Dear Friend and Reader:
We met the Yes Men a few weeks ago, after I spent Monday morning, Sept. 21 trooping around Manhattan as they gave out their climate change edition of the New York Post
. This paracosmic spoof on the conservative tabloid was distributed to 100,000 New Yorkers as a global warming conference consisting of presidents, prime ministers and environment bigshots was pouring into the city. Distribution points outside the United Nations made sure that a bunch of copies made it into the proceedings, and the prank became national news.
Outside the Film Forum in New York's Greenwich Village, where "The Yes Men Fix The World" premiered this week. Photo by Eric Francis / Planet Waves.
This week, a film featuring the boys premiered in a number of cities: The Yes Men Fix the World
, a retrospective of their anti-corporate pranks over the past few years. This seemed like a fine occasion to look at their astrological charts and consider what their existence says about the nature of reality. [View movie trailer here
. Several videos are linked from this article and they are all a lot of fun.]
The Yes Men -- created and led by Andy Bichlbaum, a Libra, and Mike Bonanno, an Aries -- specialize in impostering corporate executives, then delivering an environmental message to petroleum conferences, World Trade Organization meetings and even live on BBC World.
By yesterday afternoon, I still hadn't tracked down Bonanno's birth time. When I finally got him on the phone, I was fortunate that his mother was standing right there with him, and that she remembered when he was born. Then Mike invited me down to the city for some after-the-screening fun: what he described as a procession and some drumming but which really turned out to be the takeover of an enormous Whole Foods market in lower Manhattan. They are always stealth about their plans.
After cruising 100 miles down the New York Thruway and then through the streets of Manhattan, I arrived at the Film Forum in Greenwich Village just as the screening ended. Bonanno was on his way; he is a professor and had just finished teaching a class. I waited outside, where I ran into one of the guys whose job it is to follow them around with a video camera; this seems to be a whole genre of art. He said that the Yes Men worked relentlessly, as if he had been tracking them around the clock for days on end and needed a shower and a night's rest.
Soon after, Andy Bichlbaum came strolling up to the theater, and a few moments later, Bonanno arrived; just about every screening gets its own Q & A session. I followed them in. Standing in front of the movie screen, they took questions from the packed audience: How do you pay for all these antics? How is it that you don't get arrested or sued? Aren't people starting to recognize you?
Then they explained the plan to take over the local Whole Foods store. Why? John Mackey, the CEO of the national health food chain, had recently published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal
wherein he said that it's not the government's job to provide health care and we should all fend for ourselves. Yes, the CEO of the groovy, crunchy organic food chain thinks that we're all on our own.
Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum take questions from the audience Thursday night in New York City. They then turned a moviegoing experience into an activist event, and the Uranus-Pluto square had begun. Photo by Eric Francis / Planet Waves.
"Health care is a service that we all need," he wrote, "but just like food and shelter it is best provided through voluntary and mutually beneficial market exchanges. A careful reading of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right to health care, food or shelter. That's because there isn't any. This 'right' has never existed in America."
So he's an erudite historian, and a patriot to boot. Interesting -- a careful reading of the Constitution (or of the case law) does not reveal any intrinsic right of his corporation to exist perpetually, either.
Tonight, the Yes Men would be getting revenge. They passed around the lyrics to "Hey Mackey!", sung to the tune of "Hey Mickey!" We would all meet in the frozen foods aisle and, after an announcement (via megaphone) of "a big spill in the health care aisle," the protest would begin, operatically.
Hey, Mackey, you don't seem to care
We're not as rich as you but we still need health care.
Oh, Mackey, you're so greedy can't you understand?
It's guys like you Mackey!
They needed a singer to lead the chant; a hand went up, a guy came to the front, and he was handed the black, feather-adorned megaphone for an on-the spot-rehearsal. Then they said they needed a choreographer. Was there a choreographer in the house? A hand shot up near the back and they had someone to design a few cute little steps, the organic version of the Hokey-Pokey. Oh, and there would be SurvivaBalls involved -- these huge inflated things that are supposed to enable corporate executives to survive floods, famines, pestilences, earthquakes and assault (in the event of climate change disasters). Using SurvivaBalls, the Yes Men had recently attempted to take the United Nations by sea
, floating down the East River; only to be stopped by the NYPD five minutes later.
Audience participation: moviegoers transform into activists, take to the streets, and head east on Houston Street towards the Whole Foods Market. Photo by Eric Francis / Planet Waves.
