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The World as It Is, as It Could Be, and the Spaces Between

At a community coalition meeting several weeks ago, I took on the role of a “spider”—building relationships with different people and connecting their work together. I had one of those magical moments of thinking, “THIS is my work!” I am energized by listening to people, facilitating spaces for sharing stories, and finding collective unity among seemingly disparate parts.

I started learning how to “weave” as I heard stories from different people in my home of Flagstaff, Arizona. I deepened my understanding of things as interconnected and intersectional: complex, different, and yet, overlapping.

I’m now lucky enough to get to work on my masters in Sustainable Communities at Northern Arizona University. For my research, I am writing collaborative poetry in an attempt to center stories, emotions, intuition, creativity, imagination, and complexity.

I wanted to bring together activists to slow down together, dialogue, and hear each other. The process is emergent—it’s collectively created in the moment and unfolds through dialogue.

I’m still in the beginning stages of this research process, and so far I have only completed one group dialogue/writing session. This first group of co-writers are all in their twenties, living in Flagstaff, and act for justice related to education, energy democracy, immigration, total liberation, and environmental justice. Each person wrote about 1-2 pages of creative writing after our long group discussion on the world as it could be. Then, I deconstructed each poem and wove lines/stanzas together so that everyone’s voice remains intact but woven with the others. The authors are Frankie Beesley, Sara Johnston, Madison Ledgerwood, Kelsey Morales, Mara Pfeffer, and Nina Porter.

Here is a selection from this series of poems (click here for the entire series):

A public reading by (L-R) Nina Porter, Danielle Austin, and Frankie Beesley at the Climate Justice Stories Night in Flagstaff, Arizona, on May 18, 2018.

Part 1

The World as it is: Neoliberalism’s Hold on our Psyches

honesty (calling ourselves, each other, systems out)

The change happens

as we pay our debts,

pay visit to our shame and

then let it go.

Trapped by the fists and structures of patriarchy

our limits controlled by alienations, isolate

from the power we hold within

To be an individual means to pull yourself up

clinging to any sense of self given to you by

the power that be

who are we? what are we? how are we?

what could be?


Justice takes me back to driving past the hillsides of Richmond littered and tainted with the remnants of Chevron’s oil refineries and trying to imagine how people have lived there for so long. I can’t help but to think back to a story I was told when in 2012 15,000 people were hospitalized from open flaring over the course of two weeks. How in this so-called modern and progressive country that we live in, is this tolerated and accepted? It’s accepted because Western society sees the lives of its colored members as disposable, invaluable, and sacrificial.

The injustices I saw in Richmond bring me back to my own community on the East side of Flagstaff where a large majority of the population are Latino, working class people just trying to make a living and raise their families in this co-called democracy.


We tune into the suffering of

life on earth, the last breath

of a hummingbird,

the falling of a

ponderosa, the blood of our

brothers and sisters

who protected us and persisted

Part 3

Coming Together to Heal: The Prefigurative &Transformational, Encircled

A place where womyn bleed with the moon

and swoon at their collective energy

healing the bruises laid by the dominant

forces with kisses and lavender laughter meditations


spiritual ecstasy-

when someone makes your

first cup of coffee in the morning-

communal food-

rooftop solar-

fire crackle-

raven cackle-

We hear the cries

of the earth. We let go. We cry, we let go.


dreams + calls for justice

from our ancestors + our children + our kin across

time, across space

cackling louder than

the ravens who watch us,

laughing as they remember

Dandelions push through cement.

Witches and peasants revolt.

500 years of indigenous resistance




realizing that it takes the same dialogical, emotional work

to change systems as it does to change hearts and minds.

We gather advice from

the wind, the fire we

circle, the wolves that howl,

the water that flows.

Part 4

Interconnection: All Life & Relationality

The spaces between.

Change happens

between us.

Relational trauma is healed


We sing, we hold each other,

we listen to the wind.

We breathe, we touch

the heart centers of every

human present, we lay

and exchange love for the earth.

The work is reconnecting.

It happens between us.

Happens between our many worlds.

The work happens where our edges meet,

where we come together.

The journey to and through the cracks cannot

be done alone. Fresh mint, bees,

whispers, crackling embers, and loved ones

sitting on porches- we must feel, see hear,

breathe, love, and taste it all. In community

the healing begins.

Part 5

Trust The Process: We Are Worth it


The change happens

as we find each other

and find the courage to

face the unknown


embracing change. These are brave times, we are a brave lineage


vulnerability (seeking what is not familiar)

we talk together

and sometimes we

don’t really know

how to do that

but if we’re in it together

that’s enough

With practice,

over and over again,

within the safety to fail

over and over,



It takes setting boundaries and saying, “NO.”

We are worth it.

We are worth the time and dialogical, emotional work

it takes to find a “YES,” together.

We are worth it.

Si se puede.

We chant,

we are love

we are love

we are Earth

we are worth it

We are worth it.

We are.

We are the plants and animals, the earth and the cosmos.

And, we are worth it.

Danielle Austin

Danielle Austin grew up in Northern Arizona, a place that she is deeply passionate about and committed to. She is currently working on her thesis in the Sustainable Communities program at Northern Arizona University. Her thesis is an inquiry into how migrant justice leaders imagine possibilities for change, especially as climate chaos threatens everything. She uses poetry and collaborative methods to co-create knowledge with others, believing that we must all bring our most creative and imaginative selves to the work together. She also teachers yoga and enjoys any chance to practice collective healing, growing, and playing.

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