Davao

The Davao leg of the infotour includes a three-day activist skillshare, a farmers’ forum, a presentation at a high school, and two days camping at Talicud Island.

Arriving in Davao is a change from Manila. Much more tropical, and much less paved over. Organic Minds Infoshop is in a rural area, we walk on rough dirt roads and through cow paddocks to arrive there. It feels like being in a jungle, but walking around the neighbourhood, I discover that it is as densely populated as Australian suburbia. The forest cover and lack of cars create the impression of being far away from the city. I could easily live here.

We get straight into workshops for the activist skillshare. Around 15 local activists gather to hear about Deep Green Resistance and Mobile Anarchist School activities, and share their own projects.

I speak about liberals and radicals, history of resistance, and strategy for a resistance movement. Mobile Anarchist School discuss alternative histories of the Philippines, and thoughts on sustaining ourselves as activists, along with their presentations on solar power and autonomous disaster response.

Organic Minds have established a guerrilla community garden on an empty lot nearby, and are learning to grow food, along with neighbourhood children. Curiously, the owners of the adjacent lot are digging a deep hole, expecting to find gold. I’m not sure whether they plan to strike a seam or uncover buried treasure.

Day four is a farmer’s forum, at an organic resource centre. The venue is beautiful, a large shelter with no walls, surrounded by polycultural farms – fruit trees, fish ponds, rice paddies, and a creek – in a rural area. We walk among the rice fields to get there.

I present on the history and environmental impacts of agriculture, and on permaculture design principles and methods. I’m not sure it’s worthwhile, this is all obvious and common sense to these farmers. I especially feel silly showing pictures of polycultures, when we are surrounded by exactly that. A farmer presents on the impacts of genetically modified food. In an age of globalisation, these issues are the same everywhere in the world.

Later, assessing the outcomes of the day with the forum organisers, we realise that the most urgent issue for farmers here is making a living, so we would have been better to focus the forum on building local economies.

The Davao leg ends with a two-day gathering with local activists and friends on a remote beach on Talicud Island.

 

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Taguig

My first presentation is at Balay Tuklasan infoshop, on permaculture design principles. The workshop happens in the street, and all the neighbours have come. They arrange their chairs around the entrance to the infoshop.

The neighbourhood is less built-up than where I’ve been staying in Pasig City, there are a few empty lots, and space for trees to grow.

I introduce the history and ethics of permaculture design, and give examples of the design principles, using the teaching cards. Everything is translated into Tagalog, and everyone joins in the activity of matching the principles to the icons and photographs.

permaculture presentation at TaguigThe neighbourhood was previously a rural area, but in recent years the farmland has been taken over by cement factories. The factories emit fumes and chemical dust, and dump excess concrete on the roadsides, making the land unusable for horticulture. Two years ago, a flood spread toxic waste over the whole area, killing lots of plants, and rice and corn can no longer grow here. Other plants are struggling just to survive.

People are concerned that the toxic soil will cause any food they grow to be poisonous. The food won’t be toxic, but the contaminated soil will affect the growth of the plants, and airborne pollutants will mean that the food will need to be washed before being eaten. I recommend planting a windbreak to lessen the effects of dust, and composting to remediate the soil, but really what’s needed is to get rid of the cement plants.

I wonder afterwards if it has been useful, to present abstract design principles to people in this situation, or if I should have focused on their more immediate concerns. But I hear a few days later that the workshop has started a lot of conversations in the neighbourhood, about how they relate to nature, and how they can change the way they live.

I had lost interest in permaculture design, thinking it isn’t a sufficient response to the global crisis, and therefore isn’t useful. After this workshop, I’m shifting back towards it, as it does have something to offer. It’s not the answer to everything, but does have a role to play in reclaiming our place in nature, and that makes it worthwhile.

Feral Crust collective are a small group of activists who are beginning to develop a permaculture demonstration project in this neighbourhood, using some empty lots to experiment and learn together with this community.

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Manila

I arrive in the international airport in Manila, and go to the bathroom. The toilet paper dispenser features a picture of a panda on a bright green background, and claims to be ‘saving the world from global warming’. It doesn’t say how. I’m not sure whether to feel disheartened, since i’ve come all this way, only to discover that my efforts are no longer needed. Maybe I should feel relieved, in the knowledge that a toilet paper dispenser has the task in hand, and anything I might do is redundant. Or amused at the claim, given that people in the Philippines don’t use toilet paper at all.