Then the audience of about 150 got up, filed out of the theater, and headed east on Houston Street, toward the Bowery. I knew the Uranus-Pluto square of 2012 had begun. It was time to fight the power, in an organic foods store. We stopped for one last strategy session about two blocks away. The SurvivaBalls would need to discreetly take their positions various places, and would need time to suit up and inflate. (They are inflated with fans, and if the battery pack is charged, this can take as little as one minute. But it takes longer to suit up.) Everyone else would need to nonchalantly walk around the store, pretending to shop. Then we would hear the announcement and gather in the back and start the protest.
I was tracking Mike, who had taken off his ridiculous black helmet and was still wearing his lab coat. He put the black, feather-adorned megaphone into a shopping cart, picked up a few squash, set them down in the basket, and marched past the dairy aisle. Others walked into the store and feigned shopping. Hardly any of these people looked like they had ever been to a protest before; now they were stealthily congregating next to the non-GMO tortilla chips, waiting for the moment of action, wondering if they should pick up a few groceries for the weekend.
At one point, a security guard, catching onto the fact that something, um, unusual was going on, questioned me about my cameras, and instructed me not to take pictures in the store. "Oh, I would never take pictures here, I'm just a regular working guy on the way home from a busy day, doin' a little shopping."
"Who do you work for?"
"The New York Times
." I flipped out my Ulster County Sheriff press card, which he didn't bother to read. Crisis avoided.
Andy Bichlbaum convenes a last minute strategy session in the dairy aisle of Whole Foods market on Houston Street. Photo by Eric Francis.
Several people asked me what was going to happen and what they should do; I said that this was the Yes Men moment. Their actions begin with an impeccable, carefully developed plan. Then things seem to fall apart. Then at the last second, it comes off flawlessly.
Suddenly we heard the announcement, coming from over near the salad bar. Loud and crackly and a bit obnoxious. ATTENTION SHOPPERS, THERE'S A SPILL IN THE HEALTH CARE AISLE
Then the song and dance began, with drums, a bagpipe, clapping, and three adorable, enormous white critters waddling around. And the cameras and video cameras everywhere, more high-end Canons and Nikons than at a fashion show. And iPhones, cell phones and BlackBerries. I left a cell connection open to my friend Amanda in Maine, with the phone clipped to my camera strap, so she could hear the antics live. This was clearly the best documented supermarket takeover in history.
Hey, Mackey, you're a swine, you're a swine, you blow my mind
Hey, Mackey, what a pity you don't seem to care...
Oh what you do Mackey, do Mackey.
Don't break my heart, Mackey.
The mob moved toward the bakery aisle, and made a left at the kambucha. Security was now, finally, onto the plan. Guards and managers with walkie-talkies weren't sure how to handle this. Technically, it was potentially a terrorist situation, and there were all these...cameras everywhere. People brazenly disobeying the "no photos" rule. This more than anything seemed to push them to the brink of panic. They looked extremely nervous. Some of the employees thought it was first-class funny. One of the guards tried to convince Bichlbaum to, well, convince him of something, but nobody stopped singing. It just seemed to go on and on.
The lyric sheet said to "repeat ad nauseam until real health care reform is passed," and it actually seemed like it might last that long. But finally, we filed out into the street, everyone giddy. It had gone off impeccably. The SurvivaBall people unsuited. New York City police were buzzing around, wondering what to do; obviously they had been called by the store management. What exactly did they say? "It's the Big Fig, only...he's white...and there's a bagpipe..."
The thrill of victory: SurvivaBall wearer outside Whole Foods. This product is allegedly made by Halliburton. Photo by Eric Francis.
Basically, the Yes Men had succeeded in getting everyone into their movie. Yet again. This is their specialty; and in truth, a Whole Foods was easy pickin'. They have taken on some big gorillas.
In what I often describe as the greatest prank in media history, Bichlbaum once impersonated a spokesman for Dow Chemical and, speaking to a live global audience on BBC World on the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster in India, said the company was taking full responsibility for the toxic release and cleanup. Bhopal is considered one of the worst industrial catastrophes in history and has still not been remediated.
Dow Chemical had recently purchased Union Carbide, the perpetrator, for $12 billion, and for an incredible, uninterrupted five-and-a-half minutes
Bichlbaum (using his alias Jude Finisterra) described how Union Carbide would be liquidated and the proceeds given to the toxic exposure victims. He added that Dow would open all of its product safety files to journalists and researchers and enter a phase of total transparency. Dow stock plunged 3% that day, costing shareholders billions.
