Article by Ethan Bien, photos by Lakshmi Sarah. This post originally appeared in Oakland North.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, the Beehive Collective’s posters are whole books. At a rally at the Greenpeace Warehouse in West Oakland last last month, three presenters took turns explaining the giant canvasses behind them and comparing struggles for control of natural resources from around the world with California’s ongoing conflicts over water rights.
The Beehive is an artists’ and activists’ collective based in Machias, Maine, a coastal town nearly as far from Oakland as one can get within the continental United States. But two of the presenters, Ryan Camero and Javier Reyes, were born in Stockton, California, and they brought the Beehive to California to weigh in on Proposition 1, the Water Bond, which will be on ballots Tuesday. (The third presenter, Sakura Saunders, is from Toronto.)
Why bring artists from Maine into a conversation about California water?
“Because of these graphics!” says Reyes, volunteer coordinator for Restore the Delta, and spokesman for No On Prop 1. “They’re gorgeous! And they bridge the gap between politics and education and art beautifully.”
As tall and wide as a movie screen, “Mesoamerica Resiste” is an intricate black and white allegory depicting the battle between resource-extracting corporations and the indigenous people of Southern Mexico and Central America. The similarly sized “True Cost of Coal,” also displayed Wednesday night, shows a history of mineral and human exploitation in Appalachia, and folds, like a Mad Magazine Fold-In, to erase what Saunders calls “a 250-year blip of short-sighted thinking,” from the early days of Cherokee eviction to modern mountaintop removal.
All parties are represented by allegorical characters: insects, birds, and animals stand in for the resistance, while capitalism takes the form of rapacious contraptions—a virus-like machine sprouting security cameras and resource-sucking syringes in “Mesoamerica,” for example.
The group also premiered a sketch for a work reflecting the forces at play in California water politics. Southern California juice and water magnates Stuart and Linda Resnick’s mansion floats on a cloud of paperwork, the 40,000-page Bay Delta Conservation Plan, the controversial proposed rerouting of Sacramento river water to southern California via what are known as the Delta Tunnels. The tunnels themselves figure prominently in the sketch: two pipelines sprout from the sides of the Resnicks’ mansion and plunge into the California water below, where waterbirds and small fish come together to save one another and resist the tunnels’ encroachment.
The presenters drew parallels between the Delta Tunnels plan and Proposition 1, painting both as part of broader efforts to put control of public resources in the hands of an elite few.
Touted as “tunnel neutral,” the new Water Bond asks to borrow $7.12 billion, considerably less than an earlier version of the proposition, a difference Governor Jerry Brown attributes to the trimming of pork. To Reyes, the changes between the two versions reflect more than simple belt-tightening. He points out drastic reductions in money earmarked for conservation, water recycling, and groundwater recharge.
Proposition 1’s most controversial provision is a $2.7 billion allocation for “water storage projects, dams, and reservoirs.” Many see the earmark as likely to go toward two proposed projects: the Sites Dam, which would flood lands near Mendocino National Forest; and the Temperance Flat Dam, which would impound part of the San Joaquin river.
Saunders argued that the beneficiaries of the proposed dams would be large farms in the Central Valley, making the project a classic example of public money being used for private gain.
Large-scale agriculture came under fire at many points during the presentation.
Saunders saw farmers’ drought complaints as disingenuous: “During wet times, expand as much as you can, then whine about it when there’s a pinch.”
When one audience member pointed out that we all need to eat, Saunders’s response was swift: “This is not a food sovereignty issue. Does California have to produce 80% of the world’s almonds?”
As the meeting wound down, Saunders acknowledged that Proposition 1 is likely to pass. Deep pockets and political capital stand behind the bill, including the Resnicks, the Walton Foundation, Governor Brown, California Democrats and Republicans, and Sean Parker, the founder of Napster. The San Francisco Chronicle, the Oakland Tribune, the California Farm Bureau, and the Nature Conservancy have all come out in favor of the bond, as well. The East Bay Express did take a No on 1 stand in their voters guide, issued last week.
Saunders promised that the real battle will take place outside the ballot box. “We’re asking you to support direct action” against the building of the dams, she said. “A long-term occupation could be successful.”
She also predicted the return of the Delta Tunnels project within the next three years. “There will be no vote on that,” said Saunders. “Only resistance.”