 

Some mining companies are planning to expand their operations to Antarctica, asteroids, and the moon.

On a city bus, I look out the window, and see an average day in an average bustling city. Then I look again, at the same scene, and see Hell. A few generations ago, this was a jungle, alive with sound, with flowing water, wind in the trees, and all sorts of birds I’ve never seen and probably never will. Now there is no sign of any of this having been here. There is only concrete, vehicles, fumes and motor noise. People cover their faces with cloth to avoid breathing the toxic air. No trees grow, nothing is visible except buses, trucks, taxis and the concrete walls lining the roadside, that are effective at blocking the sound, smell and sight of this from nearby residents, and are also effective at amplifying the sound, smell and sight of Hell to those on the road. There is no space here for life. Yet for millions of people, this IS life. How did it come to this? The point where this is normal?

There are flyovers over flyovers, and on one of the concrete posts holding them all up is an advertisement with the words “taurine enhances your mental development”. Our collective mental development has reached a stage where we don’t object to concrete posts telling us to buy chemicals to think better.

After a few hours of commuting around Manila, my lung capacity has reduced significantly, and when I blow my nose it comes out black. I’m losing my ability to breathe. I’m here for just two days, yet for drivers, commuters and roadside vendors, this is their whole life. Constant asphyxiation. These people are not living, but dying.

We have a choice, to continue this, to the point where nothing is left alive, and only toxicity remains. Or we could force it to stop. One day soon, people could be swimming in the Pasig River again, and eating fruit from trees that will break through this concrete.

 

After the discussion at the university, we walk out of the campus to get a bus. On a patch of land on the edge of campus, a squatter community occupies a forest. The shelters in the shanty town are made of corrugated iron, canvas banners, and bamboo. Children, chickens and dogs all run and play between the trees and huts. I feel a sense of longing and loss, for the connection with neighbours and other beings that I’ve never had, yet arises spontaneously in this settlement, with no effort from the residents.

In Australia, festivals are held just to create this sense of community, for only a few days, among people who will never meet again. Our neighbourhoods have been designed to keep us apart, to prevent community from erupting. Only disasters bring it about, and governments are always quick to suppress it, and regain order.

Someone else walking here would see poverty, and feel pity. I’m sure the people here have their share of problems, but I can’t help feeling that their lives are a lot richer than mine will ever be.

A few steps further on, and I’m on a multi-lane highway, in front of McDonalds, and the car fumes are so thick that the haze is visible.

 

Pasig calls itself ‘The Green City’, yet is almost completely paved over. There are no parks, no green space, the few trees are forced to inhale vehicle exhaust, and don’t look at all happy about it. Their roots are paved over, right to the trunk. The few garden boxes look sad and dusty.

 

In the middle of the day, or late at night, the bus ride from Muntinlupa to Guadalupe takes around 20 minutes. In peak hour, traffic moves at walking pace, and it can take several hours. Many commuters deal with this by falling asleep. The man in front of me is texting ‘this traffic jam makes me want to cut people’s throats’. I want to channel this frustration, felt by millions, into actions that will stop traffic jams from happening ever again.

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CIV:LAB

civlab poster‘If I smash a window of a multinational corporation, or burn down an animal testing lab, is that a way of connecting with the natural world? And is it art?’

These questions are posed by artist Jong Pairez, during a discussion on the topic ‘connecting with the natural world’ in the undergraduate art studio at University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts Diliman. I’ve been invited to present on this topic, and facilitate this discussion, as part of my speaking tour. The conversation has covered a range of themes: domination, death, activism, becoming animal, food, agriculture, technology, money and trade, health, disaster, mediated experience, art, liberalism, and now monkeywrenching.

The discussion is an element of CIV:LAB (The Civilization Laboratory), an art installation that is Jong’s thesis project. The concept paper for CIV:LAB states:

Human beings mostly cause the contemporary ecological predicament that we face today. We are too far out and arrogant that our habits disrupt the natural pattern of our ecosystem. This incompatibility is engendered by the insatiability of our industrial civilization to extract finite resources to the brink of our collapse. Should we just sit and wait for this fate to come?

CIV:LAB is a tactical social laboratory that aims to gather all individuals and groups who have a common ground in detouring the near apocalyptic possibility. Thus, CIV:LAB is dedicated to research and design on open access knowledge, sustainable life and living, disaster mitigation, and radical forms of social engagement that veers away from the destructive practices of industrial civilization. Furthermore, CIV:LAB is a social sculpture initiated by an undergrad thesis student in painting.

