What are your names and where are you from?
Alixa: My name is Alixa Garcia and I’m from Colombia, Medellín, Antioquia.
Naima: I’m Naima Penniman, originally from Massachusetts, though currently in Brooklyn.
And what did you do this week? What did you find this week, what did you discover this week?
Naima: This week has been super full. We’ve both had a chance to really focus in on some of our projects that we’re doing, mainly with the Hurricane Season curriculum, which is the arts based social justice curriculum that we’ve been developing, inspired by a huge multimedia production and ecojustice tour and national organizing strategy that we launched a number of years ago. So we’re focused on both lesson planning and creating media, video and sound for that, as well as doing some planning for the publicity and tour launch and music video launch for our forthcoming album, Intrinsic. Those are our two main focuses within Climbing Poetree, and then outside of that, we discovered a lot of great connections with people here and with the land here, getting a chance to, you know, work on or by the water...and it’s the most beautiful country setting, and dive deep into conversations around creativity and race and reparations and dreams for the future and reflections on the past.
Alixa: I think one of the most exciting things is the connections with the people who are here and knowing that we will definitely be collaborating in the future in some capacity with a number of those people, and already started collaborating with a few, within our space here. And it’s just been delicious to be amongst a group of people who are willing to internally have the conversation, and to externally act on that conversation of justice and love and centralized healing in the face of historical trauma, and that we can start the conversation closer to the roots than generally can happen out in the world.
I was thinking about things that are unique to you guys to talk about, and one thing that really strikes me is the role of beauty in your work and both how you bring that in from the world and also the way that you create that in the spaces that you’re in. Can you talk about that and connections to it and the why for you?
Alixa: For me, aesthetic is everything, aesthetic lets me know if I’m welcomed into a space, aesthetic lets me know if you cared about me entering a space, and so I wanna always make sure that the people that I’m welcoming to anything that my imagination is producing allows them to feel like they’ve been cared for, and thought of, even before they walk in the door of the experience, or walk through the actual physical door. And in a lot of ways, you know, June Jordan said that you need to make the revolution irresistible. And even though I don’t believe in revolutions, I believe more in solutions, the irresistible part is still very important. It’s about getting people to essentially see this side of the peace and justice more enticing, more exciting, much more worthwhile. It’s sexy, that you want to be over here, why wouldn’t you? So that’s a huge drive for me, those two elements. I mean there’s so many more, but I’ll let Naima speak to some of hers.
Naima: Yeah, well, certainly because we’ve tasked ourselves with really looking at some of the ugliest situations in our reality, like the most perilous, pressing issues of our time, that are really ugly, and scary, and terrifying, that to bring beauty in through the art as how we hold that container for the conversations and open people up to be inspired and not devastated. To move into action and agency, is really crucial. So in our work we are very intentional about how we create the spaces for our performances, so you feel like you’re walking into a place that’s sacred and held, that can hold the depth of intensity and complexity of the conversations that we spark and catalyze through our work. And just to allow there to be, not just the appeal of it...you know, beauty attracts us, but it also, like Alixa said, there’s a level of care and just thinking through layers of symbology and what that awakens in our imagination. Because a huge piece of the role we find as cultural producers creating experiences for people, is that we want it to always be something that’s gonna stretch and grow our imaginations and our perspectives, and to allow a sense of magic, a sense of possibility, a sense of futurism. And, also an ancient sense too. So when we had the opportunity to do the bonfire, sharing the ritual by the water, we really wanted to create a magical experience. Something that through the beauty of the candlelight and the stillness of the water and the stars and the flame and the leaves, all these things that are very simple but that we can pull together in an intentional way, that creates that space for really bold dreaming, being able to wish and cast our beautiful visions forward.
How do you both keep yourself nurtured in the work that you do, and for the level of your commitment and the length of time of your commitment, how do you keep yourself healed while doing this work?
Alixa: Sleep is important for me. There was a time that I didn’t necessarily sleep, and that’s just not sustainable. So that’s definitely one. And then visual art is my favorite, most passionate love, and it’s where I really get to meditate and be in silence and in stillness, and so definitely in the last two years I’ve given myself so much more permission to delve into that. And learning new ways of creating is very meditative and healing for me and exciting, I don’t like just knowing something really well, I really enjoy the process of learning something brand new and so I really get a lot of energy from that. So that’s personal, and then I think more societally, so much of our work is rooted in solutions and researching solutions and how do solutions play out and how does creativity really, how can it be part of the service of our vision for a more just, sustainable world. And so constantly having those at the forefront, highlighting them in our work, in various formats whether online or in direct talkback solution cipher models during our shows, we get to witness how people are combatting these systems of oppression through really holistic ways that a lot of times are rooted in their own ancestry or in futuristic undertakings.
