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Inspiring Friends: Bell Campanita


Brainstorming this Inspiring Friends series, the word I wrote beside Bell Campanita’s name in giant, impassioned letters was


She is the definition of kick-ass resilience, creativity and considered, generous intellect. Every one of her passion projects emerges from her core values of action, compassion and the creation of alternative support networks. Bell is an exceptionally talented musician, artist, writer, thinker and activist. She is the person I think of when making large decisions that require that most crucial of questions: is this in tune with me?

Join us as we chat about spiritual wellness, anarchism, forgiveness and being true to your heart.

Did you always have a sense of yourself as part of a larger whole or did you have a particular moment of awakening?

My parents have never been political in their thinking but they were quite spiritual. They went on a lot of quests and journeys and had various gurus and meditation practices. I always went to Steiner schools which, even though I moved a lot, were quite small, tight knit communities, particularly the class I was in on Whidby Island near Seattle. It was 10 girls and we were together for 5 years.

During that time, I learned about accountability and consequences of actions and how to overcome differences and things like that, in this tiny little school in the woods.

And when did you first translate that into becoming politically active? Was that a conscious thing?

I don’t know if it was ever conscious but I started getting involved in activism via animal rights and through that became introduced to people and groups and literatures that came from an anarchist position on things. My awareness blossomed out from animal issues to social issues and broader environmental issues and I guess I collected awareness little by little about different interconnecting things. I’m still learning, of course.

And how does your political activism intersect with spirituality?

Spirituality is an ongoing challenge for me – how to reconcile the political with the spiritual. Maybe reconcile isn’t the right word. Because they are not really in conflict. But I guess the analysis of the choices you make and implications of them in the world can be quite cranial and intellectual. You have to figure out how to maintain your well of spirit energy for guiding you through the quagmire of that.


When you’re in the muck of standing up against something – being ‘resistant’ – how do you remain hopeful?

The word struggle gets used a lot with regard to movements for change. It’s about going against the flow of the status quo and pushing up against walls that seem impossibly fortified. It can be draining and feel futile and it’s not rewarding in any conventional sense. Capitalism is not going to reward you for standing up against capitalism! Trying to make a living and do all that stuff whilst also trying to challenge injustices or work on the things that are being neglected and need attention can be hard.

I think my ongoing meditation work, which is not formal in any sense, helps. Just having faith in my self and my heart and my motivations.

And having the courage to take these steps towards trying to make change even knowing I’ll make missteps and I’ll step on toes and I’ll do classic annoying stuff that white people do or cis gendered people or whatever my assemblage of privileges affords me. Trying to be an ally for people less privileged than I am means there are all sorts of pitfalls that can make you feel like freaking out or giving up.

So you’ve got to have a really good inner well of, ‘OK, I know where I’m coming from and I know where my heart is and what my intentions and motivations are.’ And it’s OK to make mistakes as long as I’m open to graciously accepting being called out or pulled up on those mistakes.

In terms of being forgiving of yourself, maybe it helps to zoom out towards the bigger picture and hold that simultaneous macro micro view. Seeing the small steps you take within your community as achievements whilst also keeping an awareness of the whole idea.

Yes, struggle against giant structural forces like institutional racism, sexism and colonization is a macro, the zooming out thing. It’s important to remember the stuff that changes those big things is intergenerational and long term. I’ve let go of need or expectation to see ginormous transformations according to my ideals in my life time. But I don’t see that as a failure.

Even if I just leave some work for whatever generation does find that sweet spot, that great way to really push through revolutionary change. To be able to give them a sense that there were people chipping away at this stuff – that’s worthwhile.


And this sort of participatory, grass roots change is what Blackstar is a home for. When I first came to Blackstar (Dunedin’s radical bookshop and information centre), I didn’t really know what anarchism was – I think I had a cartoonish idea of it and that was all. Could you offer a little wrap up of it?

Sure! There are lots of different kinds of anarchism, but there are some universal things you can say.

All anarchists have in common the belief that human beings are fundamentally capable of organising their affairs and their lives and their communities peacefully without coercive authority.

Anarchists don’t believe that there’s a ready made blueprint for a utopian society – the whole point is that people make it up as they go along. Everyone is involved in figuring out what’s going to work and that’s going to be different in every context. So not only do hierarchical forms of organization reinforce and maintain inequalities and oppressive relationships, they also dull our capacity for free voluntary cooperation.

