F&A Series: Creative Activism

Anna Bland is the Development Officer for LMM (Leeds Methodist Mission) a project building on a strong Methodist legacy in Leeds City Centre. It is a reimagining of a distinctly Methodist and Christian presence in a city centre context; the project focuses on creative and relational forms of activism, wellbeing and creating spaces of reflection and contemplation.

‘If we want a world that is beautiful, kind and fair, shouldn’t our activism be beautiful, kind and fair?’  Sarah Corbett

When I say the word activism many people will picture large marches, anger and possibly even violence, depending on their experience or perspective. I have been on marches, signed petitions and been part of campaign groups who engage with politicians, a lot of the more ‘traditional’ forms of activism, all of which I have enjoyed and which are important in creating a safer and more beautiful world. However, when I heard Sarah Corbett, founder of the Craftivism Collective, speak at a festival, I immediately connected with her approach of gentler, slower, more relational and creative forms of activism. She spoke eloquently about how common activist burn out is and that a different, kinder approach to activism is available to us.

As a Christian, I’m inspired by the image of the body of Christ in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, which encourages unity and diversity within the community of those who follow Jesus. Applying that image to the way in which Christians work for social justice, it means that our individual flourishing is encouraged: using our unique giftings to make our voice heard and finding an approach that is best for us. It allows each of us to engage with issues of social justice and use our voice for good, whether attending marches is up our street or not. 

Sarah Corbett shares examples in her book ’How to be a Craftivist’ of times when this kind of activism has been hugely effective. It shows that creative, gentle and relational forms of activism can work very well alongside other more traditional acts of protest. This style of activism, which she compares to giving a gift to someone, makes a lot of sense to me.  She advocates taking time on your gift, researching the topic and the person you are sending it to. She advises thoughtful words to go alongside the gift inviting them into relationship, using words of encouragement and making the assumption that they are a kind and caring individual who will want to make choices that are moral and positive for the world. She advocates seeing the people in power as fellow human beings wanting to make a positive mark on the world rather than the enemy. 

Early on in my role I was meeting with activists in Leeds and reading about the many exciting and effective projects and campaigns that go on here. Through these conversations I became aware how common feelings of burn out and loss of passion can be for those engaging with social justice issues. Progress is often slow and for those painfully aware of the urgency of a particular issue this can feel a burden that is sometimes too heavy. These conversations took me back to Sarah Corbett’s words and a realisation that campaigning for a kinder world should not mean unkindness to ourselves or to those in power. There is something deeply Christian throughout these ideas, they encourage us to be constantly asking ourselves if we are seeing those we are campaigning to in the way Jesus would see them? Are we comprehending their full and beautiful humanity?

When I started my role I was tasked with  building on Methodist theology and legacy here in Leeds, creating something new and imaginative. Social justice is within Methodist DNA, with the Wesleyan movement engaging in many of the important issues of the day: prison reform and the abolition of slavery. Early Methodists were encouraged to do their ‘utmost to improve the lives of others’[i]. Also important were small groups where people met regularly for accountability and spiritual growth. Within our monthly creative activist group we are embracing these very Methodist elements. We meet as a small(ish) group to chat, share and do something creative together, we are encouraging one another and working to make the lives of others better through our creative actions. In our festive session we will be creating something to say thank you to a brand who make it easier for us to live a more ‘ethical’ life and maybe specifically a more ‘ethical’ Christmas.

To me the message of a slower, more reflective form of activism feels particularly valid and important in this time of Covid and what is being called a mental health crisis in our society. Life in our modern world feels overwhelming and incredibly difficult for many. Crafting and creativity are often an important outlet, a place where we can process and express our frustrations as well as our joys. This is why people struggling with their mental health are encouraged to join creative groups as this outlet can be helpful. 

This is where the emphasis on wellbeing came from for LMM.  We wanted to create spaces that encouraged people to find stillness, get to know themselves better and engage in activities that help them to do so. I relate strongly to ideas of God wanting us to flourish and draw ever closer to the person we were created to be. It is my belief that constant busy-ness is not the best way of achieving this, we need to rest and spend time in reflection and community. 

In the slow act of creating something beautiful we can think through the particular issue in more detail, with each stitch, brush stroke or line of poetry we engage more deeply with the issue, ourselves and our community. Creative activism allows people who care deeply but are tired, unwell or just not keen on marches or more aggressive forms of activism to use their skills to be part of building the world they want to live in.

You can find out more about the work LMM, including their Creative Activism group in their website.

Written By: Anna Bland

Image Credit: Stacie @flickr

[i] https://www.methodist.org.uk/about-us/the-methodist-church/history/social-justice/