February 29th, 2012 | by HANNAH HOFFMAN News | Posted In: Activism, Health, Media

Occupiers' Hoax Fools Some, Confuses Others

joseph hillJoseph Hill pretended to be the head of public relations for Blue Cross Blue Shield Oregon.
A leading Oregon health insurance company got punked Wednesday during an elaborate prank staged as part of an ongoing Occupy Portland protest against large corporations. (More coverage here and here.)

The protest, called F29 Shut Down the Corporations, targeted members of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group of companies and conservative legislators who craft model bills for states to pass.

The largely peaceful F29 protest did lead to seven arrests, according to Portland police, including two people arrested for vandalizing a vehicle, two others for trespassing at the Bank of America at NE 12th Avenue and Broadway, and three more on the 34th floor of the Wells Fargo Bank tower downtown.

Protesters also turned their attention to the offices of Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oregon.  The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association is listed as a sponsor of ALEC’s 2011 conference, but the company targeted by protesters today, Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oregon, isn’t listed as a member.

That didn't stop Occupiers from targeting the company in a trick pulled straight from the Yes Men playbook.

On Tuesday a man stood up in front of the Blue Cross Oregon headquarters on Southwest Market Street and announced to the crowd of 1,000 marchers that he was “Joseph Hill, director of public relations.”

He then announced the Blue Cross Oregon would resign from ALEC.

“Equal access to health care is a human right,” Hill said, telling the crowd that ALEC had been trying for two years to undermine federal health care reform.

He later gave interviews to news stations and papers from around the city and appeared to have an assistant holding an umbrella over his head. He claimed to have “run out” of business cards.

When Hill first started speaking, the crowd booed him. But demonstrators cheered ecstatically once the fake PR man made his announcement.

Some Occupiers appeared to be fooled. One man turned to another in the crowd and said quietly, “I would not be that brave. I’d hide behind that line of police,” before he heard Hill’s announcement.

Scott Burton, Blue Cross Oregon’s actual director of public relations, says the company isn’t going to retaliate but wanted to set the record straight.

It put out a press release this afternoon explaining the hoax:
This afternoon in front of the Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon headquarters, a member of the public purporting to be a spokesperson for Regence made statements about our company’s ties and connections to the American Legislative Exchange Council. This individual does not represent our organization. To make the facts clear, our company is not a member of ALEC and as such, we cannot resign from this organization’s membership rolls. We appreciate the public’s right to organize and exercise their right to free speech; however we’d like to take this opportunity to correct the record.
Burton explained that Blue Cross Oregon's relationship to the Blue Cross Association is akin to the Trail Blazers' relationship with the NBA: it's an independent company that is simply under the branded umbrella of the association.

 

 
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