The reason behind converting the studio space into a laboratory is to pave the way for a more convivial manner of producing work because the key to solve our predicament lies behind collective action. As Karl Marx wrote, “Reality is none other than the result of what we do together.” CIV:LAB integrates this reality by reciprocating the ideal in social relations to create form.

Jong initiated this project as a result of his direct personal experience of the apocalyptic effects of industrial civilization. He was working in Japan at the time of the Fukushima disaster, which contaminated the surrounding land to a radius of 450 kilometers. He began to grow food hydroponically in his apartment, as food could no longer be grown in the soil. He has also spent time on the island of Marinduque, south of Manila, a large part of which became a dead zone after a leak from the tailings dam of a copper mine. The river now supports no life, and the entire island is suffering to the extent that it will probably never recover. Young people living on Marinduque have no concept of a healthy world. To them, a sickly green, dead river is normal, the way it has always been. With this direct contact with apocalypse, Jong can easily see how this ongoing disaster could quickly consume the whole planet.

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Around 15 people are now seated around a table in a corner of a large airy room, in front of a partition with the word ‘civilization’ painted in large white letters. Behind the partition, art students are painting, hammering, constructing and creating. The university campus is vast, with extensive green space and patches of semi-wild forest. Children glean fruit from the trees. It’s quite a contrast to the majority of metropolitan Manila, which is almost entirely paved over. After several days in the city, this is my first opportunity to connect with the land that I’m living on (rather than in), to listen, and get some sense of where I am.

Here are some notes from the discussion.

Relationship: do we view the natural world, and nonhuman—and even human—beings, as a subject to be in relationship with, or as objects to be exploited? Do we extend the anarchist ideal of mutual aid to nonhuman beings, and provide for them to the extent that they provide for us?

Exploitation: Environmental problems are symptoms of our culture, which is predicated on domination of other beings.

Sanity: Our culture says that communicating with plants is a sign of insanity, but the culture itself is insane, in that it is out of touch with reality. Our connection with the wild has been socialized out by our culture, and we are only living half a life.

Language: In western culture, we talk about humans and nature as separate concepts, and struggle to imagine humans existing within natural communities. It is difficult in English to even describe this possibility, as the word ‘nature’ implies a separation.

Allegiance: Do we ally ourselves with the culture, or with the land that is being destroyed by it? In conversations or activities relating to destroying the land, or destroying the culture, which do we defend?

Self: When we think of ourselves as belonging to a natural community, and that land as essential to our being, then defending the land is an act of self-defence. We need to expand our concept of self.

Place: To take someone out of their place is to take away their being. A bird does not end at its wingtips.

Becoming animal: I am happiest when being fully an animal, being completely present in the natural world. We need to remember our animal selves.

Death: Death is simply the continuation of life in another form. When eating an animal, the animal becomes me and lives on. I want to live on as food for other beings. Fear of death comes from a disconnect from these food relationships. If we were to switch from a fear of individual death, to a fear of collective, planetary death, we would relate to our world quite differently.

Food as relationship: In a healthy natural community, living beings are all food for each other. Food is the web of relationships that sustains the whole community. We have a responsibility to all animals and plants that we eat, for the continued wellbeing of their species, and their communities, so that we can continue to eat. We must ask the land what it wants from us.

Industrial society: The industrial way of life is a choice, not inevitable. We need to recognize that we have choices.

Debt: Industrialization is theft of nature, and leaves us with a debt that must be repaid.

Prosperity: We need to redefine prosperity, away from money and property, to true wealth: community, reciprocal relationships, clean water, air, food and seeds.

Cities: it can be very difficult to form a connection to nature when living in a city like Manila, where it is not possible to gather food directly from the land, and participate in natural cycles. Removing oneself from the city doesn’t help anyone else, so what’s really needed is to remove the city.

Medicine: The first purpose of medicine must be to take care of the health of the planet.

Vegetarian diets: this can lead to becoming aware of where our food comes from, but does not connect us to nature, and almost all vegetarian food comes from broadscale agriculture, which is constantly destroying natural communities. Eating plants and animals with which we have a relationship would more effectively connect us with the natural world.

Money and trade: trade exists in many forms, and for most of history has been a means of contributing to the community, rather than to accumulate individual wealth. The first law of economics has to be to preserve the integral economy of the planet.

