Jill Chisnell, Marysol Ortega Pallanaz, Joe William Trotter, Jr.
In our eNews Get Out The Vote - Events + Bibliographies, we asked people for reading recommendations that focus on the complex issues surrounding the democratic process.
Art, Architecture and Design Librarian, University Libraries, Carnegie Mellon University
• Craftivism: The Art of Craft and Activism by Betsy Greer (Ed.), Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2014.
Craftivism: The Art and Craft of Activism, edited by Betsy Greer, illustrates the powerful combination of craft and activism through interviews, profiles, and essays which represent diverse voices, causes, communities, and interventions. Craftivism, a term suggested by a member of her knitting circle, became a movement in 2003 when Greer purchased the domain craftivism.com. She writes in the anthology’s introduction, “The very essence of craftivism lies in creating something that gets people to ask questions; we invite others to join a conversation about the social and political intent of our creations.”
Craftivism is empowering. It celebrates “freedom of speech; freedom to take what you love, what you think, and most importantly, what you feel, and share it with the world” (O’Farrell, p. 111). Craftivism is political. It “challenges, provokes, and transforms the world we live in” (Fahey and Jenkins, p. 115). Craftivism fosters connection and builds community as “people who craft together manage to find common ground” (Prain, p. 160). Craftivism heals. It’s good for the soul. Making something by hand forces you to slow down, reflect on issues, and exercise “your inner monologue” (Corbett, p. 204).
With the U.S. presidential election in three weeks, you may have seen evidence of or participated in craftivism in your community. Handwritten postcards from fellow voters, crafty reminders to vote zip-tied to fences or duct-taped to streetlights, one-of-a-kind upcycled applique yards signs, buttons, patches, zines, and of course, posters such as those displayed in the Miller ICA exhibition Get Out the Vote: Empowering the Women’s Vote. Through creativity and grassroots rebellion we are able to explore “difficult issues and ideas” (Buckley, p. 191) and reach people “in a non-threatening manner” (Hamilton, p. 27) to “have an effect on the world around us” (West, p. 193).
Craftivism is available as an ebook from the University Libraries.
Joe William Trotter, Jr.
Giant Eagle University Professor of History and Social Justice and Director, Center for Africanamerican Urban Studies and the Economy (CAUSE), Carnegie Mellon University
“W. E. B. Du Bois and the Work of Democracy”
This selection of books highlights the contributions of W. E. B. Du Bois to our understanding of African American politics in historical perspective. His body of writings not only underscores the critical significance of the franchise in Black liberation movements, but also illuminates the day-to-day politics of disfranchised people of African descent, both enslaved and free, over several centuries of time. In this unfolding age of the Corona Virus, lethal policing of poor and working class Black neighborhoods, and conservative politics, these books remind us of the Civil Rights era adage that “Freedom is a constant struggle.”
• The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870, 1896, reprt. New York: Russell and Russell, 1965.
Following graduation from Fisk University in 1888, Du Bois received a graduate fellowship to study at Harvard. He earned a second bachelor’s degree in 1890, a master’s degree in 1891, and his Ph.D. in history in 1895. Between 1892 and 1894, he studied at the University of Berlin. He later recalled very positive interactions with European people and dreaded his return to the United States. As he put it in his autobiography, “I dreamed and loved and wondered and sang; then after two long years I dropped back to “…. ---hating America!” Two years later, he received good news! Harvard published his first book, The Suppression of the African Slave Trade. A revised and enlarged version of his Ph.D. dissertation, this book was also the first book published in the new Harvard Historical Studies series in the Department of History and Government. Based upon a variety of primary documents, this book explored the shifting currents of antislavery thought and practice in the slave trade from the colonial era through the emancipation years. Du Bois accented the role of racism in the rise and consolidation of slavery as an institution. He concluded that the abolition of slavery required a bloody Civil War because Europe, the American colonists, and the new nation regarded this land as existing chiefly for the benefit of whites, “and designed to be exploited, as rapidly and ruthlessly as possible.” The nation lowered its moral standard for the sake of material advantages. Throughout the book, Du Bois repeatedly states in varying ways that, “It was the plain duty of the colonies to crush the trade and the system in its infancy. . . . It was the plain duty of a Revolution based upon ‘Liberty’ to take steps toward the abolition of slavery. . . . It was the plain duty of the Constitutional Convention. . . . [not] to compromise with a threatening social evil.”
• The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study, 1899, reprt. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996.