So at its core, anarchy is dynamic and grass roots and will change according to its context. Its central ethic is relation and working together sustainably?

Totally. It’s about everyone who will be affected by decisions being able to contribute to those decisions. It’s about working towards a profoundly participatory democracy.

What started you thinking about teaching self defence classes to girls and women?

I did some self defence classes at a radical feminist gathering in Europe and found it so empowering and inspiring. When I finished my honours, I got an email from the Aotearoa anarchist feminist list and it was a call out from the Womens Self Defence network who were looking to train up new teachers.

And a light bulb went on, like sometimes happens. Sometimes I do have clarity! I whakamau, grasp on to something! And I thought, yes! I’m going to go for it!

So I applied and it was a long process because it is really really specialised work and it’s a lot of investment for them as a grass roots group, so they want to make sure they have the right people. I’m into the second year of my training – learning different curriculum for the different demographics of women and girls and for the different sets of challenges.

It’s a holistic course, which I really value.

In what ways?

In the sense that it comes from a feminist perspective that acknowledges the structural and political as well as the personal. It’s very keenly aware of the kind of potentially slippery zone between empowering women to take action to stay safe and letting the abusers or attackers off the hook by focusing only on what women are doing. You know, that kind of victim blaming?

Great importance is placed on keeping the space safe and empowering. Especially for survivors, which 1 in 3 of us are. It can be hard and triggering to have those conversations and practice those moves, especially in the context of things that have actually happened to you.

It’s never ever wanting women to feel like they should have done something in that moment, or somehow failed, you know?

So, unlike going to a karate 101 course when its like, ‘here’s a stranglehold’, there’s a lot of conversation around encouraging a sense of entitlement to be safe. We talk about the difference between healthy and abusive relationships, we have workshopping activities and role plays, which can be fun too and hilarious. And it’s just really really useful to practise.

You need muscle memory to bring out a punch and the same goes for verbal assertiveness. Often you find yourself in a situation where you’re being disrespected in some way and you’re doubtful of your capacity to do anything. If your default is to be accommodating and nice at all costs, you have to get into the mode of responding differently. And how do you do that without practice?

Yes, you have to retrain your habitual responses into ones that are more empowered and ultimately genuine.

That brings us back to the start of our conversation and pretty much explains why I wanted to have this great chat with you, Bell. To put out there the importance of listening to your instinct and living a life attuned to your values. And also of forgiving yourself.

Thank you so so much, Bell – always a joy! xx

(Bell will be holding a self defence day on Saturday 27th September 2014 at the Ante Room, Port Chalmers. Contact her at for more information.)

(Others in the Inspiring Friends Series: Louise Greenstock on moon rhythms, Katie Cae on yoga and nutrition on the road; Mara Simpson on songwriting and the kindness of strangers.)

Extra thoughts after the interview…

{PS} On my way home from Blackstar, I drifted into the spirit section of Paper Plus (a pretty unusual move!) and picked up a book I would perhaps not normally reach for: Wayne Dyer’s The Shift.

Flicking through, I found his 7 components to shifting towards living a life of meaning, and if Bell hadn’t covered every single one of these in our discussion!

I’ll paraphrase them here for interest. I think they’re super valuable:

1. We shift to personal empowerment

2. We see ourselves as connected to a larger whole.

3. We are motivated by ethics and life quality.

4. We shift to the possibility and expectation of miracles in daily life.

5. We have a meditation practice.

6. We recognise ourselves in nature’s beauty and intricacy.

7. We become less judgemental and easily understand and forgive.

Would love to hear your thoughts on these 7 steps and whether they are a part of your life.

Love, as always xxx

{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Claire August 29, 2014, 6:15 am

    How inspiring you both are: intelligent and expressive of your wise selves. Nga mihi aroha ki a korua. ( and please repost and share this) Cx

  • Joan Fleming August 31, 2014, 1:58 am

    Freshly reminded of my own ability to live a life of integrity, the life I have always imagined! The insight about verbal assertiveness being a muscle memory really struck a chord. Thank you for both for existing in the world and for humbly broadcasting your kick-ass wisdom.

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