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The Compassionate Activist - a book for these times

Birthing a Book

I have been immersed in this work since 2019. Now is the time to stand back and watch it take its own place in the world. To see the book through other people's eyes is a real honour. I am deeply grateful to both Rutendo Ngara and Warren Nebe for their support and beautiful words. Their forewords position The Compassionate Activist within these times of 'many and immense challenges'.


Foreword by Rutendo Ngara, healer, philosopher and engineer

'Wholeness at a Time of Holeness': The year was 2020. Despite humanity’s quests for 2020 vision through the age of modernity, clarity of seeing instead found the world wading through murky waters in a raging storm - blindfolded. 2020 was a time of unraveling. At the hands of a microscopic sentient being, the COVID-19 virus, the world stopped in its tracks. Borders were closed, systems were shut down, economies catapulted into recession, health systems were strained, millions of sources of livelihood were lost and many of the prevailing ills of society were accentuated. The repetitive pleas of George Floyd, “I can’t breathe!”, as he was suffocated to death by a white policeman on 25 May 2020 reflected not only the modus operandi of the virus in restricting the body’s respiratory system’s ability to sustain life, but the constrictive nature of oppressive systems worldwide. “I can’t breathe!” similarly spoke to the shifts in environmental factors as climate change becomes a startling reality.

The pandemic catapulted the world into pandemonium, unearthing the collective pathologies of humanity – seen only in the dilated pupils of society. Yet even as the virus mutates into normality, wars of differing shades and timbres rage on. In its intelligence, the virus has been a catalyzing force. In its belligerence, the virus has been an illuminator. In its resilience, the virus has been an activator. To Nigerian philosopher, Bayo Akomolafe, Coronavirus is at once a Mother, a Monster and an Activist. He tells us, “The times are urgent, so let us slow down.”

During the throes of the chaos, a group of seasoned activists, scholars, artists, healers, visionaries and wisdom keepers began to gather in circle around the proverbial baobab tree, seeking to create new systems, foster new ways of working and build new paradigms for the future. In this, the Earthrise Collective braids the threads of Activism, Ancient Wisdom and Alternatives into a tapestry. As founding member of this Collective, Kabir Bavikatte, reflects, “The vision of Earthrise is one of Wholeness”. This is a Wholeness that reminds us that we are ‘a part’ and not ‘apart’ from life. This Wholeness is relational, while allowing each individual to embody their own ‘isnesses.’ This Wholeness affords each node or knot a place in the cosmic web. This Wholeness is at once a crease in the fabric of Life… and the very fabric itself. Yet this fabric is frayed at the edges. This crease has threads running bare. This vision is marred by the reality of “holeness”. Holes in our thinking. Holes in our doing. Holes in our being. Isness has long given way to an ‘othering’ proclivity. Innovativeness has long stepped aside for dwindling creativity. An apartheid of ideas - a segregative propensity - has bound us in captivity. The dimming spark of life creates shadows seen only at the dusk of an epoch.

At this time of turning we seek a common passion; we seek engaged activity; we seek an alternative activism in our present, rooted in ancient wisdom, as a feedback loop to shepherd us into the arms of a benevolent future. This is a moment that calls out to the spirit of Sankofa. It is a moment screaming for Ntu – the original real reality, the source-force and the unified field that animates Ubuntu. It is a moment calling for both outer and inner revolution.

Lucy Draper-Clarke’s work provides us such a bridge. The Compassionate Activist draws many tributaries from universal wisdoms, rooting us into the mutual duality of reality. Activism can foster meaningful engagement only if it takes time out to contemplate. It is in the stillness that action is born. It can only illuminate and shift the status quo when it delves into the shadows that merge into the night, eventually making way for the clarity of the day. In a time when inequality and lack of equity abounds, activism calls us into the realms of equanimity. We slow down into the urgency. Trans-formation, re-storation and re-generation, can only begin from within. This work- and play-book gives us new tools to create alternative fabrics of reality. It gives us new threads to weave fresh tapestries of creativity. It gives us new imaginaries to manifest emergent fractals of activity. It brings a 2020 vision of wholeness into a time of holeness.


Foreword by Warren Nebe, Founder, Drama for Life, University of the Witwatersrand

In a time of profound hurt. In a time when people are walking wounded. In a time of local, national, and global catastrophe, Lucy Draper-Clarke’s The Compassionate Activist opens a door for us to bridge an old world order; one that will surely see our demise as a human species if we do not evolve into a conscious, compassionate, and responsive world to address the urgent crises we face.

The Compassionate Activist is born in a country that is the most unequal in the world. South Africa is plagued by a legacy of Colonialism, Apartheid, and corruption, in a context of crippling global inequality, as witnessed by the COVID-19 pandemic, where unemployment, substance use, and violence are epidemics. The country’s public discourse has been hijacked by international and local economic and reactionary forces that propel dialogue into binaries, minimising complexity and nuance, creating alternate narratives devoid of reality, and rendering it difficult to usher in critical change through informed, meaningful conversation and action. These challenges are by no means unique to South Africa.

