How to be a Craftivist

If we want a world that is beautiful, kind and fair, shouldn’t our activism be beautiful, kind and fair?

Award-winning campaigner and founder of the Craftivist Collective Sarah Corbett shows how to respond to injustice not with apathy or aggression, but with gentle, effective protest.

This is a manifesto – for a more respectful and contemplative activism; for conversation and collaboration where too often there is division and conflict; for using craft to engage, empower and encourage us all to be the change we wish to see in the world.

Quiet action can sometimes speak as powerfully as the loudest voice. With thoughtful principles, practical examples and honest stories from her own experience as a once burnt-out activist, Corbett shows how activism through craft can produce long-lasting positive change.

I read How to be a Craftivist by Sarah Corbett for a book club I’m part of, and I have to say my feelings were mixed. Part call to action, part campaign strategy and part activism memoir, the book details how Corbett launched her craftivist movement and the hard won successes of her creative campaigns.

There was a lot about her movement that I liked. For a lot of people, joining a march or – god forbid – canvassing feels difficult if not impossible (I know there can be some privilege wrapped up in this. I’m getting to it). As such, Corbett coming forward with a version of activism that holds out a hand to shy types to whom walking up to a stranger with a petition would feel like actual death felt inviting without being accusatory.

Her campaigns are so creative – with emphasis on using sustainable and ethically sourced materials (rather than, say, feminist slogan tees made by women making less than minimum wage in unsafe factories…). From creating small scrolls to slip in the pockets of garments at fast fashion stores asking #whomademyclothes to messages carefully stitched onto handkerchiefs and sent to local politicians, Corbett breaks down her campaigns stage by stage, inviting the reader to get involved at every turn. She describes how she goes about building relationships with those on the opposing side of the argument, and it is certainly interesting to see how she manages to engage with some powerful people using craftivism, getting them to interact with her work in a way they haven’t with activism before. Through her work she inspires people to communicate with her on an issue rather than go on the defence – something that often feels impossible to achieve.

She also makes a huge point of solidarity over sympathy; so, creating campaigns that centre the people affected by the issue with understanding that they know what the solutions to their problems are. People aren’t waiting for you to walk in and save them, they’re looking for support.

All that said, I have to admit I had a really hard time with her consistent use of the term ‘gentle’ to describe her method of protest. While I know I am coming at this with a certain amount of internalised gender-related garbage, the way her work emphasised being agreeable and non-threatening jarred with me. I wish that Corbett had addressed this, or at least taken an analytical stance on the way that agreeableness has been demanded of women to their massive detriment over time, but she never did.

And then there’s the issue of privilege. Sarah Corbett is a white woman (as am I) so carrying a lot of privilege that I don’t necessarily feel that she addresses particularly well during the book. As it goes on, it starts to feel like she is placing gentle protest in opposition to what she considers aggressive protest, and it was this slowly encroaching binary that I found myself taking issue with more and more. While I think her methods absolutely have value (she has achieved a hell of a lot more than I ever have!), I think that it’s much easier to make a gift for your local politician attached to a very friendly letter, as she recommends, when you’re dealing with a situation you’re not currently affected by. Right? If you’re personally impacted by the ‘hostile environment’ immigration practices or benefits cuts currently screwing over hundreds of thousands of people you’re probably going to feel a lot more like yelling in someone’s face – and I don’t think you would be wrong to do that.

Like I said earlier, craftivism, according to Corbett’s ideals is at least partly about welcoming in people uncomfortable with other forms of activism – I actually fall into this group. I deal with pretty bad social anxiety so the intensity of activism fills me with FEAR. But I also wonder whether we should expect – or even aspire, in this situation – to feel comfortable? Especially if you’re a white woman. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my own accountability, and in particular all of the various (many) ways in which I don’t live up to my own ideals, and while a lot of actions Corbett presents in the book are great, there was a degree to which I felt she was offering people a way out of getting their hands dirty.

