“A spoon full of craft helps the activism go down.” It may sound like an updated Mary Poppins motto, but it’s actually the idea behind the Craftivist Collective: a group of activists whose chosen tool to protest for global justice is simple—craft. The team makes statements using mini-protest pieces—like banners, cards and face masks—and then hangs them up in public spaces so passersby read the messages. Sentiments on the pieces address issues such as climate change, exploitation of the developing world and many more talking points about global sustainability. Now the group is turning its sights on hijacking the commercialization of Valentine’s Day.
There are worldwide craftivists putting their homemade “sweetheart” cards in red envelopes and placing them in random spots today, including cities such as London, Coventry, Newcastle and even Bangor and Vancouver. Inside each envelope the commuter will find a note that says:
“I don’t want your box of chocolates, card or flowers. Actions speak louder than those. In return for my love letter and gift to you please show your love by taking action. In the name of love, brighten up someone’s day and remind them of our global community. Inspire them to get stirred up to think about how the poorest people in the world are being affected by climate change, despite having contributed the least to the problem.
With love … Member of Craftivist Collective”
Sarah Corbett, the founder of the Craftivist Collective, says the cards are meant to serve as a reminder that we should remember to feel compassion and love for our neighbors both locally and globally. “There are so many distractions wherever we live, particularly on Valentine’s Day,” she says. “Hopefully these Valentine’s cards are a friendly reminder of the difficult circumstances our global neighbors are facing every day. The ‘love notes’ are meant to encourage conversations about compassion to start; even after Valentine’s Day is long over. This is why each year we hijack Valentine’s Day to remind people to “show some love” for their global neighbours as well as the usual smushy stuff.”
And the fun doesn’t end when Valentine’s Day is over. Corbett, who has spearheaded the Craftivist Collective since 2009, started as a blogger named “The Lonely Craftivist.” her main craft of choice being her favorite hobby of creating cross-stitch and embroidery. She had the idea to combine her favorite hobby of cross-stich and embroidery with social activism, and started making cross-stitch mini protest banners. People saw Corbett’s unique work online and asked to join. Now, in a little more than two years, the group has grown to 1,000 members worldwide.
The Craftivist Collective’s manifesto is “to expose the scandal of global poverty and human rights injustices through the power of craft and public art; done through provocative, non-violent and creative actions.”
The group display their finished work in public so that passersby on the street, who may not consider themselves “political,” will talk about the issues presented on the banners.
Corbett says she started the group as a way of making activism more palatable for people. “I began as a burnt out activist who didn’t fit into more militant activist groups, I thought that their approach was too intimidating for some people,” she says. “Using craft as a form of peaceful protest, aims to be fun and civilized, while also thought-provoking and sparking dialogue between people who might usually be apathetic about global injustices.”
This gentle form of protest has proved a hit with many people, even one banker. A craftivist supporter sent a high-profile Goldman Sachs banker a print with the statement, “There is a gap in the clouds of unbridled capitalism, now is the time to act for justice.” He emailed her back a few days later thanking her, saying: “It has led to a good discussion with my wife about what we’re going to do in 2012 in our privileged position to make positive change for all and not just the few.”
Corbett doesn’t believe in preaching to the converted and sees this kind of positive response as the craftivists’ aim. It’s not easy to run and organize a group that keeps growing and takes up a lot of her time, but Corbett’s faith fuels her work.
“Our world has so much potential to be the world God wants it to be so we should use our talents to improve it. The group welcomes people regardless of faith or non-faith, so I don’t always make it explicit to people I’m a Christian. But I do take inspiration from Christianity. Micah 6-8 sums it up: ‘Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God, this is what the Lord requires of you.’ ”
If you’d like to get involved, you can find the Valentine’s letter template and instructions on their website.
Jameela Oberman is a freelance journalist based in the UK, she specializes in culture, music, art and social justice. You can find more of her work at JameelaOberman.com.
Photo credit: Robin Prime of the Craftivist Collective