Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Craftivism and the WI

Guest blog written by Claire Wade, President of Swallowtail WI in Norfolk Federation. This article was originally published in the Eastern Daily Press on 11 July 2018.

Swallowtail WI's craft entry for the Norfolk Show 

Political activism is often seen as radical and potentially aggressive. The term conjures up images of petitions, protests and rallies, but these are not the only ways to raise awareness of important issues. Not everybody can or wants to take to the streets to march, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care or are unwilling to get involved. Fortunately there are alternatives, ways to use your skills and experience to demonstrate in a form that’s right for you.
The WI is known for its campaigning, it introduced the initial plan for Keep Britain Tidy in 1954 and passed a resolution to ban smoking in public places in 1964. The WI has a voice and it’s not afraid to use it.

The problem with some forms of protest is that if people feel they’re being preached to or shouted at, they can shut down and stop listening. Global warming, domestic abuse or mental health are all subjects that are often met with a cool reaction, especially when the person doesn’t realise that the issues affect them or those they know.           

That’s why the WI uses craftivism to raise awareness in a subtler, but no less powerful way. Craftivism combines craft with activism; it’s a way of voicing your opinion through the use of crafts and creativity to influence long-term change. It can be easy to dismiss it as unimportant or “airy-fairy” but the WI is successfully leveraging its members’ skills to create stunning works of art and start important conversations. With craftivism it doesn’t matter your background, your political party or religion, everyone can get involved because the issues cross party lines, they affect us all.   

Norfolk WI members have been involved in numerous craftivism projects. As part of our long running campaign, No More Violence Against Women, we created a giant white ribbon, because wearing a white ribbon demonstrates your pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women. Our ribbon stood ten feet tall and was inscribed with messages of support from people across the county.

Every February, WIs craft green hearts to raise awareness of climate change and “Show the Love” for the places we want to protect. This year the hearts formed a display on the railings outside St Peter Mancroft.

For International Women’s Day 2016, Erpingham with Calthorpe WI encouraged visitors to the Forum to sew inspirational words onto patches to make a quilt for Leeway, a domestic abuse charity.

In October, Buxton & District WI celebrated its 90th birthday by yarn bombing their village, to bring the community together.
This year, Swallowtail WI paid tribute to the centenary of some women in the UK getting the vote. Members incorporated suffragettes and the colours Green, White and Violet (Give Women Votes) into their Norfolk Show craft entry.
Norwich All Saints WI (NASWI) made sensory bands and lap blankets for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, and crocheted red triangles to raise awareness of Female Genital Mutilation. Members also help run Crafternoons at The Millennium Library on the first Saturday of every month. The sessions are free to attend, open to everyone and help to alleviate loneliness, which was last year’s WI resolution.
“If people can wear a brooch, make a creative display, paint a rock, hang a piece of bunting they are able to let people know how they feel and what they want to say without having to confront folk with words and printed messages,” said Kathy Riviere from NASWI.
While the finished project is important, the act of creation is almost more important. It brings people together and gets them talking about the issue while enjoying a relaxing activity. It’s easier to talk about the hard things while your hands are busy and there’s tea and cake nearby. If this is the new face of political activism then sign me up.        

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