For the past six months, activists from across Scotland have sat in their homes, or in gathered groups, knitting wool-colored squares that represent land, sea or sky. Their clicking needles also created bees, flowers, insects and birds.
This is an Extinction Rebellion group called Knitstinction Rebellion, and what they do is often described as craftsmanship. Massive deaths, blocked roads and fake blood sprays, the kind Extinction Rebellion has become known for, aren’t the only way to change the world. You can also knit your way to a better one. Or crochet. Or embroider. Activism, after all, has many threads, and the protest needle already has a long history, stretching back to the suffragists and beyond. It’s also having a little time now.
One of the people who has done more than most to promote such an approach to the campaign is Sarah Corbett, a longtime activist who describes her method as a “soft protest craft”. Corbett, who presented a lecture and workshop this week as part of the Festival of Politics in the Scottish Parliament, has written a book, How To Be A Craftivist, and has campaigned across the country through his group Craftivist Collective. She is behind projects like Don’t Blow It, in which personalized, hand-embroidered handkerchiefs were sent to the 14 members of the Marks & Spencer board and ultimately persuaded them to pay the living wage. to 50,000 staff.
The Craftivist Collective’s 10-point manifesto was used by the World Wildlife Fund in a campaign that led to the amendment of a law to protect migratory birds. It’s an approach she has refined for 10 years, during a journey that began with a five-hour train ride to Glasgow. She was working for the Department of International Development at the time and was taking a Pendolino train that she knew would be difficult to read working papers or respond to emails. a photo of a teddy bear.
âI immediately noticed that doing it slowed me down, calmed me down. I was questioning the effectiveness of clicktivism, slacktivism, and angry activism at the time. And the people in front of me asked me what I was doing and I immediately thought, “Oh, if I only embroidered a quote from Gandhi”.
Corbett believes that in a society as divided as the one we live in today, it’s important that we focus on solutions, not problems. âThis means that anyone can be part of the solution, rather than separating certain people out as the causes of problems,â she says. âMuch of my work is based on psychology and neuroscience. We know that when you focus on a dream, your brain is proactively determining how to create that dream. Whereas when we focus on a problem, we simply go into fight, steal, or freeze mode, which prevents our brains from thinking about the answers. ”
The job of Craftivist Collective, she says, is to “be positive but actually make real change and not just be fluffy.” It’s also an approach, she adds, that appeals to people “naturally introverted or anxious.” His online talk, âActivism Needs Introverts,â has been viewed over a million times.
The event in Parliament was a dream-making workshop. âIt’s about getting people to focus on the worldview they want, a better world, and putting a line about that on a cloud. Then when they put their cloud together, they think about what it looks like, what does it look like, what it looks like, and how can they help make that dream come true.
What is his own dream? âI truly believe that gentle protests are incredibly effective and if done with love and kindness they can change hearts, minds and politics. My dream is that everyone sees it as an effective way to engage in activism.
Another successful project she cites is a Craftivist Collective made for eco-fashion campaign group Fashion Revolution. âWe made handwritten scrolls on this beautifully textured paper, tied in a pretty turquoise, mauve or purple ribbon. We wrote three non-judgmental but intriguing posts and asked people to think about the story behind a piece of clothing and who made it and to be curious about the fashion industry. And then we dropped them in stores, put them in pockets in stores for people to find. It was about reaching people without them feeling judged, especially if they come from a low income neighborhood. I come from a very low income neighborhood of Everton, so I wanted to make sure people didn’t feel demonized.
Another principle of craftivism is slowness. âIn such a busy and fast-paced world, we have to slow down and the power is in the details,â she says. âYou can do something quick and easy, but it won’t make a difference and it could be more harmful, it could be more demonizing and create more loopholes than bridges. ”
But don’t some things have to be changed quickly, and almost violently? âI worry a lot that people might say, ‘Who is this white woman telling us to slow down when the world is falling apart? “We have to act, but we have to act in the most strategic way,” she replies. âMy experience is in the countryside. I grew up in West Everton in the 1980s, in the UK’s fourth poorest neighborhood. Deplorable housing, deplorable health statistics, high unemployment rate. I am far from telling people to slow down and think. We need action and we need it now. But I have worked in activism in school and university and I have worked as a professional activist for Oxfam, so I know how complex activism is and how, if we are to make real change , it takes more than yelling at each other. ”
Among those who have done a workshop with Corbett is Dr Anna Fisk, founder of the Knitstinction Rebellion in Scotland. From the moment she joined Extinction Rebellion (XR), she hoped she could bring knitting together for the cause. âI thought the blanket would be a good thing to do,â she says, âespecially for people who may not be able to make it to the protests, perhaps because they live far away or because of a disability, age or because they can’t take any kind of risk of arrest. They might feel like they’re contributing. The thing with craftivism is that it’s all about the process of being arrested. workmanship and reflection when you do it. You also use your body. If it is something that is done by hand, it feels more like your body is there with the people protesting than if you had sent it. money or something like that.
This is not his first craftivist project. Fisk, a part-time theology and religious studies teacher at the University of Glasgow, has been knitting since her grandmother taught her at the age of six, and considers it a key part of her identity – she has even worked at the Yarn Cake school knitting store. Among his craft projects is Knit Wild, a campaign to save children’s wood in West Glasgow. Last year, she felt compelled to join Extinction Rebellion after hearing about reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the World Wide Fund for Nature. âI was wondering why aren’t we all standing in the streets screaming. Why do we all continue normally? This is insane. ”
Fisk’s activist ethics differ slightly from Corbett’s. There is less emphasis on softness, although the blanket itself seems a heartwarming and straightforward item. âI really like the work of Sarah Corbett, but there are parts that don’t suit XR as easily because a lot of it is about that sense of kindness and gentleness and leading people through conversations and reflections. But a lot of the XR method, and how we’ve been successful, uses words like “extinguishing,” doing things like spraying fake blood from a fire truck. These are things that attract attention.
Often the craft, she observes, doesn’t get the media attention it deserves, given its efforts. For example, she cites the anti-Trident “Wool Against Weapons” project, which involved knitting an astonishing seven-mile pink “peace” scarf to span between the atomic weapons establishments of Aldermaston and Burghfield. âIt didn’t grab attention the same way as something rushed,â she says. âWith this banner, I wanted to combine the reflective, woolly and comfortable blanket with the XR approach. I wanted us to block the roads with a hand-knitted banner.
Fisk isn’t afraid of more dramatic actions. She blocks roads and knits and is so far the only Extinction Rebellion activist to have been convicted in Scotland – for breach of public order after sitting on the road during the blockade of Edinburgh in April . At the time, she happened to be wearing a teal-colored hand-knitted beanie.
Currently in London for the fifteen demonstrations, she has not taken cover. “I thought given the kind of police reaction we were likely to have this time around, there’s a good chance he’s just lost and I think it would be good to have a little more time for people to like it before it is used that way. It was a big decision because I thought people put in so much work. I put so much work into it. But I think it’s better not to lose it instantly.
Knitting, she observes, is also a good way to cope with the stress, grief and anxiety that comes with activism and to contemplate the horror of the climate crisis.
âI find this to be one of the few things that helps, especially doing this blanket, because it’s very simple garter stitches, a very simple repetitive motion that has that calming quality,â she says. âPeople have done neurological research that shows that the simple, repetitive action of knitting specifically affects and calms people’s heart rate and breathing. So yes, I found that. I think the tension in the action is something that slows you down and gets you out of that hyper, we have to do this and that.