What we learned and active hope

‘I will allow myself space for my heart to break so the hold of community can be poured into those cracks and make it stronger, make it bigger. Because every time my heart breaks it is made stronger.’ Mikaela Loach

In seven months crafters from all across UK and beyond colleKnitted panel round a tree with words saying sending out SOS to the worldctively created 1.5km of knitted, crocheted and sewn climate messages which were displayed in rain and high winds on Glasgow Drying Green on 6th November during COP26 talks.

Stitches For Survival was born in the spring of 2021. Having COP26 in Glasgow felt like a huge responsibility – to make our voices heard and to amplify the voices of those in the most affected countries, many of whom were unable to attend.  The need for countries to take bold and binding action together had never been more urgent.  Yet in early 2021 we were still in lockdown and unable to gather in person. Stitches for Survival was a project that people could work on in their own homes whilst also contributing to something bigger: a giant 1.5km long scarf (the length of the scarf representing the 1.5°C target in the Paris Agreement) made up of knitted, crocheted and sewn panels measuring 60cm x 100cm. The idea was heavily based on Wool Against Weapons – a campaign to create a 7-mile pink scarf which stretched between Aldermaston and Burghfield AWE in August 2014 as a protest against the renewal of Trident – which many of the organising group had been closely involved with.

Woman holding a large roll of panels sitting on the floor of a vanWhen we put the Stitches for Survival idea out there in early April 2021 we had so many unknowns: we didn’t know if the idea would take off; we didn’t know where or when we would display the scarf during COP; we didn’t know where we would store over 1,000 crafted panels; we didn’t know how we would get them all sewn together; we had an intention that they would be repurposed into blankets for refugees and asylum seekers, but didn’t know who might take them; and we didn’t know whether covid restrictions would enable us to gather together safely in Glasgow or at any other stage of the journey.

As I walked round the drying green on 6th November, in thermals, Gore-Tex jacket and trousers I found myself in tears. So much care had gone into each individual panel; so many people had taken the seed of an idea to their craft group or action group and so many conversations and so many stitches later – here we were. Every single one of us had contributed something of ourselves to create this stunningly beautiful spectacle being tossed by the wind with the autumn leaves. And not one of us could have done it on our own.

So what did we learn?

We learned that high winds and rain will not deter us – and the persistence we found in working in such trying conditions made our actions even more memorable and moving. In some ways we were more in touch with the earth. We are the sun – and we are the wind and rain!

We learned that we can never know what our actions achieve. Whilst the official outcome of COP26 fell far short of what was needed we do not yet know if our campaigning, and that of millions of other people around the world, will help the tide to turn far enough. We know that we inspired vast numbers of crafters to take action – many for the first time, and hope this will continue to snowball – and that we all need to keep engaging – that this crisis needs all of us. May the ripples continue to spread. We learned that there is a huge crafting community out there ready to play their part!

We learned that the journey is as important as the end goal. Throughout Circular idsplay of panels hanging at York MinsterStitches for Survival we encouraged people to be visible locally and to display their sections of the scarf at local actions and places of climate related significance such as the offices of large fossil fuel companies or refineries, local councils to encourage divestment campaigns, climate festivals. The conversations that happened with families and friends and at each public stitch-in, street action or exhibition carried seeds of hope and helped people see that they could make a difference. Each stitch was important. Each local action.

And we learned that creativity touches us on so many levels and enables us to dialogue with others through colour and shape and words in a way that enables us all to see afresh and to move forward with renewed energy. That engaging with the climate crisis through our creativity can bring about some of the inner transformation necessary, as we develop courage to share our work and build new ways of acting together.

We learned that creating together gives us hope and enables us to sow seeds of hope out there in the world. But how do we stay hopeful in such challenging times?

What is Active Hope?

We had many conversations in our household in the lead up to COP26 about hope, and Joanna Macy’s concept of Active Hope. I find it helpful to remind myself that feeling hopeful or hopeless are passing feelings – they come and go – and so we need something more stable to sustain us. As I understand it Active Hope is about turning towards hope even when we feel hopeless or despairing. About still showing up and doing what we know we need to do. Engaging in craftivism can do that. I am grateful to my friend Kristine for sharing this quote from Joanna:

‘Hope and hopelessness, they’re just feelings. They arise and pass. Sometimes I feel hopeful. Sometimes I feel helpless. Sometimes it has to do with what I had for breakfast or what somebody just said to me. So the greatest gift we can give our world is our full presence and our choice moment by moment to be present, to stay open. And when you’re in the middle of a big adventure, you don’t have time to decide whether you’re hopeful or hopeless. David going out with his slingshot… Say, “Excuse me, Are you feeling hopeful?” Or, “Excuse me, Frodo and Sam, how hopeful do you feel today?” We just got a job to do. Don’t waste my time. That question can bring you out of the present moment. It can throw you into imaginings and conjectures when all your energy should be right here in the moment.’

 Rebecca Solnit says something similar when she describes hope as the axe we use to break down doors in the case of an emergency – and us being that axe:

‘Hope comes from action. It’s not a lottery ticket we sit and clutch hoping that we’ll be lucky. It’s an axe we use to break down doors with in an emergency. We are that axe. We will break down those doors together and we must.’

Hands crocheting a blue scarfSo to act with hope in the climate crisis we cannot wait until we know all the answers or the perfect plan for action or know for sure that what we do will have the desired impact. We need to come together, to act with integrity and love and be that active hope that keeps showing up and that can inspire others to keep showing up alongside us. Let us walk forward with all these uncertainties, linking arms with all those committed to creating a life-sustaining society so that collectively we can avoid falling into those familiar holes of overwhelm and panic.

After that stormy, exhilarating day on Glasgow Green we had another uncertainty – where would we dry out 1,500 soggy panels before they could be repurposed into blankets? R:evolve Recycle, our fabulous partners in Cambuslang, decided to take them all back with them and within a few days we were treated to photos of panels being hung up and down Glasgow tenement stairs still spreading their messages of hope whilst drying out!

Thanks so much to all of you for being alongside me on this journey. So, what next, radical crafters?

‘A better world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day I can hear her breathing’
Arundhati Roy

Justice is always worth fighting for. A better world is always worth fighting for’
Mikaela Loach (Edinburgh-based climate justice activist and co-host of Yikes podcast)

Jane Lewis December 2021