24 Nov What did I say in my TEDxBedford talk? Here is the script
Ok so here goes…
I think the world is boss! Every time I scroll through Instagram I see stunning images taken of this world, I read about incredible project happening around the world in a quiet small way but making big differences in people’s hearts and minds. I can’t get over how much we can do with our smartphones!
All of this wonder, means I find it even harder to give up on the injustices I see in the world. I refuse to give up fighting for a world whether sweatshops no longer exist, and a world where the default is putting people before profit not vice versa.
I have been an activist for most of my life. I have always been passionate about fighting for a better world & looking at how we change the root causes of poverty and injustice so we don’t need charity in the world. In our area people we would have outsiders wanting to give out children’s shoes. Great intentions but we didn’t want them- we wanted government and business structures changed so we could afford to buy our own shoes for our children. I grew up in an activist family: here is a photo of me with local campaigners as a 3 year old,
I was voted Head Girl by my peers at school and won lockers for the pupils, I’ve always been part of activist groups in university & I’ve also been lucky enough to be a campaigner in my work life too.
Working for the charity Christian Aid I was privileged to go to Kenya to visit our partners and beneficiaries doing incredible work to access healthcare amongst other things. At Oxfam I saw how UK campaigners helped Coca-cola commit to a ‘zero tolerance’ of land grabs- a big win for small-scale farmers worldwide. I’ve seen where campaigns have helped change the way the world works for the better but I’ve also seen passion, good intentions and energy used that sadly hasn’t led to positive change.
So I want to talk to you today about 3 current worries I have with the activism world today and I want to talk about a tool that I use to try and tackle these concerns . Can you guess what that tool is? It’s… craft (of course!;p)- by craft I’m mostly talking about cross-stitch and hand-embroidery.
My first worry I want to share with you is that some forms of activism don’t encourage us to look at ourselves and our role within some of these harmful structures or cultures first. Our human instinct often includes looking for others to blame for injustices in the world. Some activism is signing petitions, going on marches, holding placards telling people, business or governments what to do, lots of quick external transactions. But surely if we want to make the world a better place in the longterm we need to start with looking at whether we are part of the change we wish to see in the world or whether we are actually part of the problem. Now I know that’s not something that’s easy to ask of people & it’s not a very attractive fun thing to do but I think it’s vital we critique our own thoughts and actions as part of our activism in this world.
Needlework is incredible as a form of INNER ACTIVISM.
Hand-embroidery and cross-stitch is a slow process and involve repetitive hand actions which means they are naturally very meditative. They exercise our inner monologue which we often down make time for & they’re a great tool for critical thinking. So they are perfect to help us tackle injustices & ask ourselves those uncomfortable questions about the role we play in injustices but in a safe space on our own or in small groups. So if I want no sweatshops in the world do I need to buy more ethically, do I need to ask the shop manager about how much money the garment workers are paid for that top I’m going to buy and do I need to ask myself whether I actually need this top?. You’re not going to stitch words you don’t believe in and by stitching those words in your craft piece you are committing yourself to being part of the solution to the problems you are looking at.
What’s so brilliant about craft is that you are connecting your hands, heart and head and when you link that to injustice issues it can be world changing personally and politically.
This is a photo of a shoeprint I embroidered and framed. It sits on my bookshelf by my bedroom door. When I leave my room each day I spot it in the corner of my eye and it reminds me to make a positive mark on the world and think about my journey as a good global citizen.
The second concern I currently have is that some activism is aggressive & confrontational. We often look for a scapegoat to demonise and blame. But most injustices are complex and there isn’t one person to blame for all of it. Demonising people and trying to bully them into submission isn’t going to lead to long term positive change. It also doesn’t fit in with the values of treating people as we want to be treated. I think we need to include GENTLE ACTIVISM into our toolkit alongside the other forms.
We need to empathise with perpetrators to try and understand their roles in injustices and how we can gently challenge people to make a positive change. My mum knows it’s much more powerful when she says to me ‘I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed”. Because it reminds me she loves me and sees that I can do great things but I did something wrong. Teachers are good at using this sneaky tool now too aren’t they?! But we often don’t in activism. We forget that people are people.
All of the craftivism (activism through craft) I do is small & beautiful not big and brash so people are intrigued & excited that they have found my mini protest banners and have chosen to go up to them to read the message.
