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Panthea Lee:
the joyous, bright, loving history that is ours to forge

Panthea’s work bridges perspectives, disciplines and divides. Without looking at the past and without healing from it, she believes we can never truly move forward. So, as a strategist, organizer and facilitator, Panthea helps people explore what type of solidarity can heal, nourish and liberate us and keep us alive to one another’s beauty and humanity as well as each other’s suffering. She asks how we can begin to dream again and dream bigger from a place of curiosity and expansiveness and abundance and joy and delicious, juicy, open imagination.

Made by Jo Barratt. Conceived by Jo Barratt and Gemma Mortensen, with Iris Andrews and Lily Piachaud.

Music is made for New Constellations by Art School Girlfriend.


I don’t know if you can hear this and maybe I’m being hypersensitive. I know I’m supposed to be in as quiet a place as possible, but when you live in Brooklyn, there is no quiet place. Or at least I am not wealthy enough to live in places that are quiet. Sirens and lately fireworks and parties and ice cream trucks and all that around so I don’t know why we actually are allowed to still just shoot fireworks everywhere, like beyond being dangerous, they’re also just really incredibly triggering and scary for folks that have lived through conflicted zones. But anyways, that’s America for you.

I really try and I think it is also how I’m wired, to listen for and look for the best in each person I meet and to try and help them harness their magic in pursuit of wellbeing for themselves and justice in our world. I’m an ethnographer by training. I worked as a journalist. I’ve interviewed you know so many people at this point and I love what happens to people, how folks transform when you listen to them, generously actively, in a way, I think there’s a type of listening that can be really healing for folks when they feel really seen and held and supported and I think it can lead to wonderful revelations. I really see myself as someone whose work and calling is to act as a bridge between perspectives, between disciplines, between divides. And I’ve come to understand that it is really difficult work. It’s also exhausting work. It’s very time consuming and folks don’t usually give facilitators, mediators, the space that we need to do our work really well which is to spend a lot of time with folks individually, understanding their perspective, understanding where they come from. But when I look deeply enough, I can understand, I can see how they got to be this way and why they might hold views or act in ways that I don’t agree with. And even if their views and their ways of being harms me or harms people that I love, I think this work needs to be done. I think we can’t turn away from each other. I think we can’t burrow in our communities of folks that are like-minded.

I see myself lying in the grass at Herbert Von King Park. It was one of the first parks in Brooklyn, actually. And it’s got this playground and an amphitheater where parties happen on the weekend and it’s just, yeah, when you walk around, there’s always neighbours hanging out, kids playing, folks barbecuing. It’s always like a rawkus, buoyant, boisterous environment. It’s just the best time. You know, this place got me through a lot of the pandemic that we just went through and, even forgetting about the pandemic, I think sometimes when I’m spiralling and in one of my low points, I guess, as it were, I’ll just remind myself to put on my shoes and get out of the house and walk to the park. The world’s not going to shit. Things are okay. One day at a time, and we have people in community and friendship and laughter and we’ll get through this. So yeah, this park has given me a lot.

I was born in Taipei, Taiwan, four years before the longest period of martial law in the world at that time ended. It’s certainly left all sorts of marks and scars and wounds and memories on my family. Something that I’m still trying to untangle, to this day. My family immigrated to Canada when I was six. And so I grew up on the stolen lands of the Coast Salish peoples, or currently, colonially, known as Vancouver, Canada. We were a family and a people that accepted our fate, where we had been placed in the pecking order. And we fought as hard as we could to survive and to, I guess, make our children’s lives better than the generation before. And we took an ahistorical approach to getting on with it because it didn’t serve us to question the past. It simply hurt too much. And I guess this past is kind of painful for me to remember because I see the way that that way of being sits in my people, sits in my family, sits in my aunts and uncles and how that continues to live in our bodies, how that continues to impact how we interact with one another and the world. And there is a sense of resignation. But I guess, you know, I’ve come to learn that without looking at the past and without healing from it and without confronting our histories and challenging why we are where we are, we can never truly move forward.

