September 25, 2007

Welcome to the inaugural installment of ¡YA! Youth Activism. As a now-recurring feature of the NACLA Report, this section will use varying formats to highlight youth organizations or young people who are active in issues of social justice in the Americas. This is partly to debunk the idea of generation X and Y as apathetic and selfish. But hopefully this section will also help build bridges and dismantle any limiting barriers of age, geography, cause, sexuality, ethnicity or race among the hemisphere’s activists.

So here we go.

Based in Eastern Maine, the Beehive Design Collective is a non-profit political graphics workshop maintained by a highly decentralized group of young North American activists “who grew up on TV and junk food,” who are trying “to grow back the part of their brains clear-cut by corporate imagery.” They do this by collectively creating graphics and large intricate posters that are used by activists as tools for organizing, educating, inspiring and empowering. The collective is run exclusively by volunteers and is successfully funded by small donations. Their major cross-pollination efforts are focused on a poster-trilogy about globalization in the Western Hemisphere. Part one is a poster on the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), the second on Plan Colombia and the last on Plan Puebla-Panama (PPP) to be finished in the spring. The Bees explain the organic, cutting-edge nature of their organizing as a constant response to continuing needs and requests, “like the need for more accessible, inspiring, information on the left,” instead of “Joe-Expert-Dude at the podium.”

The process that creates these impressive popular education materials is perhaps what the Bees are most proud of. They pollinate their networks in the Americas by gathering and distributing information at mobilizations and conferences, but the most fruitful exchanges occur in Latin America where they derive images from the words and analyses of those intimately affected by these frightening acronyms. They accomplish this by interviewing hundreds of people for each poster, a dialogue that not only informs their graphics, but also provides critiques or edits of the images. So they rarely call themselves “artists” but rather “cultural workers” or “translators.”

Disturbed that “the propaganda of the left is so human-focused” the Hive uses bioregionally accurate species of insects and animals to depict people in their graphics. Not only because they believe drawings of people tend to reinforce stereotypes, but also because “using the insects, plants and animals of the region allows us to show the interconnectedness of globalization, militarization and environmental destruction.” This dispels the “false dichotomy that you either fight for the people or you fight for the animals. That’s a trap! It’s the same struggle!”

Bees tour U.S. schools and colleges to inform students by using giant banner reproductions of their graphics as the blackboard. With words, but almost entirely through the images, this form of popular education allows them to explain complex political situations in a healthy, accessible format that respects a diversity of learning styles.

The hive’s graphics are strictly anti-copyright and widely distributed, allowing replication by activists for various purposes. This grassroots form of distribution helps them gain exposure and attract donations as well as inform and organize. Through their networks the Bees are reprinting the FTAA poster and distributing stacks of them at-cost to various organizations, so activists—especially Latinos—can in turn sell them, “like Girl Scout cookies,” to raise money for attending the anti-FTAA mobilization in Miami this fall.

Growing rapidly with often overwhelming positive feedback, they face several challenges and as youth—all under 30—they face unique obstacles. “As young people we know we’re ‘reinventing the wheel’ hopefully with a new spin. But we need movement people from the ‘60s and ‘70s, whose efforts resemble ours, to fess-up and tell us what they did wrong and what mistakes to avoid.”


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