Upon his return to the United States from Germany in 1894, Du Bois could not find a job in white universities despite his stellar academic credentials. Even Black colleges like his alma mater Fisk, Atlanta, and Tuskegee informed him that all posts were filled. He finally received a call from Wilberforce University, an African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church school in Ohio, but Wilberforce insisted that he teach the classics rather than his primary fields of history, political economy, and sociology. After teaching for a year at Wilberforce, Du Bois enthusiastically took a temporary two-year appointment in the Sociology Department at the University of Pennsylvania to conduct a comprehensive study of Philadelphia’s rapidly growing Black population. A rich ethnographic and sociological study, the Philadelphia Negro focused on African American life in a Northern city, but it was also a key study of southern Black migration, labor, politics, and community development. Du Bois examined both antebellum and postbellum waves of Black migration into the city. Both waves of Black population movement to Philadelphia, he concluded, “proved disastrous” for the city’s established African American “better class.” By analyzing Black migration primarily from the vantage point of the city’s Black elites, Du Bois treated southern Black migrants as the chief problem in African American work, institutional, and political life. In his view, African American poor and working class migrants not only placed extraordinary pressure on the material resources of established Black institutions, but also weakened the community’s impact on municipal politics. As harsh as Du Bois seemed in his judgement of Black workers and the poor, he nonetheless insisted on the role of racism in limiting the upward mobility of African Americans. Racial discrimination, as he put it, was “morally wrong, politically dangerous, industrially wasteful, and socially silly.”
• Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880, 1935; reprt. New York: The Free Press, 1998.
During the early 20th century, in a series of Atlanta University studies on Black artisans, Du Bois focused increasing attention on the skills and contributions of black workers to the making of America. His expanding proletarian perspective on African American life, labor, and politics gained sharp articulation in his magisterial study, Black Reconstruction. Based primarily upon established studies rather than a systematic analysis of archival sources, Black Reconstruction reconceptualized the African American and American experience in class terms and placed Black workers at the center of the nation’s history. According to Du Bois, African American workers fueled the development of “modern industry” during the cotton revolution of the early nineteenth century in Europe and America. They also represented the central “problem of democracy” in the new republic. Black Reconstruction convincingly argued that it was the Black worker, “as founding stone of a new economic system . . . who brought Civil War in America. He was the underlying cause, in spite of every effort to base the strife upon union and national power.” Du Bois not only reinterpreted the mass movement of fugitives into Union lines as a “general strike” against the Confederacy, but also as the key force that transformed a war between the states into a war of liberation for some four million enslaved people of color. Emancipated Black people made good on their newly won freedom and citizenship rights. They spearheaded “the finest effort to achieve democracy for the working millions which this world had ever seen.” Unlike his earlier works, Black Reconstruction concluded with an explicit call for a broad international freedom movement that embraced all the colonized and exploited people of the modern world, “Immediately in Africa, a black back runs red with the blood of the lash; in India, a brown girl is raped; in China, a coolie starves; in Alabama, seven darkies are more than lynched; while in London, the white limbs of a prostitute are hung with jewels and silk. Flames of jealous murder sweep the earth, while brains of little children smear the hills.”
Marysol Ortega Pallanez
PhD Researcher, Transition Design School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University
• Las políticas de invitar : Coarticulación de temas en torno a la participación pública en diseño : Politics of inviting : co-articulations of issues in designerly public engagement by Åsa Ståhl and Kristina Lindström, 2017.
Deepening into the theory and practice of participatory design has made me question both what participation means and what political participation means. In this regard, the work of Åsa Ståhl and Kristina Lindström has been pivotal in my stance regarding the politics of both participatory design and participation with the public.
The article Politics of inviting : co-articulations of issues in designerly public engagement advocates for the importance of involving the public in the co-articulation of participatory design projects in the context of living with technologies as a way to address everyday issues in a more authentic way. They exemplify co-articulations via two projects called "Threads: a Mobile Sewing Circle" and "UNRAVEL/REPEAT." In Threads Ståhl and Lindström invited people to embroider by hand or with a machine an SMS of their choice; in UNRAVEL/REPEAT, they invited participants to sign a contract where they committed to dispose of an old mobile phone in a responsible manner.
Their approach has completely changed the way I used to understand politics. The article by these two authors, forms part of their work which has made me realize that political engagement is way more than showing up to vote and highlights the importance to find ways for one and others to be part in processes of "co-articulations" of public matters.
• The Design Politics of the Passport: Materiality, Immobility, and Dissent by Mahmoud Keshavarz, London: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2019.
As a designer, whenever I'm thinking about the topics of politics, the political, and political action I can't help but to ground myself in the material and the stories the material holds and communicates. That's why Mahmoud Keshavarz's book The Design Politics of the Passport: Materiality, Immobility and Dissent rings true to me. Through showcasing the stories and voices of undocumented migrants and border transgressors in their interactions with this designed object called the passport, the author exposes how their experiences are mediated by this artifact, exposing the complexities and ambiguity in which "design and politics collide." For a great number of people —predominantly from the "Global South"— the passport shapes people's lives by restricting "their conditions and their options of mobility and residence," while for a minority —from the "Global North"— serves as a ticket to freedom of transit, oftentimes taken for granted.
A discussion around the design politics of the passport serves as a grounding point for Keshavarz' main argument regarding the intersection of design and politics, which is about the importance of acknowledging that designed objects like the passport are not only designed on their look and feel but they also embody power structures and forces in their relations with people. In this way, design is never neutral because it reproduces ideologies, worldviews, mindsets and postures of those involved in the process of defining what it is to be designed. This becomes a call for action urging us for a "political understanding of design and a material understanding of politics"