I have been doing a lot of soul-searching lately as a result of what’s been going on politically in the United States, as a maker, as a librarian, and as a person. A lot of the challenges we will be facing in the next few years are downright terrifying, and there are a lot of people who will be in danger. In these circumstances, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I use my time. Can I justify devoting much of my time and attention to making, in light of the enormity of what else is going on?
To me, the answer is a resounding yes. I still believe in the ability of the maker movement to empower and improve the world. Here are some reasons I think making still warrants our time and attention.
Making is–and should be–a grassroots movement
Making is a movement of the people, not of corporations. Although makerspaces have become mainstream, and though I know we welcome the greater attention and resources that come along with that, I think it’s important we don’t forget the movement’s roots as “a direct reaction to a consumer culture.” Making is about putting power back in the hands of the individual, and making is an act that should be driven by an individual’s passions and values.
Now, perhaps more than ever, we are being governed by the interests of corporations and those who don’t care about us as individuals. In this context, making is so important in reclaiming our voices and our power. Anyone who protested or saw photos of the protests this weekend witnessed tons of hand-made signs, hats, t-shirts, buttons, and even costumes. Making is an avenue to expressing ourselves and making our voices heard.
When our country and the maker movement are driven by corporations, they look like this–homogeneous and with no element of personal pride. When we take both into our own hands and invest ourselves emotionally, the results will resonate and have more meaning for us as individuals–and can lead to things like craftivism. This is a time for the power of the people and a time for grassroots movements and activism.
Maker skills empower and lift up those who need it most
Maker skills can lift someone out of homelessness. The ability to repair possessions rather than needing to buy new ones can make a huge difference to someone who is struggling financially. Programs like the Maker Jawn Initiative reach out to under-served populations without as much access to STEAM education to “teach creative thinking and a DIY mentality.” Maker Ed’s Maker VISTA program works to help people overcome poverty through maker education. It’s not uncommon to see people using maker skills to create items to donate to help others.
Making is also a great way to bring more diversity into STEAM fields by making these skills accessible, comprehensible, and interesting to people of color, women, people with disabilities, and others who may not be served by traditional STEAM education. Our country’s progress is driven by STEAM (yes, STEAM, not STEM), and especially as we struggle with issues like climate change denial and reduced access to women’s healthcare, we desperately need more diverse voices and ideas at the table.
As we look toward a future where social safety nets may disappear, where being poor is increasingly vilified, and where those who celebrate white supremacy, misogyny, and ablesim are rewarded, maker skills can empower those who need it, can help them seek out solutions, and can help prepare them to meet some of the challenges they will face.
Making is learning
Making is, in large part, about learning how to learn. It’s about learning to explore, experiment, and rebound from failure. It’s about problem-solving and generating, testing, and modifying creative solutions. It’s about learning with your hands and your eyes, and gathering information empirically.
In this brave new world of “post-truth”, “alternative facts,” and the threat of Betsy DeVos, learning how to learn is essential. Public learning institutions still matter: schools, libraries, museums, the National Endowment for the Arts. Regardless of the challenges that will arise, it must still be our mission to help birth creative, critical thinkers who know how to make not only objects but how to make knowledge. We all need to hone our information literacy and our creative literacy. Right now, education and learning are absolutely vital.
Making makes connections and connections may save us
We’ve said it on MakerBridge many times before, but making is at its core about community. Makerspaces are not about stuff, but about people, and they can be so powerful in bringing people together across various barriers. They are an excellent way for people to get to know each other, talk to each other, and share with each other.
In this current climate of hate, love is a radical act. There is a reason that freedom of assembly is protected in our very first Amendment, and that tyrants look for ways to divide and turn people against each other. As diplomat and historian Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out (quoted in this excellent Teen Vogue article), “A despot easily forgives his subjects for not loving him, provided they do not love one another.”
And so, I’m going to continue spending time and attention on making. I believe it still has value. Where do you stand? Share your thoughts in the comments below or with us on Twitter.
Image credit: unless otherwise noted, the photos in this post were taken by me and are licensed under CC-BY-NC 4.0.