My work with young people studying to become facilitators of social change constantly reveals that they are attuned to the complex reality they find themselves in, and understand significantly the crises humanity faces. Still, they all too often express overwhelm and hopelessness. The greater the national and global crises, the more they turn inward, focusing on the domestic or personal realms. In this space of the individual, an area limited in context, young people are becoming psychologically entangled, losing significant social relationships, and battling mental health demons that are often the business of a public health emergency and not a private affair. This implosion of self in the world sorely needs agency, voice, and social engagement as its medicine. Our desire may be for the old world order that has produced the climate emergency to implode, but we certainly don’t want our children and youth to implode. This is no answer for finding our way into the future. So, how do we begin to map routes for ourselves, young and old, to become the change we urgently seek?

I recently worked with a large team of professional facilitators for gender-based violence (GBV) prevention for a mining company and its surrounding communities in a remote, arid region in South Africa. Over three months, we engaged with peoples’ stories about micro and macro gender-based aggressions, stories of traumatic memory, and stories that spoke to the present unspeakable crisis. Our purpose was to listen to diverse peoples’ stories from all sectors and levels of the workplace, within the mines and communities, to witness those stories and reflect them back to those who had the courage to tell them publicly. GBV is a complex matter. It requires a depth of engagement that goes to the heart of what social change requires. A challenge arises when the problem is of epidemic proportions, just like in a war context, where everyone is implicitly or explicitly implicated. Our job is to activate and unravel the stories of violence enacted through the politics of gender; to name the problem so we can understand what it is we need to address; and to find ways to keep people listening and engaged.

Early on in the process, I needed to reflect personally on how I was showing up. Here I was, inviting stories about violence into the public space, no matter who the teller was and what the content was, with the promise that I could hold, witness, and reflect them back, without judgement. On the one hand, I was entering the space as an activist seeking to unearth the causes of the triggers of violence, whether large or small. My position was clear. We needed to fight this scourge in our society. On the other hand, I needed to be a compassionate witness the storytelling to elicit a public understanding of the violence. It was, in this instance, a moment of spiritual reckoning. Not only did I need to reflect on how GBV has permeated my life, but I also had to revisit the permeable relationship between victim and perpetrator. In this, I was guided by my training, professional experience, and approach. Alice Walker’s work served as a guiding force. The cyclical nature of the abuser and abused when trauma remains buried and unconscious is at the heart of this work. But, still. This was not enough to give me the grounding, integrity, and authenticity I was personally looking for.

What did I need to do to face a group of people with integrity? What did I need to do to be present, to listen, and to hold space without judgement, fear, or unconscious punitive nuances indicated in the eye, head, hand movement, or verbal utterance? How could I be compassionate in my presence?

In a moment, standing before white Afrikaans men whom I’d grown up fearing because of the historical, cultural, and political violence; meeting the eyes of Black men and women who distrust men like me with white skins; facing men who fear and hate Queer men like me; being repulsed by those who clearly don’t believe GBV is a problem; and looking at women and men who hold painful, anguish-filled stories, I meditated. If I love myself enough, I said to myself, I can love you. In that moment, I could stand separate, firmly rooted on the ground, present to who was in the room, and open to receive their stories. All of their stories. I could be the activist helping to unearth the individual, social, and systemic stories of trauma, and I could be the compassionate witness who hears the stories of psychological, social, and professional cycles of abuse. Being compassionate with myself, with all of who I am, allowed me to not lose myself in the overwhelm of trauma and stress embedded in each and every story. bell hooks’ legacy of transformative love was my teacher here. Being compassionate allowed me to be separate, but connected with every storyteller. It sustained my ability to keep showing up as a compassionate activist. Sustainable change in a time of unprecedented crises that emerged from love.

It is here that Lucy’s The Compassionate Activist offers a significant way forward for our work in education, development, therapy, and activism. Drawing on her own rich experience that cuts across three continents, carefully bridging Western traditions of learning and science with Eastern traditions of spirituality, and landing in Southern Africa, Lucy manages to lucidly navigate and integrate pathways for becoming a transformative activist in the 21st century.

This book is a powerful road map for seasoned and young activists worldwide. And here, I speak of activists as our future leaders, teachers, economists, therapists, artists, social workers, farmers, and climate change and sustainable environmental practitioners. It is a deeply felt and gentle evocation for all of us to take stock of our internal resources, attitudes, and assumptions about activism, guiding us to explore what will sustain us in becoming genuinely compassionate in, and through, our activism.

Above all, and importantly, it offers hope in a time of many and immense challenges.

What's Inside?

The chapter headings below outline the journey on which this book will take you:

  • Introduction

  • A Call to Stillness

  • Circles of Safety

  • Ways to Engage

  • Our Indestructible Essence

  • The Activist’s Achilles

  • The Activist Archetype

  • Enlightened Self-Interest

  • A Life of Purpose

  • Resourcing and Self-Care

  • Joy as Insurrection

  • Moving Forward


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