From February until May 2023, our family of Bees went to the Asia Pacific region to tour with the Beehive’s True Cost of Coal and Mesoamérica Resiste graphics, inspiring discussions about the intersections of colonialism, resource extraction, corporate globalization, workers movements and climate change. All in all, we did over 100 presentations at 70 different events, including an 8,000-person electronic music festival, a buddhist temple, bookstores, occupations, street parties, community centres, conferences, cafes, protests and 12 different schools, from middle schools to universities in Aotearoa, Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea and Japan.
Our tour of Aotearoa/New Zealand started with Waitangi Day events. Waitangi day celebrates the anniversary of the initial signing—on 6 February 1840—of the Treaty of Waitangi. There are typically two separate sites: the upper grounds, filled with bouncy castles, a wide cross-section of people and politicians, and the lower grounds, where grassroots Maori and allies gather to discuss political issues while also celebrating with art, music, ceremony, vendors and activities. We got permission from local Maori elders to set up our banners at the lower grounds and had great discussions about colonial histories, re-Indigenized futures, the environment, and the connections of our movements and histories globally.
Next we visited Whangārei, where our wonderful hosts gave us a tour of local community initiatives and brought people together for an event at a local community theatre. We then joined activists from across Aotearoa at the Kotare Summer School for workshops and strategic planning meetings. Kotare, which hosts the annual summer school, is an activist venue that was inspired by the Highlander Centre in Tennessee, which is featured in our True Cost of Coal graphic! The Kotare Summer School wrapped up early as Cyclone Gabrielle became a cause for concern. Our event in Auckland was cancelled as the country turned to storm preparation, but our class talk at a middle school in Taupō (a city in the centre of the north island that was relatively unaffected) went ahead as scheduled the day that Gabrielle made landfall in the north. In Taupō, and then later on or tour at a high school in Opunake, we were inspired to witness the progress being made in Aotearoan schools around environmental protection and re-Indigenization of culture, language, and society. From Taupō we hit the road going south to Hawke’s Bay, just barely staying ahead of Cyclone Gabrielle, thinking the further south we got the less impact it would have…
It turns out we landed at our friends place on the south-east coast of Hawke’s Bay on the night of the worst climate disaster in the country’s history. Despite the Cyclone making landfall in the north, Hawke’s Bay happened to be one of the hardest hit areas. The entire region was hit with massive flooding, prolonged power and telecom outage, and a lot of failed infrastructure. We narrowly got out with help from a neighbour who came looking for us, and had to stay the night in an emergency evacuation centre after the home we were staying in was flooded. We were shocked at how underprepared the local governments were for the flooding, which wiped out power across most of the country, along with cell service. Radio New Zealand played talking heads commenting on the disaster, while even at the evacuation centre, people were unaware if any place had power and which roads were impassible. At least they were able to quickly dispatch military to aid in the disaster, which failed to happen during the recent fires in Nova Scotia, where us two bees are from. The whole experience made us reflect on how disaster preparedness in our own region, and so many others, is also woefully ill-prepared.
Despite the disaster, we still managed to eventually connect with the director of the community art gallery in Hawke’s Bay who had planned on hosting us, and we put on a small show for staff and community who gathered there as it regained power and internet access days earlier than most homes. Finding out which roads were still passable, we escaped from Hawke’s Bay just in time to continue our tour with events on the west side of Aotearoa’s North Island which was far less impacted than the east. We continued to connect with students and youth, doing a presentation for the entire high school in Opunake, and had the pleasure of doing events with incredible environmental activists and artists in Palmerston North, Taranaki, and Hamilton. Quakers hosted us in Whanganui for a lunch-time event in town’s main square, and Socialists, Anarchists, and artists welcomed us at several events in the country’s two major cities: Wellington and Auckland. Despite the weather we were off to a good start!
