What is Craftivism? Division over the Definition Explodes an Etsy Team

Be a Change Agent!Now, this may read as a little gossipy, since I, myself, am a member of this team (for now, the reasons for which you’ll soon see), but I think these recent struggles within one group of crafters are important to share, because they say a lot about where our contemporary culture is right now, politically, socially, even globally.

You see, the Craftivism Etsy Team recently had a really big fight, so big that a lot of us actually left the team. Feelings are still hurt, and a lot of those who are left for now are left wondering exactly what our team is, after all, and what it actually stands for.

What did we fight about, you ask?

We fought about the definition of craftivism.

Etsy Teams are groups of etsy sellers who come together because they have something in common, anything from what they sell to where they live to what they believe. Some Etsy Teams are loosely structured, some are highly structured, but all, however casual or organized, have a profile, a mission statement of sorts. Here’s the Team Craftivism profile:

The Etsy Craftivism Team is a team of progressive Etsyans who believe that craft and art can change the world. Some of us use our work to carry messages of protest and political activism. Others believe that the act of making craft can be an act of resistance. Still others see that by buying and selling directly from the maker we are challenging the all pervasive corporate culture that promotes profit over people. Some of our members make t-shirts, jewelry, pottery, and art with creative,thought-provoking messages. Others spin yarn, sew, hammer, forge, glue, knit, knot, alter and sculpt with an eye towards creating new forms of commerce and the making of goods. We gather to learn about and promote each other’s work; to learn about how art and craft are being used as acts of resistance and change around the world, and to creatively join forces in order to spend less, sell more, and empower each other so that we can work towards a more hopeful, thoughtful future.

Sounds good, right? And it is good–this is a good mission statement, and a good team. I became a Craftivist because I believe in DIY as personal empowerment, that instead of relying on the mass-market commercial culture, we can be in charge of the literal creation of our own wants and needs.  I was also interested in how others utilized the act of craft to struggle for change, or achieve power, or practice resistance. Please forgive me–I’m an academic.

The problem arose very recently when the team leadership, during a virtual meeting, just sort of mentioned, in the context of another discussion, that the Craftivism Team has a liberal political agenda.

Yep, a specific political agenda. And the leadership also seemed quite surprised to hear that a LOT of team members not only had no idea that the Craftivism Team was even supposed to be politically liberal, but that these members were themselves not politically liberal.

Indeed, we had some right-wing craftivists on our team. Some were so offended by the immediate conversation that they left the team then and there, but as others stuck around, and the discussion continued over email over the course of a few days, several team members suggested that the definition of craftivism not be so tied to a political agenda (yes, you caught me, I’m one of these members).

What is craftivism, if it is tied to a specific political agenda? Well, it’s not only limited to American politics, but to one brand of American politics. It’s uninterested in how other political activists, other citizens in other countries, themselves use the act of crafting as activism. It’s implying that much of the work of crafting–buying and selling directly from the maker, challenging corporate culture, tying a work to a thought-provoking message–is necessarily politically liberal within the American system of politics. And I don’t think that’s true.

Our leadership thinks it is, though. Whatever craftivism the word means, Craftivism the Etsy Team is remaining (for now) implicitly (though still not explicitly, I believe) tied to a liberal political agenda, and the team profile is meant to be read through such a lens. I’m not sure what procedure the leadership is now going to use to vet potential members to make sure there’s no more right-wing craftivism in our midst, so perhaps we’ll fill back up again before things come again to a head. I might stick around, because I really am interested in crafting for change, and I actually am politically liberal (although I don’t think craftivism itself has to be). It would be fun, perhaps, to branch out and form my own etsy team focused around an idea of craftivism that’s less limited politically or geographically…

But another etsy team already has that Craftivism name.

What do you think craftivism means?

Written by Julie Finn

I'm a writer, crafter, Zombie Preparedness Planner, and homeschooling momma of two kids who will hopefully someday transition into using their genius for good, not the evil machinations and mess-making in which they currently indulge. I'm interested in recycling and nature crafts, food security, STEM education, and the DIY lifestyle, however it's manifested--making myself some underwear out of T-shirts? Done it. Teaching myself guitar? Doing it right now.

Visit my blog Craft Knife for a peek at our very weird handmade homeschool life; my etsy shop Pumpkin+Bear for a truly odd number of rainbow-themed beeswax pretties; and my for links to articles about poverty, educational politics, and this famous cat who lives in my neighborhood.


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