We know that the concept of the "buy and sell handmade" blog Etsy has revolutionary implications for consumer culture and what it means to be part of a creative community. But does politics have a place in crafting social change (and by crafting, we mean the act of making things — knitting, forging, sewing, sculpting, etc.)?
Well, for the Etsy Craftivism Team (which recently underwent an upheaval due to an ideological disagreement of the definition of "craftivism") - yes, it does. Etsy Teams are groups of sellers that come together for a common purpose, and for some other more apolitical members of the Craftivist team, the term evokes the idea of personal empowerment, rather than a USA-centric political principle. This division is interesting because not only is Etsy a wonderful experiment — creatively and socially — but it also points to an interesting paradox between art and activism - even as the handmade industry faces weird issues of legality and "safety". What is craftivism anyways? According to one definition, it is a "form of activism, typically for social justice, environmentalism or feminism, that is centered around practices of craft." In contrast, Craftivism.com defines it as "each time you participate in crafting you are making a difference, whether it's fighting against useless materialism or making items for charity or something betwixt and between."
Okay, sounds good. The Craftivist Team's mission statement reads in part as follows:
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.
Cool stuff. But as told by Craftivism Team member Julie Finn, the brouhaha all began with one of group's leadership mentioning that the team historically has had a liberal political agenda:
[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 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.
I would agree with Ms. Finn. Though I am barely a crafter, I am appreciative of being able to challenge consumer corporate culture by supporting Etsy, regardless of the political implications. It just makes good sense. Plus, I think the do-it-yourself, handmade revolution is part of a revival of desire for the meaningful, the unique and the power of collective creativity — on a scale never seen before.
Politics of one type can't possibly encompass the depth of such a development — though it can inform it - or alienate those who do not agree. The same thing goes for environmentalism — can the politics of environmentalism (whatever that means) possibly describe the intimate and immediate connection of felt experience we feel when standing in an old-growth forest, or watching living things grow?
And make no mistake: handmade - as a way of life, as a culture - is just as threatened as the old-growth forests.
So it comes to the question: must empowerment through art and crafting necessarily be a political stance? Or perhaps is it more appropriate to ask: will we someday move toward a culture that will someday view creative self-empowerment and crafting positive change as instinctive as breathing, rather than a political agenda that one specifically adheres to?
Crafting a Green World
More on Etsy
Handmade Toys And Clothing: Threatened With Extinction Under US Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act
DIY Process: How Do Etsy Artisans Make Their Stuff? (Video Series)
Etsy: Online Marketplace for Things Handmade