Crafts + activism

Carina has an interesting interview with Sarah Corbett, the founder of the Craftivist Collective, on her blog this week. I’m always interested to read about what other crafters are doing and their motivation behind their work and this interview is particularly interesting as Sarah uses crafts as a form of activism.

In the interview, she brings up a couple of interesting ideas. For example, she suggests that doing crafts gives us the time to reflect on the issues at hand, where we fit in the activism process, and how we can best affect change. This is a really interesting perspective, because a lot of people promote the idea that we just need to get out there and *do* something, but she’s talking about taking the time to reflect on our individual role in the bigger picture. I think that this could allow for a better fit in terms of the type of activism we participate in (ex: finding activism activities that you enjoy and that suit your particular talents and skills) and for more meaningful and effective activism (because we’ve taken the time to figure out the course of action that works best for us). As an introvert, this really suits my lifestyle. I’m all for people who want to get out there and be physically present – via protests, public education, etc. – but it’s not something that I’m comfortable with because of the people factor and because I like to have a chance to stop and consider other people’s points of view before responding to comments, criticism, etc.

Sarah also talks about finding her activism niche:

I also joined activist groups in London to meet like minded people but just didn’t feel like I fitted in. I’m too scared to ride a bike, I love fashion and reading Vogue. I’m not a natural extrovert so don’t like dressing up, waving placards or the way many activist groups demonise people to change their ways rather than challenge them in a respectful loving way (which I think is more effective long term). Plus you were never given much opportunity to discuss issues because there was aways [sic] so much ‘doing’ to do. I was frustrated by shallow forms of clicktivism and slacktivism where you just signed lots of petitions but didn’t have to give an opinion or really buy in to an issue.

I have experienced many of the same issues when participating with activist groups in the past. Most of the groups I’ve tried to join in the past have committed at least one of these sins (usually unconsciously):

  • left me or others feeling inadequate despite our best efforts to fit in and follow the best course (I wasn’t granola enough, I didn’t hike or bike enough, etc.)
  • tried to mold me into the type of activist that I wasn’t (you couldn’t pay me to dress up for any cause – I don’t even dress up for fun!)
  • only offered tasks that I wasn’t comfortable with (calling for donations, accosting people on the street, etc.) neglected my strengths (like research and writing, which seems to be generally a privilege for long standing members, even if they aren’t very good at it)
  • pushed an all or nothing stance on the issues (instead of promoting a progression into better choices, where feasible, like a gradual shift into more eco friendly products or a more animal friendly diet)
  • alienated people who weren’t 100% committed to their lifestyle choice (I’m looking at you, self-righteous vegans) [Note: Not all vegans are jerks. I certainly tried to be nice when I only ate vegan and I know a few really nice vegans, but some are just plain rude, narrow-minded, privileged, and incredibly infuriating.]

To be fair, most non-profits are run by amateurs and are desperate for some basic (and, often, boring) tasks to be completed. They have limited funds, they have a hard time keeping volunteers (who are often only able to help evenings or weekends), etc. And, volunteering is meant to be a selfless donation of your time to help in whatever way possible. But, there comes a point when you just have to concede to the fact that you will never be OK with some tasks, and if organizers are going to pressure you into doing something you’re not OK with, you need to move on. For example, I hate door-to-door canvassers and cold-callers, so I won’t participate in doing either. There are other ways to engage people, especially in this digital age.

The point is, sometimes mainstream activism doesn’t work for you and you need to find something that does. Recently, I’ve been focusing on writing letters (not just signing petitions, but writing my own personal letter and mailing/emailing it to the relevant people), but sometimes that’s really boring. I like the idea of craftivism because it could be anything from making quilts for people in need to cross stitching protest posters. Both letter writing and crafts give you time to review/research the issue and reflect on how to address it. Crafts have the added bonus of allowing you to be creative and find an innovative way to be “heard”.

After years of being fairly disengaged, maybe it’s time I use my skills to do more then just share a rant on Facebook.

I encourage you to go and read the interview and find out some more about the Craftivism Collective and craftivism movement. It’s got roots in the U.K., but that doesn’t mean we can’t bring it over to Canada (or, wherever you live). Just take what they’re doing and modify it to suit your activism/issues of choice or use it as inspiration to do something completely new.

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