I guess I’m on the fence. There were times while reading that Corbett totally lost me – she tells this weird story about getting dumped by a Tinder date because he ‘didn’t want to date an activist’ until she told him that she was actually an agreeable nice activist, not an ‘angry’ one. I was waiting for her to be like and the moral of the story is fuck that guy, but instead she ended up dating him after she convinced him of her ‘gentle nature’. But at other times her methods really appealed to me, particularly in terms of her tenacity and her approach to a campaign as a long-term commitment.

Have you read How to be a Craftivist? What do you think?

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The most beautiful bookshop in the world

Today we’re going to try a different style of blog post. Exciting, I know. This week I’ve been on holiday in Venice (as you likely already know if you follow me on Instagram), so I figured I’d share a few tips for getting the most out of the beautiful floating city.

I actually didn’t have many expectations as I arrived in Venice on Monday evening. While I had scrolled through some pictures of the place on Instagram, I didn’t have many ‘must visit’ locations on my list – other than the city’s notoriously Instagrammable canal-side bookshop, obviously (more on that later). I should have known I would fall head over heels in love with the place.

The one thing I did book before I left was a couple tours with Venice Free Walking Tours. I am a massive fan of a free walking tour. They operate on a tips-only basis whereby walkers pay what they feel the walk was worth according to what they are able to give, with the idea being that wealthier participants will pay more to allow those with less money to come along too. They are also very ‘off the beaten path’, which works for me. You don’t need a walking tour to lead you to a city’s famous landmarks. Those, you can find yourself. What the Venice Free Walking tours do instead of showing you the landmarks everyone else is already visiting is give you the confidence to get lost – really the only way to explore Venice.

I did two tours – those exploring the Southern and Northern corners of the city. Both of the guides were wonderful, telling fascinating stories about the history of notable people and places in Venice. Maybe my favourite story was that of Ca’Dario, the house that kills. The house is cursed, with all its owners doomed to lose everything and die a violent death. Seriously.

Beware the house on the right…

Okay so, the house was built by Giovanni Dario, secretary of the Venetian Republic Senate. The Gothic mansion was supposedly built on a burial ground, and as each of its residents met their mysterious and tragic demises, locals began to speculate that the house was cursed.

[insert evil laughter here]

After Dario’s death, the house then passed to his daughter, Marietta and her husband Vincenzo.

But not for long.

Vincenzo drove the family into financial ruin before being brutally stabbed to death in an alley. Shortly after that, Marietta hurled herself into the canal, drowning herself, and then their son Vincenzo Junior was murdered by assassins on the island of Creta.

In an attempt to lift the curse, the house was completely redesigned and then sold AGAIN to another wealthy merchant… who promptly lost all his wealth and then died. The next owner, Radon Brown was found dead inside the house shortly after he purchased it, his lover also dead beside him in an apparent murder-suicide.

Fast forward a few years (and a few deaths) later into the 1960s, and famous singer Mario Del Monaco decided to purchase the house. He died in a car accident on the way to make the sale.

A decade later, Cristopher ‘Kit’ Lambert, manager of The Who, took his own life a few years after taking ownership of Ca’Dario.

In the 1990s an incredibly wealthy and well respected businessman, Raul Gardini bought Ca ’Dario. A few short years afterward he found his reputation in tatters and his money gone after getting caught up in a political corruption scandal. Gardini also took his own life.

These days,  it’s owned by an American company who vowed to renovate the house, which having been abandoned for many years has fallen into a state of disrepair. But, for some reason, years later, renovations are yet to begin…

Another reason I absolutely loved the Venice Free Walking tours was their emphasis on sustainable tourism. While in Venice I learned that tourism has actually had an intensely negative impact on the city. On any given day there are disproportionately more tourists than residents staying in Venice, and as this change has occurred, trade native to the city has been pushed out by shops filled with products designed for tourists – you know what I mean, those shops full of city-themed tat ubiquitous to all European cities where tourists gather. Because of this, Venice has lost 70% of its traditional trade, and with it, a huge slice of its identity. Similarly, the city has been completely overrun by Air B&Bs. Unlike other cities like Amsterdam and Rome where government restrictions are in place, there is no limit on the number of Air B&Bs in Venice, meaning it is all but impossible for locals and students of the city’s four universities to find accommodation within Venice itself. Not only that, but many Air B&B hosts operate illegally, not collecting the city tax owed by tourists and taking further from the resources of the city without giving anything back.

