If we want our world to be more beautiful, kind and fair, then shouldn’t some of our activism be beautiful, kind and fair?
The word “activism” can conjure up connotations of quick signings of petitions, clicktivism, or loud and aggressive ways to demand justice. But activism can be different. I believe that Craftivism - activism through craft - can be an effective tool in the activism toolkit.
I’ve been a Craftivist since 2008. My approach to Craftivism is to tackle issues not with anger and shouting, but with gentle protest. Gentleness is not weak, it requires self-control in the face of anger, injustice and sadness. Gentle protest lets us have conversation instead of an argument, debate instead of shouting, and collaboration instead of opposition.
I became a Craftivist because I had become a burnt out activist. I grew up in a low-income area of Liverpool, and aged just 3 I was joining my parents and community in their campaigning. I went on to become a professional campaigner but I’m an introvert, and so many traditional forms of activism drained me. And I didn’t like demonizing people or telling them what to do.
One day I picked up a craft kit for a long train journey. Stitching immediately calmed me down. It helped me think more clearly and it felt empowering. People asked me questions about what I was making. I began to leave small pieces of provocative street art in my area, and those pieces started conversations on and offline. I embroidered a hanky as a gift for my local politician with a personal message. It felt much more respectful than shouting at her. We became critical friends rather than aggressive enemies.
In 2009, I set up the Craftivist Collective after much demand and to help people become effective Craftivists and good global citizens.
I don't want to create just another book of craftivism projects. I want my book to get to the heart of what Craftivism is about - the purpose, process and pitfalls.
In this book you will learn:
1. How to use the process of making to engage thoughtfully in the issues you care about.
2. How to see every detail of your creation as important: from the colour you use to the fonts, the size, the messaging....
3. How Craftivism can engage people on and offline around the world.
4. How Craftivism can create conversations and action in places where social justice isn’t often discussed.
5. How I’ve learnt from the challenges I’ve faced.
6. How, with some examples from case studies, you can transfer skills into other parts of your life.
Gentleness, conversation and collaboration can make our world a better place, and the road there less angry, aggressive and divisive.
Helping make this book happen and becoming a Craftivist taking the first steps down this path, one stitch at a time....
Chapter 3: Slow Activism
“Don’t forget to be the tortoise. Breathe. Slow down”
That’s what I often have to say at workshops I deliver. From New York to Norway, it’s the same. Slowing down seems to be the first challenge for people. They start things in the wrong order because they skip, or sometimes don’t even see, the instructions. People are surprised when embroidery thread knots or breaks after being separated too forcefully. You can feel the frustration in the room when it takes makers more than three times to thread their needle successfully. The projects aren’t difficult. I choose easily accessible craft techniques so that anyone can get involved, even if they have never picked up a needle and thread before. My approach to craftivism needs time and a steady hand to tackle injustices with care, thoughtfulness and sensitivity. You can’t rush these things. You’ve got to slow down.
It’s not surprising people struggle. I struggle. Perhaps you do at times. We live in such a fast-paced world, trying to keep up with our emails, the news, trends, our social media streams, our friends wherever they may be. It’s exhausting just thinking about it. But channelling your inner tortoise is a vital part of how to be an effective craftivist. Strategic planning, creative thinking and building relationships all take time and, if rushed, are impossible to deliver. Craftivism (and activism) needs all these things: slowness is vital. A slow pace should be threaded through all of your craftivism work so that your work is produced with care, courage and consideration.
It’s harder than it sounds. We live in a world where the average attention span of an adult has gone from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to 8 seconds in 2015. We have less concentration than a goldfish! Mobile phones have transformed the way many of us live. The average person spends more time each day on electrical devices than sleeping. Our culture seems to admire people more who are, or just look, busy.
For many, work absorbs most of our waking hours, with life coming second, fitted in around our schedules. The Industrial Revolution and modern technology were supposed to mean we could work less but.... oops, we are working more. I’m not saying that deadlines aren’t good - they can focus our minds and give us drive to perform great things. But we can only do this short-term: many of us feel stuck in a bottomless pit of permanent deadlines and it’s rewiring how we live.
How do we find time to rest, see family and friends, exercise, eat well, have a hobby, never mind find time to squeeze in campaigning to improve our world? It can feel impossible. We live in a culture where time is often seen as money. We treat time like another commodity and sometimes even feel we need to justify how we are spending our free time. Some struggle to just be. Some struggle to make time to think. Some are so overwhelmed they freeze. Some work, work and work some more. And then are forced to stop, by burnout, exhaustion, or an early retirement.
The free time we do find is often interrupted by our own FOMO (fear of missing out) so we fill it with socialising, weekend trips, courses, cultural events, or bingeing on entire TV series online. Some even use up precious time to set up an Instagram-able image of themselves on a day off chilling out and reading a book rather than just reading the book: I’ve been guilty of that!
Always being connected and busy can lead to depression and chronic fatigue. Slow activities like walking, meditation, yoga, gardening and handicraft are being prescribed increasingly by psychologists, therapists and even business consultants to promote health and wellbeing.
If you never stop doing, you will never recharge your batteries. A fast paced life stops us functioning to the best of our abilities: concentration starts to wander, information struggles to sink in, and “isn’t it ironic”, as Alanis Morrisette sings, that things then take longer than they should. You lose your temper more easily. The joy dissolves and everything feels like a chore. This fast-paced living is taking its toll on our health, community, and society.
There is a growing yearning from many of us, as well as a need, to slow down. And for the sake of our planet we need to slow down.
To my lovely supporters and friends (that's you!),
I hope you are well, warm and had a happy Christmas :) To give hope for a happy 2017 when many of us are feeling despair, I thought you might like to read a very short extract from Chapter 9 of the book you are helping to create. I've called the chapter 'Graceful Activism' and the whole chapter focuses on a craftivist’s gentle protest approach…
These people are helping to fund How To Be A Craftivist: the art of gentle protest.