But the Yes Men were not done. They went back to Andy's apartment in Paris and, using Dow Chemical letterhead, issued a press release that said: what you just saw on BBC World was a hoax; none of it is true. We will not be cleaning up the site, we won't be giving more money to Bhopal victims, we won't be opening up our files -- denying everything, point by point, upstaging Dow's own PR department.
"We target people we see as criminals, and we steal their identity to try to make them honest," explained Bonanno. Their Bhopal stunt on BBC World resulted in 600 articles appearing in the mainstream press; apparently, this is what it takes to get the media to cover something as important as the 20th anniversary of an industrial disaster that killed tens of thousands of people.
Andy Bichlbaum poses as Dow Chemical spokesman on BBC World, taking full responsibility for the Bhopal disaster
, which killed 25,000 people in 1984.
"You can't help but fall in love with them," said Paul Rapp, a Massachusetts attorney who has represented them and who helps from time to time. "They don't do any harm, they're provocative and they're as ballsy as they come."
The Yes Men got their start after acquiring the Internet domain GATT.org
(a reference to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) where they posted a parody of a World Trade Organization website. "People looked at the site and didn't look at the content," Rapp explained. He said Michael Moore was one of the contributors, among other gifted satire writers.
Soon after, the Yes Men were contacted to make a presentation at a textiles conference in Helsinki, Finland, where they appeared as representatives of the WTO. In other words, in their first major coup, they were invited to the conference
; they didn't have to fake anything. "It landed in their laps and they said let's go," Rapp said.
"They went to Helsinki and advocated slavery. Nobody protested. They all took notes and then had lunch."
It wasn't until the Vivoleum hoax in 2007 that they actually were stopped. They got on the agenda at the Calgary Gas and Oil Exposition representing ExxonMobil, introducing a new product. "As humans begin to die as a result of calamities caused by climate change, their remains could be harvested for an alternative fuel source called 'Vivoleum' that would eventually replace oil," Bichlbaum told the audience of oil execs from around the world.
They passed around lit candles purportedly made from the remains of a fictional Exxon maintenance employee named Reggie Watts, who died after responding to a toxic spill. They played a video tribute
to Reggie, but by that time, security was escorting them out of the room. The owners of the conference called the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who thought it was so funny they refused to arrest them. But the managers of the conference were infuriated and insisted that charges be pressed. According to Rapp, the Mounties recommended Canadian attorneys to defend them.
Now that we know who they are, let's take a look at their charts. I obtained the birth information directly from each of them in the past few days; I am publishing the charts but not the birth data so that nobody steals their identities. The rest of this article includes a technical discussion; not everyone will be up to it but nobody is allowed to complain. If you're a beginning student or even curious about astrology, try to follow along. I'm giving the details rather than just interpretations; and a discussion will be initiated Friday morning on the Planet Waves blog
Right away, we see they have three important things in common. First, they're born in the 1960s. Bonanno is born in 1968 and Bichlbaum is born in 1963. Here, we have a rare example of people living out the radical astrology of that era, which has its roots in the Uranus-Pluto conjunction in Virgo. Both men have that rare aspect in full force, and interestingly both have it in the 11th house -- the house of community and the public. They feel that influence working in the public sphere, and are gathering energy and goodwill as a result of using that energy wisely and for the public good.
Rick Tarnas in his book Cosmos and Psyche
said that in his astrological study of history, people born with one of the major Uranus-Pluto aspects find their place in history when the next one arrives -- which it's doing at the moment: the Uranus-Pluto square that's coming into focus and which begins to reach full strength in the spring. (I'll show this aspect influences all the signs in the 2010 annual edition of Planet Waves, Cosmic Confidential.)
Andy Bichlbaum leads the anti-corporate choir in Whole Foods. Photo by Eric Francis.
The second thing they have in common is nearly the same ascendant; not just Scorpio rising, but within one degree: Bonanno has 2+ Scorpio rising and Bichlbaum has 3+ Scorpio rising; they are exact to within one degree of precision
. When people have the same ascendant, it's easy for them to share a worldview. Regardless of what year they were born, they experience the passage of planets through the houses at the same time. Mars rules the ascendant of both charts; but if you look at their Mars placements, they are nearly in exact opposition, to within one degree.
Third, Bonanno has seven planets and points in Aries (innovative, bold, self-aware) and Bichlbaum has five planets and points in Libra (a drive for justice and talent for making things beautiful). Both men are artists and designers. They have bold alignments in the cardinal signs that mirror one another, and when you see them in action, that's how it feels. Like many talented actors who work closely together, they can anticipate one another's moves, communicate without needing too many words, and function as a unit without sacrificing their individuality. (In an interesting parallel to their opposite Sun placements, Andy is born on the West Coast, in LA, and Mike is born on the East Coast, in NY.)