They could see someone had spent a long time making them so they cared about the issue rather than doing it for fame and attention. All my activism messages are provocative not preachy.. I put labels on them all so people can google for more info on the issue but in their own time. I’m trying to gently nudge people to think about their role within society and injustices and connect to these issues more deeply. People often share images of my work online with friends or followers and it causes conversations about issues that we should be having but often avoid. We’ve had positive media attention and been published in a number of books because our messages are timeless , universal and unusual but not too depressing or judging so that people want to read about and share our images and work.
Often I craft alone or in a small group in public spaces like cafes, train stations and on public transport. And it means people are naturally curious & come up to you and say “what are you doing?” and you can say “I’m stitching this issue about inequality – what do you think?” And you engage people that way. So you are getting out into the world of non activism bubbles but still talking to people about those issues. . Because craft is involved, it’s not scary: people naturally come to us and ask us what we are doing, they tweet pictures of us, stick it on instagram, pinterest etc.
I embroidered my MP a hanky as a gift because she told me to stop emailing her petitions because it wasn’t going to make any difference. I wanted to show her that I truly cared about these issues and wasnt a clicktivist or slacktivist. And I wanted to see how I could be part of the change I wish to see in the world.
It said… To my MP [her name],
As my MP I’m asking you to please use your powerful position to challenge injustices, change structures keeping people poor & fight for a more just and fair world. I know that being an MP is a tough and big job but please DONT” BLOW IT, this is your chance to make a real and positive difference [smiley face].
Your’s in hope, Sarah. With my postcode so she knew I was a constituent.
It built a relationship with her because I showed I respected her, wanted to work together where possible and understand each others positions and be open to change my mind if she convinced me. She opened up to me more which helped me see where we could work together : I was a good critical friend rather than an aggressive enemy. I sell them in kits now and people have made them around the world for other influential people like teachers, senators, journalists, police, to encourage them to use their power and influence to support the most vulnerable in the world
Imagine if we gently challenged and encouraged people & worked with people for social change based on our values and morals, our world could grow into a much more fruitful & healthy place don’t you think?
The third & final concern I have is that some activism isn’t very attractive to engage in. We focus on the problems we need to fix rather than the brilliant goal we want to achieve. To sustain ourselves as activists and encourage others in surely we need to be hopeful & even joyful.
I’m calling this JOYFUL ACTIVISM because I can’t think of another way to say it & I did a workshop last weekend in Cardiff where I tested out this title ‘joyful activism’ and one participant Emma said she really liked that it was a joyful and fulfilling activity to do. I don’t mean it’s just about fun doing activism because activism is about acknowledging & understanding that there are structures harming people and the planet & we want social change & to support people which means we want to serve others – if we are just having fun we are focusing on ourselves not others and that can discredit our work. But we do need to be hopeful, loving, gentle. We need to remember all the gorgeous cool stuff in the world and believe that we can make it an even more awesome place for people which in the end also helps our own wellbeing. We should feel empowered in what we do, excited, in solidarity with others & part of a global village.
I started doing craftivism in 2008 on my own as a reaction to some forms of activism I didn’t think were effective and because I was feeling like a burnout activist. I didn’t feel I fitted into activism groups but I didn’t want to give up striving for a better world. It helped me continue to stay hopeful and engaged and to try and get activism messages across outside of the activism bubble. Within 6 months of documenting my craftivism work online people around the world asked to join in.
And now I run the Craftivist Collective as a social enterprise supporting individuals groups and organisations around the world to do effective craftivism. – people tacking part in Nowray, Sweden, America, Australia, Thailand, all over the place. I sell kits and do events, projects and workshop & teach in universities. I work with charities as well as large art institutions and even have a book now & there is much more to do! I’ve been able to do all of this because people have seen my work and want to put some joy back into activism. Some people joined because they are burnt out or disillusioned activists, some because they are crafty introverts who are nervous of traditional activism that’s extrovert. The feedback I get is that people feel inspired, invigorated, hopeful and even enjoyed doing or hearing about my approach to craftivism. People leave feeling confident to gently challenge themselves and others to improve or speak out on injustice issues. And people feel part of a movement making the world a better place one stitch at a time through inner activism, gentle activism and joyful activism.
Activism should’nt be something we opt into once in a while. I believe it should be threaded throughout all that we do if we want the world to be awesome and if we want to reach our potential to be our best selves.
So…. what do you think? Do you think I’ve covered everything? Have I overwhelmed people with info? Have I made it clear what our approach and vision is? Do you disagree with any of it?
Please do share with people you think might find it useful, and please do comment below if you have time – I’m always so keen to learn from your feedback on what is useful, not useful and if there is anything I haven’t covered that you have questions about.