The Beehive Design Collective vs. King Coal

By Casey Abernathy

The Beehive Design Collective from Machias, Maine drew a crowd of 60+ to discuss king coal at Roh’s Street Cafe. Community members sipped coffee and discoursed about the powerful imagery provided by their small team of visionary radicals. Representation from other grassroots and environmental groups such as, the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless and Greenpeace were also in attendance to support the educational process and learn themselves about the price that we all pay for dependency on dirty energy sources.

An 8 by 16 foot cloth poster was draped across the center of the gathering place. A spectrum of personified animals depicted the struggle of people in various stages of dealing with the alliance of King Coal and government. Throughout the transition of graphical storytelling, the characters illustrate various forms of oppression and resistance that have taken place since before the industrial revolution.

In addition to the human perspective, a story is told about the resources themselves as clean water is polluted and breathable air is turned into poisonous fumes. The process was cleverly demonstrated as the story made its way from distant past to present circumstances. Not to be left on a negative note, a potential of future generations are shown having found intelligent solutions to the energy and pollution crisis by shifting focus from greed and excessive consumption to sustainability and cooperation.

As the evening unfolded, Molly, Ug and Tyler, the representative worker bees, explained the purpose and vision of the Beehive Collective. They do much of their work from a local community building where they promote education of sustainable practice and creatively solving world problems. They do this through creative collaboration of ideas and resources and education through art and storytelling.

Many of the members of the collective share a large house that was once inhabited by a log baron that amassed his fortune from clear cutting all of the trees in the area. Their restoration and recovery efforts are a living testament to their belief that even symbols of short sighted destruction can be converted back to something that is useful and beneficial to all of us.

Their art is a powerful tool used to proclaim their message. Animals are used in their depictions to eliminate categorical separation created by skin color, gender or other surface details that humans use to separate themselves from other humans. Animals have been used to tell stories and communicate powerful messages for as long as people have sat around a campfire. The artists travel to the center of the issue to gather inspiration and inspire a realistic angle to the beauty of biodiversity and the destructive nature of resource collection methods such as mountain top removal.

As the story unfolds the artwork comes alive. The metaphors became images and images were woven together into parables. The bees explained that they work closely with those most affected. One of their most important goals is to empower and encourage people to tell their own stories. Usually the communities that face the harshest of conditions are poor and removed from the attention of the national media. Across Appalachia is spread one of the poorest communities in the country. These people desperately need a voice, and they have it through the artwork of the Beehive Collective.

“To date over 500 mountains and 2,000 miles of streams and valleys have been buried” Tyler informed a crowd as he flashed images of the devastated countryside. “Coal has been called the liver of the earth,” he says as he shows pictures of the toxic waste water produced by the careless processes that negatively impacts the land and all of those that inhabit it. In turn, they warn the audience of ‘greenwashing’, a new trend that seeks to make the endless consumption of slightly ‘improved’ or more ‘efficient’ versions of the same products – a thinly veiled attempt to ease the conscience of the consumer by justifying the endless continuation of the cycle of consumption.

Part history lesson, part grassroots organizing effort, the presentation was a truthful account of the struggle, conditions and battles fought by the workers, the unions and King Coal. All in attendance learned about the slow destruction of jobs due to mechanization, the respiratory heath issues caused by the burning of a toxic fuel and importance of spreading the word about sustainable energy sources and lifestyles.

Although there is a lot of harsh truth in the message, there is still a silver lining, but the happy ending is an option that we must come together to achieve. Change is always difficult, but it is inevitable. A system that is not sustainable will be removed by choice or by natural selection. Each one of us can take a step in the right direction by having a conversation about our habits and making personal changes. If we can make changes on a personal level then we can demand them on a community level and eventually on a scale that will change the way we look at history and the way future generations will look at us.