I gave the charts to Tracy Delaney at Serennu.com
to find the coolest minor planet placements. In her view, this involved Ixion, a small planet just beyond Pluto's orbit; and Ceres, the former asteroid. Both Mike and Andy have these two points placed prominently. Ceres deals with food, nourishment, grief and processes that create or restore balance. Ixion is all about morality and morality plays.
"Mike has Ixion exactly rising, and Andy has Ixion conjunct Moon. Both have Ceres in the 12th house, conjunct the ascendant," she wrote.
"Ceres/Ixion is a good description for environmental atrocities. Ixion is also 'capable of anything' as you often say. They seem to be bringing out the delineation for us: 'going way too far', 'shocking behaviour', etc. Nice to see Ixion can be expressed so positively."
SurvivaBall wearing protester waddles out of the store. Photo by Eric Francis.
As I described in the Mighty Equinox
edition, over the next few years, potent planetary energy moves into the cardinal signs. This began with Pluto moving into Capricorn in 2008-2009, and will continue with Saturn moving into Libra later in the month. By next spring, Jupiter and Uranus make visits to Aries (including an exact conjunction on the Aries Point), and the trend will continue with Mars entering Libra over the summer. This energy only builds from here, and the Yes Men are all but assured a continued rise to prominence.
The obvious question, though, is what gives them the ability to do what they do? That is to say, imposter nearly anyone and walk through walls? And get away with it over and over?
Bichlbaum's chart gives the first and perhaps the best clues. He has a loaded 12th house, which makes him not just a natural born actor, but also a talented shapeshifter.
Take a look at his 1st house -- four points in Scorpio, in particular a Mars-Neptune conjunction. Anyone with this conjunction is going to have an intense life. They have a visionary quality, which could manifest as anything from a gift for filmmaking, poetry, photography, and a tendency to take very big risks. They're not afraid to risk it all if they have to; it's been described as Kamikaze. And that's exactly what the Yes Men do: they dive in headlong, and see what happens.
But Bichlbaum works with a plan; he is a master of the game. He has the asteroid Pallas Athene precisely conjunct the Sun, which gives him an innate understanding of politics, law, strategy and plenty of protection. I think he's actually going to end up at the negotiating table on behalf of the public when the climate change endgame arrives.
No arrests; no teargas; no nonlethal weapons, Tasers or paramilitary cops. Photo by Eric Francis.
Bonanno has a chart of a different color: it's difficult to pack more Aries into one horoscope than he has. This gives him initiative and inventiveness -- and in the 6th house a strong drive to service. This is Aries at its best: self-awareness, self-confidence and devotion to getting the job done. Bonanno is capable of nearly infinite amounts of work, which he mingles with a quest for pioneering adventure. Check out his Chiron directly on the Aries Point, to the degree. It will be interesting to see how his career develops when that Jupiter-Uranus conjunction happens there on June 8.
Bonanno is born between a lunar eclipse and a solar eclipse (you can tell, in part, because his Sun is on one of the lunar nodes). Being born during or even near eclipses gives the feeling of living with the hand of fate on one's shoulder, it can make one's life seem larger than life, and can grant access to a wide public.
He has a chart that pulls the Sixties astrology into full focus: check out the sextile between Neptune and Uranus (with a 25 next to each of them), and the Sun showing up at the point of a yod (at 26 degrees of Aries).
Remember as you study these charts, these are talented men who are responding to the times in which they live. They have determined to put their natural gifts to work for a purpose. Notably, neither has "given up a career" to do this work; both currently work as university professors.
We all have gifts. The Yes Men are rising to the occasion of history, and they are in tune with the times: the only people who can tell the truth have a sense of humor. Their message actually seems to be getting through, and now they're movie stars. As Paul Rapp, their sometimes lawyer said yesterday, "It's easier to get people to see your way of thinking when you get them to laugh rather than throw bricks at them. That's just human nature."
Yours & truly,
PS, readers in the New York area are invited to meet me Saturday for the 6:15 showing of The Yes Men Fix the World
. This will be at the Film Forum in Manhattan, on West Houston reet west of 6th Ave. Note, it would be smart to purchase tickets online in advance!
For directions and other information you can call the theater at (212) 727-8110. I'll get there by about 5:30 pm and I plan to go out for dinner somewhere afterwards. If you plan to be there, please drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org
. I'm planning to bring my dad, who is a nuclear industry public relations specialist.