Disaster: In times of disaster, people will naturally help each other out and share whatever food is available. The media calls this ‘looting’ and labels the victims criminals. Money becomes meaningless and sharing is the only way to relate. The government and aid agencies are quick to restore the ‘order’ of the market economy.

Art: Art can be a mediated experience, what the Situationists call ‘the spectacle’, a barrier between ourselves and direct experience of the natural world. Alternatively, art can be a channel, and create a connection that wouldn’t otherwise occur.

Buying organic: could be a way of connecting to nature, but more likely a mediated experience, a sales gimmick to create the impression of connecting to nature.

Techniques for connecting

Observation. Spend some time every day in one spot, observing the surroundings using all senses, and ways of sensing.

Learning bird language. Birds reflect what is going on in their surroundings, and learning their language is an avenue into becoming part of the natural community where we live.

The council of all beings. A Deep Ecology process, where participants allow another being to speak through them, leading to an understanding of what the land needs from us.

So is smashing a window or burning a building a way of connecting with the natural world? And is it art?

It’s a form of self-expression, for sure, so I guess it could be art. It’s an expression of discontent with activities that are destroying the natural world, but not an effective way to stop the destruction. It might be a way of connecting, it would depend on who’s doing it, and why.

This all brings up another question: Are these ideas so foreign to our culture that, in a university, it is only within an artwork that this conversation can take place?

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Overview

The Infotour took place in February 2014. Speakers from Mobile Anarchist School and Deep Green Resistance travelled to Manila, Davao, Tacloban and Marinduque to share skills and ideas with a range of audiences.

The aims of the tour were to build international solidarity, learn from each other, disseminate radical ideas more widely, and strengthen our activist movements.

We presented to activist collectives, high school students, farmers, college students, and neighbours of the infoshops.

We began in Manila, presenting permaculture design principles to the community at Mabatu Street, Taguig, who are interested to grow more of their own food, and start a community garden.

I was interviewed by Radyo Itim, on civilization, the environmental crisis, and resistance.

Non Collective Infoshop in Cubao also hosted a workshop on permaculture design, and aims to implement permaculture principles and grow food in their neighbourhood.

CIV:LAB, a social sculpture and art installation, is a thesis project of an art student at University of the Philippines, Diliman. I led a discussion on the topic ‘connecting with the natural world’ as part of the project, and MAS gave a demonstration of setting up a solar power system.

In Davao we participated in a two-day activist skillshare, at Kinaiyahan Unahon and Organic Minds Infoshop. DGR presentations were: liberals and radicals, history of resistance, and strategy for a resistance movement. MAS presented: solar power demonstration, autonomous response to Typhoon Yolanda (Leyte Mission), history of anarchist movements in the Philippines, and sustaining our activism. Local activists presented their projects and activities.

At a farmers’ forum I spoke on environmental issues caused by agriculture, and permaculture design principles. MAS spoke about Leyte Mission.

A forum on “Cultural Paradigm Shift” was held at a high school. I spoke on the history of civilization, and MAS and local activists presented their projects and ideas on this topic.

We spent two days camping at a secluded beach on Tacilud Island, near Davao, with activists from the area.

San Miguel, Leyte (close to Tacloban City) was our next destination. We joined friends from Manila to run activities for the survivors of Typhoon Yolanda. This was the third mission that MAS has done in this village.

The last leg of the infotour was the island of Marinduque, where we presented our ideas and projects to students at three campuses of Marinduque State College.

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In general, people in the Philippines are well aware of environmental issues. For them, environmentalism is not a choice, but a matter of life and death. They are totally dependent on the land and sea for their food and livelihood, so any harm caused—by mining, plantations, industry, development, commercial fishing and tourism—impacts them directly.

When I spoke about the industrial system in its entirety as the cause of the current environmental crisis, rather than individual industries and lifestyle choices, people understood this already. No-one ever argued in favour of technofixes, development and sustainability.

This document has more details about the environmental issues in the Philippines, and resistance movements defending land and indigenous rights.

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About the tour

Deep Green Resistance and Mobile Anarchist School are on an infotour of the Philippines.

We’ll be speaking at universities, schools, an art gallery, infoshops, a farmers’ forum, and open mic nights.

We’ll talk about topics such as resistance to empire, DIY solar power systems, radical politics, connecting with nature, permaculture design, autonomous response to disaster, food sovereignty, love and anarchy.

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