

This is why I am at peace when I announce to you what I learned yesterday. ... Having seen the effects of policies whose only intent was to bring greater prosperity and peace, the World Trade Organization in its present form will cease to exist.

[A gasp is heard.]

Over the next two years, we of the WTO will endeavor to launch our organization anew along different lines, based on a new understanding of the purposes of world trade. The new organization will have as its foundation and basis the United Nations Charter of Human Rights, which we feel will be a good basis for insuring that we will have human rather than business interests as our bottom line.

Agreements reached under the WTO will be suspended pending ratification by the new incarnation of our organization, which we are tentatively calling the Trade Regulation Organization ...

Finally, the obvious

One hour is a long time to sit through anything without clear plot or punch lines. Yet as Andy droned on with fact after appalling fact, the audience gave him their rapt attention, some periodically nodding.

The UN estimates that poor countries lose about US$2 billion per day because of unjust trade rules, many instituted by our organization. This is 14 times the amount they receive in aid.

When Sprat finally wrapped up, there was a hearty and sincere round of applause.

“I'd just like to thank Mr. Sprat for the presentation that he has done here today,” a shocked moderator said. “I'm sure it will have a profound effect on the way we and the world do business. We wish you every success, every luck, in the restructuring of what has been an interesting part of world history.”

Having agreed to the dismantling of the world economy as we know it, everyone moved to the fancy salmon-and-lamb lunch prepared for our visit.

There was no ice to be broken; everyone had something real and important to talk about. “I'm as right-wing as the next guy,” said a heavy-set man who had struck Mike as angry-looking. “But it's about time we did something for these countries that we've done so well by. We just can't go on like this. It's impossible.”

One of the officials of the accountants' association offered to draw a logo of the new organization for Andy, and sketched an initial idea on a napkin.

Somebody even produced what ought to have been the winning proposal for a new WTO headquarters. Locate the headquarters in a Third-World country. Developing countries could afford to have more representation in meetings, and First-World delegates would daily witness abject poverty, a constant reminder of the Trade Regulation Organization's new humanitarian bottom line.

And so, in the end, one final surprise. One might have thought that there was nothing an audience of international trade experts could do that would surprise us anymore. We no longer assumed we would be thrown off the stage. Nor would we have been caught off-guard if there had been no discussion at all—if everyone had simply filed off to lunch like sheep. What we were entirely unprepared for was everyone being so … happy.


Excerpted with permission from the Yes Men: The True Story of the End of the World Trade Organization (The Disinformation Company Ltd, NY, www.disinfo.com, 2004). The Yes Men (no relation to YES!

magazine) is also a newly released movie.

As to their qualifications, in 1993, while still in school, Mike spent a few furtive months performing microsurgery on talking GI Joe and Barbie dolls, switching their voice boxes so that the GI Joes would say things like “Math is too hard,” and Barbies would bark “Dead men tell no lies.” The dolls were returned to toy stores with a note providing a number to call “If you experience problems with your doll.” The numbers actually belonged to TV news desks. ... The Barbie Liberation Front provoked a firestorm of media coverage.

Andy, hired to program little people in a computer action game, secretly created an army of men wearing nothing but swimsuits, who from time to time popped up and showered each other and the player with kisses. Eighty thousand copies of the game were on store shelves before the company noticed the “feature” .... a chance remark to a journalist friend resulted in the kissing boys being featured by media all over the world.

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