"Craftivism" and The School of Gentle Protest


Such a busy, buzzy time for new thinking about how to reimagine politics, and practise it very differently.

We heard Sarah Corbett talk about "craftivism" at Emergency Exit Arts' "Artists' Snap!" meeting the other night. Her collective believes that "craft can be a tool for gentle activism:

By using the quiet, reflective time it gives us to explore global issues and how they affect the world around us, we can create something beautiful, considered, positive and potentially world-changing.

But they also extend it outwards into a new framing for activism - which they are teaching at something called The School of Gentle Protest, an online and offline course, run in conjunction with the youth activist site 1215.today in Lincoln.

This article from Positive News shows the breadth of their approach. An extract:

1. It’s time for a change

The effectiveness of old protesting techniques is limited. Often they are not the correct approaches for certain issues. Marching, for example, can raise awareness and provide catharsis, but it is too often followed by very little real progress.

2. It’s clever

In today’s media-saturated world, the heavily-wrought analytical infrastructures upon which our opinions rest are primed for a gentler approach. 

3. It can help make you friends

Building on Rosenberg’s idea about the enriching potential in ‘difficult’ viewpoints, the gentle protest approach encourages us to make ‘critical friends rather than aggressive enemies’.

For example: “Wow, did you mean for that to sound so rude?” By asking open-ended questions you can keep the mood amiable and express your true feelings. Anger can further alienate people and solidify their opposing views. But coaxing them into a self-revelation is more likely to allow them to digest the situation and carry their new perspective through to their own interactions.

4. It lasts

From signing online petitions to applying filters to profile pictures, there are myriad ways to mark the activist tick box from home. However, their immediacy can mean that, though well intentioned, these methods are not supported by the thoroughness of thought that serious issues require.

A vital string in the gentle protester’s bow is craftivism, in which people use craft as a tool for influencing long-term change. Craft involves a certain level of focus and solitude, and the calmly formed musings that come out of these moments of reflective making can carry through to our lives more profoundly than a few clicks online might.

5. It works

In 2015, the Craftivist Collective partnered up with ShareAction, a charity dedicated to responsible investment. They wanted to address the Marks & Spencer’s board members at their AGM and put the Living Wage on the retailer’s agenda. Armed with 14 Marks & Spencer handkerchiefs customised with messages tailored to each board member, the Craftivists let their gifts set the tone of the conversation. Marks & Spencer’s chairman said the campaign was ‘a test case for how these campaigns should be run’ clarifying that it was the manner and tone of their approach that made the board so willing to meet in private and chat.

6. It’ll save you money (and make you look cooler)

Another concept discussed during the School of Gentle Protest’s term has been that of visible mending. Breaking away from the wasteful consumerist treadmill borne of fast fashion and expendable incomes, is Tom van Deijnen, founder of Visible Mending.

He lists the benefits of mending your clothes so that people can see the repair work, literally wearing your values on your sleeve.

7. Anyone can do it

Some of the great champions of peaceful protest, such as Gandhi, are extraordinary in part due to their oratory abilities and resilience to pressure. But simply marching – parading your values in public – can prove too daunting for some people. Anyone can pick from the array of techniques covered by the School of Gentle Protest. Introverts, extroverts, talkers, doers and thinkers; gentle protest can come in every size and shape.

Full article - very much worth reading and digesting - is here.