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  • Writer's pictureMadeleina Kay

Craftivism for the Highly Sensitive Person

Jonathan suggested that I look up the “Craftivist Collective” during my tutorial and by chance, the lady I stayed with in Edinburgh had just bought the “Craftivist Handbook” by Sarah Corbett – which she gave me to look at over the weekend. I had to speed-read my way through it, as we had a very busy schedule – so, I probably missed some important bits. I took photos of paragraphs which stood out to me so I could type up some notes for this blog:

At the start of the book there is a glossary of interesting terms. I hadn't come across the term 'Gentle Protest' before and it seems contrary to my typical style of campaigning (bold, colourful, attention-grabbing, provocative, trouble-mkaing) and perhaps something I should try more of, especially when I am feeling burnt out. Conversely, 'Highly Sensitive Person' is a term I have encountered (in the "Psychologytok" rabbit hole - I appear to have fallen down on Tiktok) and it's something I identify with, having been gaslit in personal relationships and accused of being "too sensitive". Yes, I am sensitive - and it's not a problem unless you are being abused... I am both emotionally sensitive and have strong reactions by external stimuli, for example, I can't sleep if there is any light whatsoever and the smallest noise can wake me up, I hate being in venues with very loud music and the smell of meat/dairy makes me feel sick. I am also very easily startled and frequently experience "cognitive overwhelm" due to over-exposure to external stimuli. Sometimes, I wish I was less sensitive and more resillient.

On the topic of stress, Corbett describes it as: ‘a mode that our bodies go into to help us survive. But this response is supposed to be a short-term thing that shows up, helps us survive, and then it’s supposed to shut off. When we can’t shut off a stress response, this tool for survival becomes toxic and causes real injury. We might get sick more easily, or develop harmful habits more easily. We might be forgetful, feel unable to socialise, or just generally find it difficult to enjoy life.’ Many of these symptoms of stress resonate with me. I’ve been only too aware for a few years that chronic stress has exacerbated many health conditions, led to repeated infections, I am definitely guilty of harmful habits and I often avoid socialising. What to do about chronic stress is another matter, as I don’t seem to have been very successful at reducing my workload. ("Learn to say no" she says whilst laughing at her own incapability at saying this very basic two-letter word.)

I'm not generally a fan of manifestos, but this one has some nice points. I just wish they had made the design more easily legible.


Corbett presents a ‘dream-making cloud’ craft project, with a beautiful philosophy: ‘Many protests around the war focus our attention on what we don’t want… For our well-being we need to believe in dreams of a better world that can become reality. We can still grieve at harm in the world while we also hold a vision of a better future for all.’ As someone that always tries to focus on promoting a positive vision, using bright colours and hopeful messaging (I was recently told by one of the organisers, that I brought “the sparkle” to the event” in Edinburgh), so, I can relate to the dream-clouds… Clouds are best when the sunlight is peeking through the storm, and a rainbow is cascading from them.


I probably know better than most - people could be kinder online.

 

Corbett also discusses wearable activism – which I can identify with as a performer who uses a lot of costume and accessories in my work, ‘Wearing your commitment to social fairness in public can help increase diverse participation and normalise a cultural change. In fact, history shows that when approximately 3.5% of the population participate in non-violent protest, success becomes inevitable. Legislation is not enough to dislodge old habits and cultures – we need to show people in our Gentle Protests… Democracies are more sensitive than dictatorships to domestic and international public opinion , and more conformist to international norms. However, we must acknowledge here that in some places it’s dangerous to wear your convictions publicly. Some choose to wear them secretly to anchor themselves in their values.’ This paragraph made me think of photos I saw of old Russian ladies on the Moscow metro, wearing the blue and yellow colours of the Ukrainian flag after Putin’s invasion. A silent, but noticeable act of protest that could also be denied as coincidence in the face of authoritarian censorship. As well as costumes, I am a massive fan of badges. I have designed and produced my own as well as collected them from events across Europe – I frquently wore a blue hat completely covered in badges I had made or collected. This hat was incredibly successful at engaging press attention and getting media coverage, with photographs appearing on ITV, BBC, the Guardian, etc. A curator at the House of European History museum asked me if I would donate this hat to their collection – I did so, gladly.


Screenshot from the Guardian.


Corbett uses animals as metaphors for different behavioural approaches to activism – which made me laugh because I have met many a Jackal, whilst strongly identifying as a Giraffe; ‘Beware the jackal… The jackal is quick to anger… erratic rather than strategic aggressive rather than proactive. It’s fixated on the problem that fuels its fear and fight-or-flight response.’ When the pro and anti Brexit protests were at their most toxic in 2019, I felt both sides were behaving like Jackals – it was one of the main reasons I was driven to working more in other countries with European NGOs and activists – I couldn’t relate to, process or engage with the anger and aggression. It felt toxic and distressing to be in those spaces, especially as a young woman.


Corbett then asks, ‘did you know that giraffes have the biggest heart of any land animal? ….By embodying the characteristics of the giraffe we can speak with compassion, be mindful or everyone’s needs, request positive realistic progress and truly connect.’ I love that she chose a giraffe because I have always felt an affinity with this particular animal – my mother even described me as a “giraffe baby” because I was so long and thin. I love their gentleness and their strength, as well as their beautiful patterns and huge eyes.

Corbett makes a point about media interviews, which took me a long time to learn myself: ‘Don’t forget you can always say no.’ I used to bend over backwards to meet every press invitation, often causing myself significant stress in the process and hours of my life every time. A number of times, I found my words being twisted out of context by unsympathetic media outlets. I think that exposure through the media is generally considered to be "too valuable an opportunity" to turn down, but the reality is that not much benefit comes out of it. I’m learning to restrict what I agree to, including recently turning down an interview on Murdoch owned Talk TV.