Yes, this is really depressing news, but it’s not all doom and gloom. What both my walking guides instilled in all of us was a sense of empowerment to explore the city conscious of the ways we were helping and hurting in how we decide where to spend our money. They recommended businesses to visit and educated us about supporting real Venetian trade rather than knock offs – a genuine Venetian mask, for example, will cost you upwards of 40 euro. Buying one for less will likely mean buying a fake, and with that participating in the destruction of a craft native to Venice for hundreds of years. Choosing how to spend our money is one of the greatest powers we have. Choose well, and consciously!

MUST STOPS

Liberia Acqua Alta

Calling itself the most beautiful bookshop in the world, Liberia Acqua Alta is a necessary trip for book lovers. Packed floor to ceiling with books – as well as the book shop’s five resident felines – look out for your favourites in various different language editions. Out back of the shop, climb up its towering staircase of books for a peek at one of the most beautiful canal views in the Castello district.

St Mark’s Bell Tower

After you’ve checked out the Basilica, don’t miss the opportunity to visit St Mark’s Bell Tower, which offers one of the most extraordinary views of the city.

Dorsoduro

The artsy district of Venice, in Dorsoduro you’ll find amazing museums Gallerie dell’Accademia and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, both of which I really recommend visiting. Filled with great cafes and restaurants, art galleries and the occasional vintage boutique, you can spend hours wandering the streets here.

The islands

The islands of Murano, Burano and Mazzarbo are about an hour away by very busy boat, but absolutely worth the trip. I spent hours wandering these characterful and fascinating islands. Enjoy the brightly coloured fishermen’s houses of Burano, cross the bridge into the quiet tranquillity of Mazzarbo (for some reason the Instagrammers in Burano don’t seem to have found this place yet, so it’s a lovely retreat from the crowds. The day I went it felt as though I had the entire island to myself) and enjoy the traditionally made glass in Murano (not to go on another rant about sustainable tourism, but ask one of the glassmakers in Murano how to identify genuine Murano glass. A lot of companies are selling fake ‘Murano’ glass on the internet and it is, again, destroying the trade that has sustained the families of the island for decades. The government won’t do anything to help the situation, so it’s up to consumers to act.)

Just wander

Venice is a really busy city – like I said, it disproportionately houses tourists rather than residents and so there are a lot of crowds everywhere, all the time. That said, I found that tourists tended to congregate around landmarks and boat stops, and that walking only a short distance away would produce quiet, beautiful streets that I could explore practically uninterrupted for hours. Venice is a very safe city, so please don’t be afraid to get lost. It’s also very small – more of a town than a city – so however lost you get (I didn’t know where I was like 80% of the time), you’re never that far away from an orientating landmark.

VENICE READING LIST

I mean, I had to make this vaguely bookish, right?

[summaries from Goodreads]

Out of This Century: The Autobiography of Peggy Guggenheim
This is the fascinating autobiography of a society heiress who became the bohemian doyenne of the art world. Written in her own words it is the frank and outspoken story of her life and loves”

Stone Virgin by Barry Unsworth
A mysterious sculpture of a beautiful and erotic Madonna holds the key to the Fornarini family’s secrets. When Raikes, a conservation expert, tries to restore her, he is swept under the statue’s spell and swept under the spell of the seductive Chiara Litsov, a member of the Fornarini family now married to a famous sculptor. Raikes finds himself losing all moral grounding as his love for statue and woman intertwine in lust and murder.”

The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato
“Venice, 1681. Glassblowing is the lifeblood of the Republic, and Venetian mirrors are more precious than gold. Jealously guarded by the murderous Council of Ten, the glassblowers of Murano are virtually imprisoned on their island in the lagoon. But the greatest of the artists, Corradino Manin, sells his methods and his soul to the Sun King, Louis XIV of France, to protect his secret daughter. In the present day his descendant, Leonora Manin, leaves an unhappy life in London to begin a new one as a glassblower in Venice. As she finds new life and love in her adoptive city, her fate becomes inextricably linked with that of her ancestor and the treacherous secrets of his life begin to come to light.”