I guess I’m questioning a lot. I have come to see how my family’s history of not questioning, of not asking questions, has, and it’s my own responsibility, but I think for a long time, led me down a path of not asking for enough, not asking for radical enough change, not asking for structural enough solutions, being willing to accept compromises, being more willing to negotiate. I feel like I have accepted a lot of theories of change, as it were, that, yeah, just aren’t radical enough for what we need for the type of beautiful, joyous, expansive nourishing world that I think we need to see. And in many ways I think I realized that I’ve been recolonizing myself by accepting these as enough, as, as far as we can go. I have been accepting not good enough. We have to define our freedom, our liberation, our joy, our success on our terms. Power likes to hold on to power. It has solidified the ground that I stand on. I feel stronger and more powerful and more willing to challenge. And hey, you know, I guess I think the stereotype is that you get more and more conservative and I find myself getting more and more radical. Yeah. I’m just, I’m in a period of reflection and imagination and dreaming anew.

And I guess I’ve realized I actually need very little in terms of what I’ve been told I need. Material goods, accomplishment, security (I’m okay without security because of what I have to sacrifice to get it). And yet I need, I need so much, I need to feel really good in my body, in my decisions, in who I surround myself with. In knowing that I am staying true to my values and I am unwavering in how I show up for the things that I believe in. I lived a lot in my head, I guess. And I think many of us do. We are detached or dissociated or unable to connect with our grounding and our life force and I think we live in our head. You know, I’m someone who, in certain parts of my life, I am paid to think, I’m paid to come up with ideas. People want to hear ideas and abstract concepts. And so it is fun to play in the world of ideas. But when we do so that’s disconnected from our own grounding and our own life force, and when we do that collectively, I think it can be very, very dangerous. And so a lot, like a huge part, of my own work and my own journey has been about coming back to myself. And I think reclaiming that means healing from my own pains and my own traumas. And it’s also a political act. It is standing up against the systemic, historical, accumulated denial of my rights and my power and my joy as an immigrant woman of colour living in this violent, greedy and often morally bankrupt world and then working within systems and institutions of hypocrisy where my lived experience is rarely valued, where the lived experience of people that I love and care for is rarely valued, or pay lip-service to, and where I feel consistently gaslighted. And so, yeah, I think in part I’m on a journey of reclaiming my own intuition.

I think fear is too much of a driving emotion nowadays. I think the way that we’re engaging with each other, particularly sort of online, is really cultivating fear in others. It’s cultivating a fear to act. You know, people are scared of not being enough or not knowing enough or not saying the right thing or not knowing the right history. And I think we’re so quick now to call out each other and to, you know, even cancel each other. And I think cancel culture came out of a place where, yeah, there was a need for accountability and to hold power holders to account. But I think now it is so easy to weaponize and use it against one another that I think it’s really preventing many folks that want to act from acting because we’re so quick to police one another now. I think there is also a fear of, well then what happens to my status, my title, my power, my income, my whatnot. Well, you know, it is so hard to work yourself up to that level to be able to have influence. Like… use it, use it. We’ve just got to be more gracious with each other. I think we’ve got to be more kind. We’ve got to be more accepting. We’ve got to be more loving. We’ve got to be more generous.

And also, I think we need to remember how to dream again and dream bigger from a place of curiosity and expansiveness and abundance and joy and delicious, juicy, open imagination. And I know we’re very good at saying what we’re scared of and what we’re against, but increasingly we’re less and less good at saying what we’re for and what we want. And we have to reactivate that muscle and white supremacy and patriarchy and capitalism will beat us down until we can’t imagine anymore, until we can’t imagine bigger anymore. And we got to fight against that and we’ve got to open our arms and welcome anyone that wants to do this work with us.

Curiosity is a wonderful thing to be driven by. I still have a sense, I have a deep sense of urgency, but it is no longer about the speed at which I am doing things and acting. And rather it is from the depth of how I’m acting.