Naima: Yeah that’s definitely something I feel like we’ve been growing into, how to be sustainable inside of this work. And one thing that has been supportive for both Alixa and I on the road, because we do travel a huge amount of the year, we’ve been very intentional about carving space while we’re traveling to get into nature. Because for us that’s a hugely restorative time, just to be in wild spaces, and so we’ll make sure that there’s time between tour stops to go to the coastline, go to a hot spring, camp out in a desert, and that’s a really renewing practice that we both share. And then for me personally, moving my body is really tied to my self care. So I’m very committed to my morning routines, and working out, and stretching before bed, and just making sure I just get my heart rate up, and that I just feel strong and centered. My physical body’s really huge, and having access to good food, which used to be a lot harder when we were on the road, it was like, trying to figure out how to eat. I feel like we’ve been really blessed lately by putting that intention forth, to make sure we’re eating really whole, home-cooked foods, and that’s been helpful. And lastly I’ll just really echo what Alixa’s saying about being really focused on alternatives and solutions and possibilities as opposed to having all of our focus on the systems that we’re up against and what we’re trying to dismantle and change.I feel like that huge shift in my activism that’s been happening over the years, like I feel like there was a period of time when I was younger where I was like, everything was about anti-oppression, anti-racism, anti-war, anti-violence, anti-all these things, which is so much to be against, but it takes a different type of energy, you know, to focus on these entrenched problems. It’s not about turning away from them, but it’s about really making sure that we’re channeling our creative energy into what is beyond that, so that we’re actively engaging and experiencing and trying out what would a different world look like, and what would it feel like to be in that world, and how do we start to create those relationships, and even be in practice about that, because we’ve been so trained and patterned inside of some really inherently problematic and unjust ways of being in relationship with one another. So getting to embody that, I think, it just pulls from a different place in me, like a wider pool of energy, to feel like I can be in practice inside of my community, in the way that represents the world that I’m building and working for.
I’m curious what piece of advice you would have for someone who wants to take action but looks at role model activists like yourself and says, I can’t do that, or I can’t be that, or I’m not powerful or whatever enough to be who they are. Like what is the beginning for someone?
Alixa: I feel like everybody’s powerful at something. Everybody’s an expert at something, at least one thing. You’re powerful in the kitchen. You’re powerful in the garden. You’re powerful teaching, you’re powerful strategizing, I mean everybody has some type of gift. You’re powerful at loving, you know, or forgiving, or showing others how to forgive, so, it’s not so much like, okay we’re gonna be artists or tap dancers or musicians to inspire, you can inspire every single day. And I think the biggest impacts always happen locally. They happen closest to home, they happen with your family, they happen with your best friends, and when you push people outside of their comfort zones. I think the most important thing really, if you want to be an activist, if you’re like, you know what, I know something is wrong, here, the best thing to do is equip yourself with the knowledge. Understand the historical context. Give yourself data to back your story up, so then when you get pressed up against other people’s boundaries, or discomfort, you can push them, through unnegotiable, truthful information. And I think that’s probably step number one, and then step number two is recognize what it is that you’re passionate and powerful about, and figure out how you’re going to file the tip of that arrow, and know what you’re aiming your arrow towards, you know? And once you align those three things, and then on top of that, have compassion for yourself, because everything takes time, learning takes time, becoming an expert at anything takes time, and it’s taken us the better part of thirteen years to even start to understand really what it is that we’re doing, and how to best execute what we’re doing. And we’re still learning, all the time. There’s so many things we could do better. But that’s part of the excitement, that’s part of the process, and that’s what it is. It’s the process. You know, you’re going to die, I’m gonna die, we’re gonna die, and this process is gonna continue. And the only thing that we can really do is be like, okay, I helped us move one step forward, maybe half a step forward, but I helped the collective move, you know. And we’re not gonna see the end goal. We’re not gonna see it. So just be joyous in the process, and be compassionate with yourself and trust it, and trust your information because you’ve researched it.