The Astonishing Colour of After

When Leigh’s mother dies by suicide she leaves only a scribbled note – I want you to remember.

Leigh doesn’t understand its meaning and wishes she could turn to her best friend, Axel – if only she hadn’t kissed him and changed everything between them.

Guided by a mysterious red bird, Leigh travels to Taiwan to meet her grandparents for the first time. There, Leigh retreats into art and memories, where colours collide, the rules of reality are broken and the ghosts of the past refuse to rest…

But Leigh is determined to unlock her family’s secrets.

The Astonishing Colour of After

I was lucky enough to win a copy of The Astonishing Colour of After by Emily X R Pan in a giveaway run by one of my absolute faves, Marie @ Drizzle and Hurricane Books. Thanks Marie!

And I am so glad because 1. I NEVER win anything so it was very exciting and 2. I absolutely adored this beautiful book, even though by the end it had me sobbing. SOBBING.*

*for the sake of transparency I should note making me cry is very easy. Like, if I’m watching a TV show, even if I don’t even really care about what’s happening, if one of the characters starts crying I will get choked up. Yeah. There might be something a bit wrong with me. That said, this book is very emotional and if you don’t cry… well, I might judge you a little bit for that.

The Astonishing Colour of After is a heart-rending, magical read about grief, love, family, art and identity. Leigh’s world is shattered when her mother dies by suicide. Things between her and her dad are strained – they were before her mother’s death – as they come to terms with their loss, and her relationship with her best friend Axel is in a strange, confused place. They kissed on the day of her mother’s death and ever since she has found herself totally unable to deal with him. With anyone, really.

So Leigh finds herself isolated, grief-stricken and in complete confusion when her mother returns to her in the form of a bird, a streak of scarlet dancing away into the sky whenever Leigh gets close.

This is just the start of the mysterious magic that creeps into Leigh’s life.

Emily X R Pan expertly weaves the story through various different timelines – Leigh in Taiwan, struggling to connect with her mother’s estranged family, the two years leading to her mother’s suicide and her journey into her mother’s family history, which she can access by burning photographs, a necklace or a letter, and be transported into the memory by the flames. As grief and insomnia take their toll on Leigh’s own mental health, as the reader you find yourself constantly questioning what’s actually happening, or what is just in Leigh’s mind as she isolates herself and spirals down under the weight of her pain and trauma.

It’s a novel consumed by grief, but The Astonishing Colour of After is also a mystery. Leigh’s mother was long estranged from her family in Taiwan to the point that she refused to even teach her daughter to speak Mandarin. The reasons for this are slowly revealed as the novel progresses, and watching Leigh navigate her own racial identity without her mother as her guide was a uniquely painful experience to read. Leigh is mixed race, and often called “exotic” by her white peers in America. In Taiwan, she’s dismayed to find that she is exoticised in much the same manner as in the US – people point and whisper, hunxie, a word she soon learns describes someone biracial. This, combined with the language barrier between herself and her grandparents she is meeting for the first time only adds to her sense of isolation and loneliness.

I loved the way that Pan included Chinese mythology in the story – particularly Ghost Month, the seventh month in the lunar calendar, when ghosts roam the earth like “brushstrokes across a canvas”.  I also really appreciated the way that she wrote about suicide. One of my various jobs is with a CIC that deliver suicide awareness and suicide first aid training, and since I’ve become more involved with media representation of suicide I’ve become very concerned with the way it is often over simplified for the sake of a clickable headline. Pan doesn’t do that. She pointedly makes the choice not to assign a reason for Dory’s suicide. She has had some traumatic life experiences, yes, but her depression is an illness, not something that can be blamed on any one person or event.

