Activism Is Not A 4-Letter Word. (Reminder)

Today’s post is a re-post of something I wrote in November 2005. If you’ve read Handmade Nation, you’ll see that I have an essay in the book with the same name. This original post was what led to the essay a few years later. I’m reposting it here because sometimes it’s good to be reminded of just where your heart lies.

Two things for today, this afternoon I’ll be on The State of Things from about 12.40 until 1EST, and tonight I’ll be talking about craftivism and the book at Barnes & Noble in Cary at 7pm.


Dictionary.com defines activism as “The use of direct, often confrontational action, such as a demonstration or strike, in opposition to or support of a cause.” This is the definition I have often been presented with the minute I mention either craftivism or activism. At the mention of these terms, some people rear up and want nothing more to do with the discussion. When such a negative definition is so commonly applied, it isn’t hard to see why feathers are ruffled by even a whisper of activism.

But my own definition of activism lies closer to this, “Activism, in a general sense, can be described as intentional action to bring about social or political change” from Wikipedia. It continues with “The word ‘activism’ is often used synonymously with protest or dissent, but activism can stem from any number of political orientations and take a wide range of forms, from writing letters to newspapers or politicians, simply shopping ethically, rallies and street marches, direct action, or even guerilla tactics. In the more confrontational cases, an activist may be called a freedom fighter by some, and a terrorist by others, depending on which side of the political fence is making the observation.”

Activism (or craftivism) is less about a call to arms and more about a call to act for change. Although there are negative ways one can bring about change, the majority of activists I know are working for the common good, attempting to bring about illumination instead of darkness. By negating a construct and stripping it of its positive intent, the more commonly used definition only breeds fear and unwillingness when in fact every time you make a conscious choice, you are being an activist. In choosing to buy one brand of yarn instead of another due to the way it was produced or by choosing to ride your bike instead of drive, you are being an activist.

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The past two weeks I have been living in rural England on a small-scale farm. I can’t think of a time when I have been more inspired or been taught more lessons or been shown so much hope in such a short span. I have been connecting and meeting individuals who continue to farm despite all the obstacles in their paths. After all the governmental and financial restraints have been agreed to, there seems to be little reason to continue an agrarian lifestyle.

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As we send all of our textile needs to further shores where people are paid less to work more, resources that the small-scale producers have relied on since the Industrial Revolution have vanished, leaving them trying to fill in the gaps. And as it becomes more and more difficult for small-scale farmers to survive, traditions and methods are lost in the name of technology and progress.

But there is a sense of activism in the air here as people strive to continue to produce wool and fleece as they once did when all the factories where up and running and could take in small quantities of fibre to be prepared. Out of love and determination, activism is alive in its most positive sense- as individuals try and band together to keep traditional methods afloat despite myriad setbacks. In watching their strength and learning from their dedication, I am reminded again and again of why I am not ashamed to call myself an activist.

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