Me and Mckenzie Mullen @emtothethird knitting our fingers off before the march.
Happy International Women’s Day!
As I join many in donning my pussyhat in honor of this day, it seems like a fitting moment to revisit and reflect upon the role and nature of craftivism within and in response to our current political climate. In my original post, Passion and Purpose/Pink and Pussyhats, I explored some ideas about the history and validity of this form of active protest. Since the Women’s March in January, many throughout the nation and beyond continue to don their own hats and look for other ways to raise their voices and get involved in their communities. Craftivism, due to its non-violent and hands-on nature, seems especially accessible and, whether they are familiar with its history or not, I think many have been spurred on by the Pussyhat Project and are wondering—what comes next? What might this kind of action look like in the long-term? What impact can we have as people who work with our hands?
What Is Craftivism?
As someone whose work is at the intersection of textile history and contemporary craft, these questions interest me greatly. In order to better answer these questions, I think it can be helpful to learn a bit about craftivism, it’s strengths, as well as potential goals and outcomes.
From wartime knitting drives to peaceful commemorations and artistic protests, the history of bringing together craft and activism is a long one indeed. The term itself wasn’t coined until 2003, according to Betsy Greer, the woman who has spearheaded the 21st century craftivism movement. Greer defines craftivism as, “a way of looking at life where voicing opinions through creativity makes your voice stronger, your compassion deeper & your quest for justice more infinite.”
As it has gained traction, many contemporary forms of craftivism have pulled equally from the refinement of traditional domestic arts as well as the harshness of political and cultural strife to address the far-reaching effects of climate change, social justice infringements, capitalism, and misogyny. It uses knitting, embroidery, and all forms of needlework and textile-based artforms in small- and large-scale public ways to draw attention to issues, reinforce solidarity, and allow for non-violent yet subtly subversive creative expression around critical issues.
What Can Craftivism Look Like?
Greer has set out three tenants of craftivism—donation, beautification, and notification. These tenants can help us to think about what shape our actions and outcomes might take as we seek to address critical issues of our own day. Here are some of the ways I think we may be able to put these tenants to work:
There are many forms of community and political action; many talents and voices that, together, can affect long-term and large-scale change. One of the greatest strengths of craftivism as a form of political protest, is its potential for creating visual impact, thereby notifying and highlighting areas of need, crisis situations, and marginalized voices, to name a few. So many political differences stem from alternative interpretations of the world around us. The visual nature of craft has the power to spur conversation around such difficult topics and focus on that which might otherwise be ignored. What facts, people, things, or places can you draw attention to? How might we capitalize upon the visual language of craft to do so?
Accessibility and Inclusivity
Activism is a fundamental part of any functioning democratic process. For many, there are overwhelming barriers to taking part however, due to health or economic reasons, systemic impediments against race, gender, age, and ability, (introverts, myself included, wish to make a difference in the world too!). Craft can be practiced both in and outside the home, by individuals and groups. It can be taught and conducted with a range of supplies, both found and manufactured. Craft is for all. Those who practice it are, and should continue to serve as, voices of inclusivity and compassion for anyone who wishes to take part. We can ask ourselves—how might we make craft-based forms of activism more accessible? Could this community activity or political activism be prohibitive to anyone due to their lack of privilege in any particular area? How can the things I make with my hands help someone else feel included?
Solidarity and Support
It can be frustrating to feel as if the only things we are capable of as individuals seem so small compared to what we face in life. Personally, I believe that it is often the small things, especially when amplified by consistency and solidarity, that can result in the biggest and most sustainable change. One of the hurdles to sustaining successful grassroots action is often found in maintaining involvement and motivation over time. Here is where I think craft can absolutely play a role. Here is where we can build unity and belonging in a world rife with judgement. Here is where we cede the floor to marginalized voices and ensure that as many as possible feel that their voices matter too. Though it may seem small (or denigrated as “women’s work” alone), acts of craftivism can serve as powerful messages of strength, hope, positivity, and solidarity whether they become viral or reach just one person.
Positive Social Change
The process of creating handmade objects is often much more transparent and achievable than factory-produced goods, therefore those items can carry a greater sense of authenticity and purpose. When we are able to apply these same actions and their concurrent values to community and political activism, we can begin to shape a more meaningful message and critical dialogue around it. Indeed, there are a lot of incredible organizations out there that you can get involved with (Days for Girls is one of my personal favorites). As third-wave feminists, perhaps another fitting way that we can affect change and offer practical aid for causes we care about, is to put our skills to good use by creating handmade goods of high-quality craftsmanship, and donating the funds from the sale of those goods to non-profits that can, in turn, advance legal action or legislative reform. This allows us to amplify a message or cause that may, initially, seem like it would not necessarily directly benefit from craft.
The Way Forward
The short answer is that craftivism can look like a lot of things. It may look different for different people because it’s very personal. It can look like people coming together to rally and march in pink hats, holding a knit-in, making signs and items of support for those who need it, donating useful items to affected groups throughout the country and within our own neighborhoods, or sharing a crafty skill with another to empower them. I hope it can reflect the values outlined here. As we move further beyond the 2017 Women’s March, I hope that we can continue to think about what continued action can look like; about the critical foundation we build those actions upon.
I’ve included some resources below that I’ve found helpful along the way and hope that sharing this may help you find your own voice through craftivism. I would love to hear from you—what do you think craftivism can look like in our current climate? How can it have a greater impact? Do you have a project in mind that you are interested in building participation around? Please join the conversation in the comments section and let’s keep talking!