In Australia, our first show was part of the National Sustainable Living Festival, and the launch of the Australian Slow Growth Network. It was a great crowd and great discussion, as we presented the True Cost of Coal, which points to the need to slow growth, consumption and shift away from our current paradigm of extreme extraction. The event was held at the Black Spark, a beautiful activist community space run by volunteers in Melbourne. We returned to this space for a presentation alongside the Rainforest Action Group, which does solidarity with communities in Ecuador, with a special focus on those impacted by Australian mining companies. We did Mesoamérica Resiste and it was enthusiastically received.
Outside of 2 terrific class talks at middle schools, a block party in a working-class immigrant neighbourhood, and a street festival on the popular Sydney Rd, our other main event in Melbourne was at the Catalyst social centre, a lively space run by a federation of anarchist collectives. Here, they host educational events, labour and community organizing meetings, Food not Bombs feedings, martial arts practice groups, and so many other cool things.
After Melbourne, we jumped in a camper-van and drove north for a presentation at Castlemaine Free University, a monthly educational program at the Northern Arts Hotel. From there we ventured further inland to join 8,000 people for an epic “bush doof” at the Esoteric Music Festival. Balancing fun with our pollination work, we had a blast doing three presentations daily to eager crowds in the arts and workshops areas. We were so thankful for the amazing family camp here, which had the best amenities and kids play area we had ever witnessed at a festival!
After Esoteric, we drove through the night narrowly missing kangaroos in the back-country on our way to Australia’s highly populated East coast. Our tour up the coast started with a couple class talks in the Wollongong area and a show at Society City, a rad volunteer-run secondhand bookshop and community space. We happened to be staying with an anti-nuke campaigner here when the announcement was made that Australia intended to buy nuclear submarines. This was the first in a series of announcements we witnessed during our travels that signalled a drastic increase in militarism in the Asia Pacific region to respond to the “China threat”. We were familiar with the increasing rhetoric and economic policy moves against China, but to see four new bases approved for construction in the Philippines, Australia’s plan to purchase nuclear submarines, a new air base proposed on South Korea’s Jeju Island, and a new military base under construction in Japan… it was frightening to say the least that this rhetoric was being backed with large investments in infrastructure.
After a crowded park show in Sydney and a beautiful weekend doing storytelling for the folk, roots, and blues music scene at the incredible Blue Mountains Music Festival in Katoomba, we head to the Pachamama house for an event hosted by the climate activist group Rising Tide Newcastle. Fun Fact: while they share much the same politics, Rising Tide in Australia arose completely independently from Rising Tide in North America. This group was amazing to connect with as they are part of a growing movement against coal exports that was mobilizing for a climate camp during our time there. It was heartening to see people responding with action rather than despair in the face of our growing crisis, keeping their minds and actions affixed to those creating our worsening climate. We left one of our massive fabric murals of “The True Cost of Coal” to be used at that climate camp and as part of the ongoing efforts by local anti-coal activists.
It was here, in Australian coal country, that we learned that there was also resistance to the mechanization of mining from the coal workers who were set to lose their jobs to the technology of extreme extraction, mirroring the history presented within our True Cost of Coal graphic. In fact, the anti-protest laws that were used to repress striking coal miners in Australia’s past were the exact laws that were now used against anti-coal activists. While today, things are fairly polarized between coal workers and climate activists, this shared history inspired us to try to seek common ground between workers and those pushing to end coal extraction.