I’m forever motivated by the questions around how we remain alive to one another’s beauty and humanity and each other’s suffering. I see my work as how can I weave different ways of thinking about these questions and how can I help people understand the humanity in one another and find common ground despite the incentives for polarization and for divisiveness. How can we honor the richness and the uniqueness of our individual experiences while forging connections and narratives and futures that celebrate, protect, and uplift our undeniable common dignity.

Why do we want what we want?

Why do we choose the fights that we choose?

Are the ways that we’re showing up… do they make us happy?

What are the costs of this on others?

Yeah. What have we got to lose by new ways of dreaming and thinking and being, and showing up and being in relationship with one another? I think these are the questions that we need to ask ourselves and it’s never too early or too late to be asking these questions.

I guess, for my closest chosen family, and for others that I am in community with and work with and collaborate with, I expect them to do the heart work, the tough inner work. I expect emotional and intellectual honesty. And I expect them to call me out when I’m not being emotionally or intellectually honest. To try and hold me and support me, but to not talk me out of doing the things that I’m passionate about, because it’ll be easier.

I’m really fascinated by how we not just accept but come to celebrate and cherish different ways of seeing and knowing and relating to our world and to one another. I think so often this is reduced to interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary work, but I actually think even though we can celebrate and recognize the value of different disciplines, I think we do a really poor job of integrating them together. And so for me, I’m really fascinated in how we integrate all these different disciplines to create new and bigger dreams that are just more beautiful and delicious than is possible in any one discipline. How do we ensure our world centers the politics of care and healing? How do we ensure that the, you know, quote unquote softer or squishier disciplines are really elevated in how we are designing our world into the future. And cultural organizing that can expand our imaginations and forms of participatory and deliberative democracy that can really show us how we, the people, actually have all the answers. We have all that we need we just need to be able to come together in spaces that are safe and nurturing and be supported in seeing past the lies that we’ve been sold about why and how we are different. To come together, to heal and to have difficult and searching conversations and to overcome these differences, to make amends with one another, to grapple with our histories and to say never again. And so that we can move forward in beautiful unity. Yeah. Really build the world that we all deserve.

Let me move a bit on my bed.

So when I close my eyes and I think about the future that I want to live in, I see so much less stuff. I see so many fewer buildings and shops and towers and just ephemera and structures of capitalism. I see so many more lush green spaces, places to gather and commune and play. And space is filled with art that grounds us, that inspires us, that stokes our imagination and our sense of play. I don’t know, just walking around I feel connection and community that feels delicious and joyous and boisterous and laughter ringing everywhere. Yeah, you know, I hope that 50 years into the future, we will look back and say, you know, those conversations that they had back then around racial justice, environmental justice, economic justice, conversations on decolonization and global inequity and economic justice, they have led to a fundamental change in how we understand our histories, how we got to be this way and how we relate to one another. When, where, and to whom you’re born in the world can no longer be equated to either winning the lottery nor being sentenced to a lifetime struggle that, if it doesn’t kill you will certainly break your spirit. And every child brought into this world is nurtured and seen as a gift to the parents, yes, but also to everyone that encounters the child, because everyone is celebrated for who they are, and their unique questions, their interests, their loves, their abilities and their unique and beautiful ways of expressing themselves are all seen and honoured on their own terms because there is no longer a prescriptive normal. There’s no good nor bad. We finally realise how that made no sense and we see that everyone is dazzling in their uniqueness. That is their power, and we respect that power. And so as a result, our world is more vivid and more curious and more brilliant.

We all move in the world, carrying with us that sense of a history. The divisive, oppressive, hurtful, violent history that we have overcome. And with the weight and the hope and the possibility of history, the joyous, brilliant, the bright, loving history that is ours to forge. We will get there because we had the audacity to imagine. The discipline to keep setting our sights on kin and communities, beyond ourselves and in ever increasing concentric circles of care. And to never stop caring and hoping for more and more humans and beings to have justice and joy.

I guess that’s the one question: What would it look like for us to come together in a type of solidarity that heals, nourishes and liberates us? I think that’s the constellation, that’s the formation we need to get into to create the world that we all deserve.