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?

Hope in the Dark

If, like me, you have started to look out the window first thing in the morning with a sense of impending doom; if when you think of the world you imagine, instead of a globe balancing on the back of an infinite number of turtles, more of a sinking ship that’s also burst into flames and about the blow any second; if you feel like you’re in the middle of an apocalypse in which instead of a zombie virus, people are infecting each other with hatred….

Mate: You really need to read this book.

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Hope in the Dark is a history of activism, of success and failure. Of persisting in the face of a power that seems much greater than your own. Rebecca Solnit writes poetically about post 9/11 New York, civil rights battles and local business vs international corporations among many things, through the lens of hope.

I think we all need a little of that at this particular moment.

Since there is nothing in this book I could possibly say better than Solnit already has, I decided to do this review in quotes:

The definition of hope:

‘It’s important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is, or will be fine. The evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and tremendous destruction. The hope I’m interested in is about broad perspectives with specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act.’

On functioning in the paradoxical world:

‘F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, “The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function,” but the summations of the state of the world often assume that it must be all one way or the other and since it is not all good it must all suck royally. Fitzgerald’s forgotten next sentence is, “One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and be determined to make them otherwise.”’

On protests against the Iraq war:

‘The dream did not last, though the moment is worth cherishing. Instead came the nightmares of burned and maimed children, bombed civilians, soldiers incinerated by depleted-uranium rounds, history itself wiped out when the United States permitted the looting of Baghdad’s National Museum and the burning of its National Library, US soldiers picked off a few at a time during the months of occupation and insurrection. The millions marching on February 15 represented something that is not yet fully realised, an extraordinary potential waiting, waiting for some catalyst to bring it into full flower. A new imagination of politics and change is already here, and I want to try and pare away what obscures it.’

On working towards that which you may never actually see:

‘There’s a wonderful parable by Jorge Luis Borges. In the last years of the thirteenth century, God tells a leopard in a cage, “You live and will die in this prison so that a man I know of may see you a certain number of times and not forget you and place your figure and symbol in a poem which has its precise place in the scheme of the universe. You suffer captivity, but you will have given a word to the poem.” The poem is the Divine Comedy; the man who sees the leopard is Dante.’

On progress:

‘…women used to make sixty-six cents to the male dollar and now we made seventy-seven cents, so what were we complaining about? It doesn’t seem like it should be so complicated to acknowledge that seventy-seven cents is better than sixty-six cents and that seventy-seven cents isn’t good enough, but the politics we have is so pathetically bipolar that we only tell this story two ways: either seventy-seven cents is a victory, and victories are points when you shut up and stop fighting; or seventy-cents is ugly, so activism accomplishes nothing and what’s the point of fighting? Both versions are defeatist because they are static. What’s missing from these two ways of telling is an ability to recognise a situation in which you are travelling and have not arrived, in which you have cause both to celebrate and to fight, in which the world is always being made and is never finished.’

On activism:

‘Activism is not a journey to the corner store, it is a plunge into the unknown. The future is always dark.’ 

 

 

Big Magic

The tag-line of Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert is ‘Creative living beyond fear.’ Anyone who has ever listened to Liz Gilbert talk will know this is pretty much what she’s about. It is a book that implores the reader to get out of their own way. It’s where a lot of us are.

It’s a place I’m in ninety percent of the time.

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Symptoms

  • Constantly comparing yourself to others.
  • Avoiding starting projects because of fear.
  • Spending long afternoons convincing yourself that you have nothing to contribute.

Sound familiar? Yes? Don’t feel bad.  Lots of people brought this book. There are a few of us around.

Big Magic is medicine for all the above complaints. It offers a way to work through your fears to become the person and creator you want to be.

Big Magic Lessons:

There is room for everyone

For many of us, the second thought after an idea is usually along the lines of I bet someone already did this. The truth is, yeah, someone probably already did. We’ve been on this planet a few million years and we’ve been telling stories the whole time. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to contribute. Yes, someone has told the story before, but you haven’t. That’s the crucial part.

If you feel the need for evidence of this fact please turn to the genre of fairytale retellings.  Are there a million of them? Yes. Have we, the blogger community, read most of that million? Yes. Would be read more? Winter just happened, didn’t it?

Misery isn’t a prerequisite for creativity

You don’t have to suffer to make art. In fact, Liz Gilbert is a big proponent of something she calls stubborn gladness. Part of this is living with the knowledge that whatever is bad for you, is also most likely, bad for your art.

I have never brought into the idea of the suffering artist. There are few things I find more annoying than when people make jokes about how their stable, happy upbringings were so detrimental to their art that they created drama to compensate.

Another aspect of stubborn gladness is resilience. It’s the choice to remain true to yourself through rejections, setbacks and failures. It’s approaching each new obstacle with a smile.

Perfection isn’t a ‘thing’

Gilbert advocates for deeply disciplined half ass-ery. This means that we should create constantly, but with the mindset that all projects have an ending. Odds are, that ending isn’t going to be perfect. There are going to be sentences, characters and chapter endings that no matter what you do just don’t quite work. But at some point you just have to throw up your hands and admit that you’re finished. Sometimes, as Gilbert says ‘done is better than good.’

Fear is always with you… and that’s actually fine

Fear is a part of creativity. Gilbert talks about how whether you like it or not, it’s going to come with on whatever creative journey you decide to take. Her argument is that if you spend the whole time fighting it, chances are you’re never even going to leave the starting line. Instead of striking out into the unknown you’ll be left sitting at the bottom of your staircase surrounded by suitcases, so busy arguing with an imaginary demon that you didn’t even notice your life passing by.

So take the pressure off.

Let fear in. Just don’t let it take control. Acknowledge it, but also remember that it’s no use to you on this journey – the demon couldn’t read a map if it’s life depended on it. If you make fear your companion and partner in your creative endeavours, it can’t hurt you anymore.