I was happy to see that Pan also avoided using the phrase “committed suicide”. It’s one of those things that we say without really thinking about it, but it’s actually very stigmatising. “Died by suicide” or even “suicided” are much better terms to use. There’s a pretty good article here for anyone interested in learning more about this.

The Astonishing Colour of After is an unforgettable, emotive novel that handles its subject matter with compassion and understanding. It delves deep into family estrangement and how that pain can echo across generations decades later. It is probably my favourite YA read so far this year.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race

The book that sparked a national conversation. Exploring everything from eradicated black history to the inextricable link between class and race, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race is the essential handbook for anyone who wants to understand race relations in Britain today.

Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge is the book about race and Britain I didn’t know I needed.

So, a weird thing about the British education system – at least, back when I was in it – is that you don’t really learn anything about the history of race in the country. The UK’s colonialist history, the atrocities it has inflicted on other countries, how those wounds continue to be felt today were – and I am embarrassed to admit this, but I’ll be honest about it – things I learned entirely by accident through fiction.

I know how white I sound right now.

And yet even in the last few years, as I’ve learned chunks of a history that even now my country fails to be held accountable for, a lot of what I have learned about black history in particular has been through an American lens. It’s a phenomenon Eddo-Lodge describes in the book, the “heavy focus on Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad and Martin Luther King Jr., the household names of America’s civil rights movement felt important” to her, but far away from her own experiences as a black person in the UK.

Eddo-Lodge then sets up the history of black Britain in brief, from the slave ports dotted all over the country (one of them very near where I live that I had no idea about) to the black and brown soldiers who fought in World War One, promised the end of colonial rule in return for their service (a promise England broke), race riots and the utterly horrifying lynching of Charles Wootton – to which Britain responded by ‘repatriating’ (deporting, basically) 600 black people from the country.

In setting up the history of racism in Britain and its manifestation now, as a reader you can’t help but reflect on what’s changed – but more strikingly, what hasn’t. In 1900, the British government decided that the ‘solution’ to the problem of racist crime in the community was to send black people ‘home’ (to places they had been forcibly removed from by the British who enslaved them). Nowadays we deal with structural racism with a similar ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach – by pretending it doesn’t exist. As Eddo-Lodge says, white people “truly believe that the experiences of their life as a result of their skin colour can and should be universal.” And yet as she goes onto explain, with the stark disparities in educational opportunities, higher unemployment rates, harsher police responses (for example, black people are twice as likely to be charged with drug possession despite lower rates of use), disproportionate and inappropriate use of the Mental Health Act and generally worse health outcomes for black people, this narrative of equality we have invented quickly falls apart.

Every section of this book is fascinating and challenging, but none more so than the chapter about feminism – specifically Eddo-Lodge’s points about white feminism. That is, for the uninitiated, feminism that doesn’t take account of race. If you’re a white girl born in the nineties, in other words, the feminism that you were brought up on. Eddo-Lodge writes in detail about her experiences with white feminism, and in particular the way that white women often frame themselves as victims in a conversation about their own privilege (think Taylor Swift/ Nicki Minaj VMAs incident from a few years ago) in such a way that paints black women as ‘angry’ villains, effectively pushing them out of the conversation. As Eddo-Lodge puts it: “The white feminist distaste for intersectionality quickly evolved into a hatred for the idea of white privilege – perhaps because to recognise structural racism would have to mean recognising their own whiteness.”
White feminism perceives intersectionality as a threat to its identity. It’s the same old racism under new guise, and one that is rampant even in what many white people consider to be progressive circles.

Even if non-fiction isn’t your go-to, I think you should read this book. Eddo-Lodge’s work is important, powerful and deeply engaged with the political moment without pandering to the idea that racism is something that just happened in the last couple years – she’s very clear that it’s only white people who hadn’t noticed it before 2016. It’s a work that also serves as a call to action and a reminder, for white readers anyway, that the job of picking apart structural racism is the responsibility of everyone – most especially those who have spent their entire lives benefitting from it.
Reni Eddo-Lodge is a vital writer and Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race should be at the top of every intersectional feminist’s reading list.