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How the Lincoln Center Anti-Koch Prank Went Down: An Insider's Account

Mark Read of The Other 98% explains how Wednesday night's public shaming at the swanky David H. Koch Theater was executed.

The Yes Men and their friends have been stepping up an all-fronts attack on the Koch brothers for their funding of conservative political causes. Among other creative assaults this week, the Yes Men launched a mock website to humiliate Koch-owned Peabody Coal, and, on Wednesday night, a "guerrilla drive-in" movie in New York's esteemed Lincoln Center, where one of the buildings has recently been renamed after David H. Koch.

Here's a public confession from Mark Read of The Other 98% on how that second operation was executed. For a reporter's eye view on these anti-Koch activities, see a post by Allison Burtch here.

“Uh, you’re kidding right?”

“No, really, we’ve gotten away with crazier stuff. You just have to look like you know what you’re doing. Like you belong here.”

We were standing in front of the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln center, at about 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday night. My friend Andrew had roped me into helping out with a “Guerilla Drive-In” that he and his cohorts from The Other 98% were coordinating, in partnership with the people at Brave New Foundation. I had volunteered to be part of “The Sticker Team,” meaning I would be one of four people that would put ladders up on the face of the theater building and place a nine-foot-long thought-bubble sticker above David Koch’s name that read “I’m the Tea Party’s Wallet.”

I had been clear on the mission objectives and the timing, but this was my first time seeing the action site. It was so... public. There were people everywhere, including a security guard planted about 100 feet away from where we were planning to do our little prank. Scenarios began to play out in my head. Confrontation. Police. Handcuffs. A foot chase. A pratfall. A jail cell. Why was I doing this again?

And then I remembered. David and Charles Koch represent the worst of the corrosive elements that have turned U.S. Democracy into a pay-to-play system of government; a system where the corporate elite are able to continuously extend their power, wealth, and influence while the majority of citizens are relegated further and further to the margins. Their cynical funding of the Tea Party, which has become the tip of a right wing spear that will never stop seeking tax cuts for the rich and won’t sleep until what remains of a social safety net is completely shredded is but their latest venture in a long, long campaign to subvert democracy in order to improve their bottom line. These are the kind of guys that fund climate change “skeptics” (read: they purchase bunk science) in order to protect their investments in the fossil fuel industry. The kind of guys that try to derail health care reform because they’ve concluded that it will cut into their profit margins.

While the Koch brothers have for years funded far-right political activity to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, up until now they’ve remained in the shadows, which is how they like it. After all, within the New York City elite social scene a more liberal, or at least centrist, ideology tends to hold sway. Right-wing extremist politics are not exactly in favor amongst the major patrons of the arts with whom the Koch brothers aspire to rub elbows at events such as Wednesday night’s—a red carpet affair for major donors and trustees of the New York City Ballet. Rumor had it that David Koch himself would be in attendance. We sure hoped so. The idea with the Guerrilla Drive-In action was to embarrass these men in front of their peers, plain and simple. Within our current political and legal system it’s pretty much impossible to hold these guys accountable by any other means. We are left with the weapons of shame and embarrassment, and so we aimed to dish these up in heaping portions.

Just before we set out to do the deed, John, our action coordinator, looked us all in the eye, gave a conspiratorial smirk and said “before you get out of the van, just bathe yourselves in gray light, ok? You’re like smoke. Just be the smoke man, you’re gonna be great. Grey light.”

I guess his Jedi-blessing worked! We walked the ladders right up to that sign, leaned them up against the wall, climbed up and rolled that sticker onto the stone façade. No problem. And we were only one part of a multi-pronged exposé of the Koch Brothers that took place over the course of the evening. Reverend Billy led a thousand-person, flashlight-wielding crowd of “movie-goers” that circled the building (who didn't know the full plan until they showed up for a free Koch brothers movie advertised on the Yes Men email list) “shedding light” on the actions of the Kochs.

A cinema team positioned in a hotel room across the street projected the trailer for The Other 98%’s and Brave New Foundations latest collaboration, Koch Brothers Exposed.

All in all, we generated a visually rich and substantive spectacle in the service of calling out the Koch brothers for who and what they are: plutocrats bent on protecting their wealth and privilege no matter what the cost to working people or democracy itself. We were still on site and still projecting a half-hour later when the red-carpet crowd filed out of the theater. Their reactions were as priceless as the democratic principles that we set out to defend.

--By Mark Read

See more photos and, once they post it, videos, at Other 98%'s website.

Images via Other 98, and Allison Burtch.

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