Going up the coast we presented at the beautiful Esk Studios in Iluka and the lively Timbre Cafe in Lismore, where they were still recovering from terrible flooding that had devastated the region. Next, we hit a hub of anti-colonial and climate-related organizing in Brisbane, where we did large and lively events at House Conspiracy and the Southside House as well as storytelling for farmers and environmentalists at the Bardon Farm Fair, a farmers market and political gathering in support of the “Lock the Gate movement” against Coal Seam Gas. From there, we made a 2-day long trek inland to Waddanangu, an Indigenous ceremony and land occupation next to the giant Adani coal mine. This occupation, maintained by the Wangan and Jagalingou First Nation, is stopping the expansion of Adani’s destruction while maintaining culture. From the moment you enter, you get smudged with the sacred fire and join their ceremony for the land. While we were there, our kids enjoyed swimming and fishing and learning about the land from the residents. There was also a recording studio in a trailer in the off-grid camp, where one of our Bees, Darius, wrote and recorded a song with Gurridyula (that as of this writing, has yet to be released). Gurridyula’s father was a huge part of the campaign to Stop Adani, but when – despite many successes – campaigning was unable to stop the mine, Gurridyula decided that he was “tired of asking for what was already [his]” and began occupying his territory in a ceremony spanning two years (and counting) to stop it’s expansion. While living at the camp, Gurridyula started to record hip hop music that he wrote and produced, to wide acclaim. Check it out here.
We ended our tour of Australia in tropical northeast Queensland, with two school shows and two wonderful community shows with support from aHoy Mallloy Cafe in Jullaten, and Crate 59 in Cairns. We are so grateful to our wonderful hosts who organized these fantastic public events, and also those that hosted our entire family in their homes.
Our time in Indonesia was limited to the islands of Bali and Lombok. There were arts and activist groups in Java and elsewhere that wanted us to come for a wider tour of the archipelago, but the unfortunate timing of our trip during the month of Ramadan made the logistics of doing events outside of Bali impossible. In Bali we did lively community events with translation support in Canggu, Denpasar, and Ubud, linking up with rad artists and performers. We also did a huge presentation for students, parents, and educators at the Bali Green School. We also had an incredible opportunity to present our MesoAmérica Resiste and Plan Colombia graphics to a large group of Colombian youth who were at the Green Camp in Bali on an exchange program!
We made a brief stop in Manila on our trip between Bali and Korea. We had only 5 days but we made the most of it! We teamed up with the Kalikasan Peoples Network for the Environment on a day-long event entitled “Greens Against the War Machine” opposing new military infrastructure (including 4 new bases). We then joined Indigenous peoples and Environmental groups on April 24th for Cordillera day. Alongside speakers, musicians, farmers, traditional Indigenous tattoo artists, and supporters from various social and environmental movements in the Philippines, we displayed our murals, distributed posters, and did storytellings throughout the day in central Manila.
Our jam-packed tour itinerary in Korea saw us do 20 events in only 15 days, all with translation into Korean! We began in Seoul with an event at Suyonomo 104, a fantastic lefty community space, shared kitchen, library, and organization whose members are very active in doing translation work of popular left-wing books from English into Korean, among other things.
We then connected with some amazing new friends who toured us around Seoul for the next week and organized daily or even twice-daily events for us. With the help of these new friends we set up our art and did storytelling at solidarity events with communities in struggle, such as the vendors holding their ground against the Myeongdong Redevelopment project across the street from the iconic Myeongdong Cathedral, and Noryangjin fish merchants occupying space near their “modernized” market to resist displacement. Gentrification and development under the guise of modernization is a primary source of social conflict across South Korea today and many activists we met have been involved in anti-eviction solidarity efforts, and spoke with us about the lack of tenant protections and the violence people often face when they attempt to defend their homes and businesses from developers.
We also had a lovely dinner and exchange with fellow art-activists at East Asia Ecotopia, who make woodcut and silkscreen graphics, and even set up protest camps in support of environmental defence campaigns. We travelled to Dumulmeori, a rural region close to Seoul to do an event with organic farmers and their supporters who were active in a years-long struggle against the 4 major rivers project. Back in Seoul in the lead-up to May day, we joined some awesome local activists, artists, and animal rights community for a packed event at “the reading house”, did storytelling for christian climate activists at Fridays for Future, and held a hands-on workshop with students from alternative schools at Cool-Jam, an impressive organizing space and resource centre for informal and irregular workers and migrant labourers. We were also featured in a live music and drag performance night at an eclectic bar popular with local activists named “youkillbong“, which sits tucked away on the top floor of an old office building. On May day we set up our art as part of the massive demonstrations that labour unions, disability rights organizers, and social movements organize yearly on this day in downtown Seoul, and joined in the powerful march that followed before rushing off to Seongmisan village for an evening event at the Danginri school, a space associated with one of the most progressive Christian communities in Seoul.