 

The book is peppered with inspirational quotes, including this one by Dr. Maya Angelou, ‘people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ If I am honest, I am not sure I entirely agree. Having been trapped in numerous toxic / abusive relationships, as well as being relentlessly trolled online, I have very vivid memories of what abusers have said or done to me, which I often recall in cPTSD style flashbacks. However, due to the persistent nature and cycles of abuse, I have learned to disconnect how I feel from what happened. So often my feelings are just numb ever though I know (and remember) what was said and done was wrong.

 

Corbett introduces an interesting term I hadn’t come across before - ‘calling in’ - although I am familiar with the concept behind it; ‘Calling out is where a person is challenged, often in public, for something they have said or done, with the intention of exposing their wrongdoing… Calling in is patient and empathetic. Often delivered in private, it’s a compassionate enquiry as a critical friend, not an aggressive enemy. It invites people to be part of the solution rather than labelling them as the problem… ‘calling out’ is one of the measures of last resort, not first or second resort.’ This is something I generally practice, for example when I have had problems with companies, I would call their customer services before resorting to “Twitter shaming” them (which unfortunately is usually a more effective and efficient way to get a response).

Corbett explains her personal sentiments with regards to the label ‘troublemaker’ which I found interesting, as someone who has embraced this label, even describing myself as a ‘professional trouble-maker’ in my social media bio for a while. ‘Charlan Nemeth, explains that ‘troublemaking’ is not about anger: “it is about the willingness of an individual, or a few, to express an opinion that challenges the majority view… Dissent makes us more open to learning, to growing, and to changing.” Authentic dissent is a mechanism for people to question existing systems and structures, re-examine their positions and look further into the information presented.’ I think I identify with this term for all of the reasons explained above, it’s about disrupting systems and challenging conventional thinking and practices.


I was interested by the following reflection, ‘Bystander Revolution is an initiative offering practical advice about actions individuals can take to defuse bullying… I remembered the words of Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel: “What hurts the victim the most is not the cruelty of the oppressor, but the silence of the bystander”.’ I recalled an incident where I was sexually assaulted and harassed (multiple times) by a fellow activist, yet when I raised it with the others in our comunity, I was told that “nothing could be done because he’s an alcoholic and emotionally vulnerable”. I was genuinely more baffled and hurt by that response from another woman, than by the abuse itself – so, I am definitely in favour of the ‘Bystander Revolution’. Conversely, when someone has witnessed abusive behaviour and shown solidarity, it has hugely lessened the impact – kindness changes everything.

I loved Corbett’s suggestion of ‘toy protests’ especially as I recently engaged in my own, slightly barbaric ‘toy protest’ by burning a small figurine in a video artwork commenting on weaponised gift-giving. ‘Toy protests can be powerful… “Not only can laughtivism break the fear and ferocious public image the cement an autocrat’s legitimacy, but it also serves to burnish the ‘cool’ image of your movement.’ I loved this term ‘laughtivism’ which aligns with my belief that joy is one of the most potent acts of defiance in the face of cruelty and oppression. It's something I am planning to embrace in a performance artwork, "respeaking" troll comments - which I have discovered I cannot do without laughing hysterically - to the point of tears.

Another quote, which I felt like I could relate to more than the Maya Angelou one, was from Jane Goodall, “one individual cannot possibly make a difference alone. It is individual efforts, collectively, that makes all the difference in the world!”. I realised during my tutorial with Jonathan, that I have a misconception of myself working as a “lone wolf” because I am the only constant in the multitude of working relationships which I manage. But the truth is that I am nearly always working with other people, groups of individuals, or organisations to deliver creative activism. The disparate and constantly changing nature of the people I work with, has left me feeling somewhat alone and isolated, forcing me to be self-reliant and independent – but Goodall’s comment is true, in the sense, that what I have achieved as an activist has been because of collaboration, community building and collective actions. Corbett adds, ‘too much focus on yourself as the hero leads to fear, anxiety and loneliness… The other end of the spectrum is people feeling too small to make a difference to unfair, harmful structures, that there is no point in doing anything.’ This is apathy and something I have identified as a major barrier to participation – it’s one of the reasons I wrote my songWe Can Be The Change!’ – the chorus to which I encourage the audience to sing with me:


‘We must work together,

For what matter most of all,

Every voice counts,

No matter how small,

Let’s change the world for the better,

Let’s change the world for good,

Let’s change the world for the future,

Let’s change it just because…

We can be the change’


A final piece of guidance from Corbett, ‘let go of any unreasonable expectations of others whilst holding hope for them to change their hearts, minds or behaviours... Know when to nudge powerholders to do more and let go of trying to persuade those who seem unwilling to budge.’ This aligns with my beliefs in “spheres of influence” and understanding how the ecosystem of a campaign operates, who holds power and influence over who, and knowing your role within that ecosystem, so that you know where best to strategically target your actions. I know that politicians aren’t going to listen to a “trouble-maker” like me, so I don’t focus on them – my role is mobilising, inspiring and empowering the grassroots communities through positive actions which instil hope and joy. I also believe the advice to “let go” is essential, not to get hung up on a lost cause – which I also reflected in another, more recent song I wrote, 'A Thread of Empathy', which neatly concludes this blog post with a sewing reference;

 

‘I can teach you how to take a thread of empathy and let them be,

I can help you to dry your eyes so you can see, you have to let them be,

I can’t change you, but I can show you how to be free and how to let them be’.

 

 

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