In one of the many go-to films about personal wellness and development (Groundhog Day, of course), Bill Murray tells Punxsutawney Phil ‘don’t drive angry’. Because when you’re angry as a groundhog – or as a person – you’re far less effective.
One of the keys of Craftivism, as professed by Sarah Corbett, Founder of the global Craftivist Collective, is dissipating that anger. The craft allows you to slow down, reflect and think about how to affect change most effectively. And how to share that with the person whose mind you’re trying to change.
The Craftivist Collective are all about effective change. Changing the world for the better. To be fairer, more inclusive. And far less angry.
Not that you shouldn’t be angry. The inequalities in the world, the pain, the suffering – they should make you angry. But solutions rarely come in a box marked anger. Although they could come in a piece of needlework calling for empathy.
Empathy is universal
That empathy is universal, inclusive, and somewhat surprisingly ‘punk’.
“Craftivism, I always say, is a bit like the word punk,” says Sarah. “You’ve got all of these different punk bands, but all of the bands are very different and look very different and Craftivism is a little bit like that people do craftivism in different ways.”
The term ‘craftivism’ was coined by an American Betsy Greer in 2003. Her simple definition is ‘craft + activism = craftivism’.
Craft + activism
“That could mean anything,” says Sarah. “Betsy is talking about politics with a big ‘p’, politics with a small ‘p’, the personal being political etc.” In effect, people in knitting circles and talking about life could be seen as being craftivism.
For Sarah craftivism is a gentle protest: it’s loving and compassionate to all people. It also encourages them out of their silos to effect real change.
Slow down, calm down
And the first step is “about using the process of handicrafts to help the maker slow down, calm down and channel their sadness and their anger at injustice,” says Sarah.
The use of paper crafts and embroidery in the Craftivist Collective is intentional. The soft, tactile qualities of the materials helps people engage in a different way. It’s almost like the responsible, deliberate actions of their hands should be matched the responsible, deliberate action of the message they are trying to convey. It gives people time to asses their values and what they are trying to say.
A tool for real change
“If I make something for a politician, for example, I ask ‘what do I expect that politician to feel from this, or to respond to this’,” says Sarah. “The craft allows you to empathise with them and think about how your craftivism is a tool for real change and a catalyst for connection rather than just shouting in the wind.”
The resulting craft is often left for people to find, to be excited by and to engage with. And the craft encourages people to use the power that they have for social good.
“We don’t throw milkshakes at people, we give them bespoke handmade gifts,” says Sarah. “And it’s a good way to build a relationship and keep campaigning.
Conversation and connection
“Craftivism is not the solution, it’s there as a catalyst for thought, for action, for conversation and connection.
“It’s not to replace other forms of activism, but to add to them. I still go on marches, I still sign petitions I still have meetings with decision-makers that don’t involved crafts. But in certain contexts and at certain times and with certain people, craftivism can be really powerful, and in the Craftivist Collective we have been able to change laws and policies and hearts and minds.
Senses plus strategies
“For me it’s about helping people move from being reactive – which comes from anger and from feeling disempowered – to feeling pro-active. All of my work in the Craftivist Collective is based on neuroscience and psychology and how we use the senses as well as campaign strategies. We’ve learnt from Martin Luther King and Gandhi and Tutu.”
Sarah grew up in a very low income area in Everton in Liverpool in the 80s. Her dad is still the local vicar, and her mom was a nurse and a full time mum and is now a local politician. “All we ever did was talk about social change,” says Sarah. That involved battling apartheid in South Africa, where her family visited to learn from Mandella and Desmond Tutu about conflict resolution and non-violent action. As well as campaigning for local social housing from being demolished.
That activist zeal continued through school and university, and it’s no surprise that she worked as professional campaigner for Oxfam and working for DFiD (the government Department for International Development).
But Sarah’s journey into craftivism started on a train ride to Glasgow. Burnt out from activism that she felt wasn’t working, and as an introvert drained by a lot of the extrovert activism, plus disillusioned with clicktivism and slactivism, she picked up a cross-stitch kit. The change was amazing.
“I immediately noticed how shaky my hands were, how shallow my breath was – just separating out the thread let me know how impatient I was,” says Sarah. “It made me very mindful of how I was. That time spent doing repetitive cross stitch gave me the comforting space on my own to think ‘how can I be an effective activist’.”
Not only that, it inspired conversation with other travellers, which could have been made all the more interesting, she thought, if she was stitching a quote from Gandhi.
A Lonely Craftivist
“I set up a blog called A Lonely Craftivist because my friends and family were asking me what I was doing. So I thought I’d just write stuff up so they knew what I was up to. Within a month I had people from Australia, North America and Canada and Nordic Scandinavian countries asking to join in with my craftivism projects.
“I set up the Craftivist Collective due to demand and now we have thousands of people and many groups set up around the world. Craft groups, activist groups, museums and galleries have asked me to do lots of events for their audiences too. There’s a real mix.”
And as a white English woman Sarah is highly aware of the context that craft and activism can take through out the world. She’s also grateful to social media “There would be no way of doing what we’re doing without it,” she says. The online world enables and enhances the offline actions. .
Heritage Open Days
Sarah and the Craftivist Collective are taking part in the Heritage Open Days in September. It’s given her the opportunity to spread the idea of finding solutions rather than dwelling on problems.
“There’s a lot of time spent saying what you don’t want, but when we start focusing on what we do want, our brains naturally comes up with solutions,” she say. The theme of the Heritage Open Days is People Power, and Sarah’s added to that the concept of #DareToDream.
Positive long-term change
“I’m passionate about how you make positive change that’s long term,” she says. And the Heritage Open Days puts a focus on what’s gone before – learning from activists in the past but also putting it in a new context.
“All of my stuff is solutions-focused and encourages people to be part of the change. It makes you feel empowered and confident to be part of that change rather than just feeling that you can’t do anything.”
Gentle activism for all
And this gentle form of activism is for anyone. On their own, or in a group. And it’s that group setting that can create interesting dialogues. With people focusing on what they’re doing – and they are doing something – there’s limited eye-contact which lessens confrontation, where different views can be questioned and discussed without prejudice.
“It’s very positive and it helps educate people on what activism can look like,” says Sarah.
Sounds like craftivism, the Craftivist Collective and the Heritage Open Days could help us all to work together and learn from the past without re-living it. If only Bill Murray as weatherman Phil Connors in Groundhog Day had cross stitch….
Check out the Heritage Open Days website and follow the hashtags #DareToDream and #ThisIsPeoplePower
Top image: #DareToDream project. Photo by Sarah Corbett. Location: Dartington Hall