On May 2nd we bid farewell to our comrades and friends in Seoul and caught a high-speed train to Jeonju where we met another great friend who would guide us through the rest of our tour in mainland South Korea. This leg of the tour began with a great event at Todak Todak, a rad bookstore and safe space for the local LBGTQ+ community in Nambu Market in Jeonju, followed by an afterparty with music and more storytelling at the very popular Nomadic Brewing Co. From Jeonju we drove into the mountains of the South Korean countryside for a great community event in Jinan, a lively high school presentation in Muju, and storytelling and discussions at a jam-packed cafe and bookshop in Sancheong, followed by a visit with back to the land community nearby. We then drove to Gwangju where we visited the May 18th National Cemetary for those who participated in the Gwangju Uprising of 1980 against the US-backed military coup and martial law, shared meals with local activists and historians, and did a wildly successful event at the Bread & Roses Cafe with music, storytelling, and art. The event took place on May 5th which is Korea’s national holiday celebrating children. Many families and children were in attendance, and so our kids got to play and run around and even sang songs to the delight of the audience. We ended our time on the mainland in the port city of Mokpo, where we stayed overnight at a Jimjilbang before getting on the ferry to Jeju island.
We were greeted on arrival in Jeju by friends from the St. Francis Peace Center, who generously hosted us, toured us around the island, and taught us about historical and ongoing movements against militarism. Jeju island is the site of a Korean naval base that opened in 2016, despite a fierce resistance campaign that included a successful referendum against the base and mass civil disobedience. To this day, there are protests held almost every day of the week, starting with an early morning 100 bows ceremony outside the front gates of the base. Later, a lunch time march featuring chanting and dancing outside the base is followed by a daily community meal. Aside from these near-daily manifestations of resistance, the presence of the peace movement was still visible throughout Gangjeong, with banners and protest signs still bordering many streets. While the construction of the base has already devastated the coast line, which was designated a world heritage site for it’s rare corals and aquatic species, the dedicated peace activism still has much work to do countering an even greater expansion of military infrastructure on the island, including a proposed air base. The local peace activists took us on a tour of the military history of the region, where the occupying Japanese used to launch air attacks on China. We are in solidarity with the steadfast peace activists in Jeju that are organizing and resisting this base, so that their island doesn’t again become a launchpad for war in the region. During our time in Gangjeong, the St Francis Peace Centre organized an event where we installed our murals in front of the main gates to the Naval base and did storytellings and performances focused on peace, justice, international solidarity, and environmental protection.
After a whirlwind tour of Korea we land in Osaka for a 2-week Japanese tour largely concentrated in the Kansai region, with additional stops in Hiroshima for G7 counter-conferences and demonstrations, and Tokyo. We are grateful for our hosts in Kyoto who let us use their house as a home base during our time in the country. We did campus events with academic friends at Doshisha University, Seika University, and Kansai University, all of which were well-attended and had great engagement from students and guests. These shows also provided us with a Japanese translation of our Mesoamérica Resiste presentation, which we designed into a Japanese language narrative! We also visited sites of occupation and struggle, went to a rural commune, and even did an event in Shimamoto at the Honchoiji Buddhist temple. The temple is a place where many local activists have a connection as it happened to be a key ally in a campaign against the construction of a highway.