Naima: Yeah, I think that the piece Alixa was sharing--I mean everything you said I really related with--getting really in touch with what we’re passionate about and what drives us, I think is really important. When I think of a recipe for successful and sustainable activism, a passion really has to be involved in it. I also feel like feeling a sense of belonging to a community and accountability to a community is super crucial, so that as we identify...and of course we represent many many different communities, but when we’re really thinking about how we want to shape our activism, I think it’s really important to be like, rooted in the community you’re accountable to. You know, sometimes I notice--especially with people who are coming into activism, there’s a sense to want to focus really far away on problems that kind of seem really distant from our realities, but seem more pressing maybe than what’s close to home. Like, “I want to help those people over there,” and I think it’s really a healthy and rooted way to grow as change agents to be really connected in the relationship with the community that we’re trying to transform. So find that. So much of our work is pushing for change, pushing for change, pushing for change, but oftentimes when change comes into our own lives, it’s like, scary and uprooting, and we have a hard time dealing with the discomfort of change. So I think there’s work to be done for all of us in general, you know, in terms of figuring out how we can move through change in our own lives, as it hits us, whether we’ve invited it or not. To learn some really valuable lessons in how we help to steward and midwife our society into the changes that are necessary. And I think really moving from a heart-centered place is important. Cause when activism can be too much of a battle of righteousness and ideas and who’s right and who’s wrong, I feel like it can be very destructive and actually doesn’t push our goals forward. It can create a lot of just, more and more divisiveness. We start being in it because we want to feel like, more right than somebody else. And that shouldn’t ever be our goal. So I think that it’s just really important that we’re checking ourselves to make sure that we’re really moving from a place that includes all of us evolving. It isn’t just about winning points or being righteous or badass or contributing to something that’s like, trendy in the moment, or hashtagging that, you know what I mean? Like how do we bring our whole selves to it, how do we bring an inclusive embrace and intensive compassion in the work that we’re doing.
Alixa: And on that vein really quick, I find often in our social movement, especially as of late, that there’s a lot of, “well, you’re not doing it completely correct over there,” you know? And it’s like we’re holding each other to such insane standards, it’s like, we’re all human. And if somebody screws up, then have the courage to tell them to their face, and stay in the hard conversation, and know that their end goal is your end goal. And people are going to mess up along the way, always, we’re human, you know. But when we take that critique that we’ve been trained as activists on the problems and on the world outside into our own movement building, we end up criticizing ourselves out of our own liberation. And bringing people down before they can even get up. Before they can really rise up. And so we need a movement that is more cohesive, that is more compassionate, and that is more understanding, and that recognizes that it doesn’t matter, across the movement, it’s like any pendulum, it’s like any gradient. There’s gonna be some folks that know a lot about one thing, some folks that know a lot about some other stuff, some folks who are just beginning. And it’s about helping each other out. It’s like putting a hand out and recognizing that everybody’s trying to climb this cliff, you know what I mean? So why you gotta throw dirt on someone’s face? Like, nah, man, put your hands down, pull them up. They don’t know something, take the time to explain. Get into the hard conversations instead of just Facebooking and Twittering people and knocking them down, and being like, “well, they’re not feminist enough,” and it’s like whoa. Maybe they don’t get the full context yet, and you do. You know, help ‘em out. We’re all trying to get somewhere, you know? So I think it’s really important to kind of back off the critique to such an extent, you know? Like we should be criticizing ourselves in a positive way, so that you build folks, so that they’re excited. This work is hard, it is not glamorous, it’s not pretty, it doesn’t pay, you know what I mean? All we got is each other like, “I got your heart, I know where you’re coming from, okay, you stepped wrong there, but it’s cool, I’ma show you how to step over here better”, you know? And I think we need more of that right now. Cause we’re gonna implode otherwise. And that’s not gonna help anybody.
The last question is a SPACE tradition question, they do it every year, they have since the beginning, which is, if you were to be reincarnated as a farm animal, what would it be and why?
Alixa: A farm animal? I think I’d want to be a llama. They’re so cute. And I don’t think people really eat them. Do they eat them? Well, I would want to be on a farm where they wouldn’t eat me. Yeah, I would want to be a llama, and hang out with my llama family, and have them shave me when it’s hot, and use my wool to make pretty things, and let me die in peace, in some field, under a pretty tree or something. They’re so cute. I think I would get a lot of love from the kids.
Naima: If I had to be an animal that lived on a farm, but not necessarily a domesticated animal, I would love to be a hawk, and have a nice bird’s eye view of the farm. Get to experience soaring through the skies. That’s something I relate to a lot with farms because I often see hawks on farms, so I’m like, is that a farm animal? If it was a domesticated animal, probably I would be the barn cat that had house privileges and got to cuddle with the humans, but also run around the land and just have this amazing terrain to explore and play. Chase butterflies.
Alixa: Yeah maybe I’d change it. I think I wanna be a cat too.
Naima: Okay we can be friends.
Alixa: Yeah cause I want to be petted, but then run free and catch some mice.
Naima: I don’t want nobody to take my eggs, I don’t want nobody to kill me.
Alixa: That’s why I said, I’d be a llama if they didn’t kill me, and I could be loved by kids when they came from the local schools to pet the farm animals, love me.