The occupation, temple, and commune we visited are all connected in that they are part of the same movement for autonomy, and the people involved also engage in regular encampment support for the Kamagasaki day laborers in Osaka. These abandoned elder workers had come to build up Osaka Prefecture when it hosted the World Expo in the 70’s. Economic downturn created less opportunity for these workers, but it was the government that decided to take away their supports, closing the day laborers center that acted as a type of union hiring hall. Day laborers occupied the center in response to resist this valuable resource being taken from them, but were brutally suppressed by police who forcibly removed them, criminalized many leaders, and welded their center shut. An encampment now continues outside of the building where the center was housed and it is there, under the surveillance cameras still targeting these day laborers, that we shared our art and stories in Osaka, connecting with residents and their supporters as part of a weekly outdoor soup kitchen.
Another site of struggle we partnered with in Japan for an event is the autonomous Yoshida Dormitory at the University of Kyoto. Here, the university is trying to evict the residents of this historic and self-governed space, using the structural issues with an older building within the complex to justify evicting one of the last bastions of student radicalism and autonomy in the country. Our event at Yoshida featured art and storytelling with translation into Japanese, and an update to the community about the ongoing fight to save this important space.
Back in 2008 our collective designed a poster supporting the social movements who mobilized protests against the G8 in Hokkaido, Japan. We are well beyond the anti-globalization heydays of summit-hopping, but with Japan hosting the G7 during our time there, in Hiroshima of all places, we felt compelled to make the trip and add our voices and art to the protests. In Hiroshima, we were warmly welcomed by hundreds of anti-war activists at a day-long conference at which we got to present our murals, and the next day we joined a spirited protest and demonstration with our kids, who picked up some Japanese by joining in the protest chants. An international delegation against the G7 also welcomed us at an assembly they organized in Kyoto later that week.
After a trip to the countryside, where we met new friends who explained how young radicals can take over old houses and turn them into communes quite cheaply as a result of aging and shrinking demographics. They had started an arborist collective, and their energy was welcomed by the older populations still living rurally, who had given them a free lease on the old school to convert it into a community center! From there, we did a day trip to the sand dunes of Tottori where we took a dip in the sea of Japan, we got on a bullet train to Tokyo.
In Tokyo we stayed at the Manuke Guest House, an anarchist hostel in the eclectic Koenji neighbourhood, and did a jam-packed show at one of our favorite infoshops in the world: The Irregular Rhythm Asylum. Our friends in Tokyo unveiled the Japanese translation of our kids book “The True Cost of Coal” at this show!
On our last day Tokyo we were invited to join a ten-thousand person strong immigrant rights demonstration and reclaim the streets party complete with DJ’s and smoke machines. What an incredible way to cap it all off.
None of this would have been possible without the hundreds of people who helped us out along the way. We are an all-volonteer collective with no institutional funders or backers and we took a giant leap of faith with planning this tour. It was a successful beyond our wildest dreams because of the incredible generosity of people everywhere we went. We are deeply grateful to our friends, new and old, who dedicated many days of their lives to coordinate various regional legs of this tour for us, and even travelled with us from show to show. We would not have been able to do so much in such little time without all your organizing and networking on our behalf. To everyone who hosted us and welcomed us into their homes like family for meals and rest, we hope we can do the same for you one day if you visit us on this side of the world. Thank you to the friends who lent us vans, transit passes, motorcycles, tents, kayaks, carseats, and just about everything else that allowed us to get around! Thank you to everyone who met us at an airport, or ferry terminal, or train station and picked us up or dropped us off! Thank you to everyone who gave us gifts! Thank you to all those who made a donation! Thank you to everyone who helped with translation so that our stories and art could be understood! Thank you to our friends who helped us print posters at local printshops and who did silkscreening! Thank you to the musicians who performed with us at the events we did! Thank you to everyone who gave us a local tour of their community. Thank you to our friends and family who made sure we took a bit of time to see beautiful places, do fun stuff, and enjoy ourselves along the way. Thank you to our friends and family back home who took care of our plants and mail and paperwork. Thank you to our fellow bees who supported with logistics from afar. Thank you to everyone who joined us and shared time and thoughts and energy. May we meet you all again.