Where Did I Go?

In this article I’m going to share some more personal things than I usually do, to talk a bit about my absence and what to do when activism just feels hopeless.

I haven’t been great at writing my blog recently. I have published one post since April, and that’s it. And that was back in August.

Why have I been so quiet? Where did I go?

The answer is complicated and to do with multiple circumstances. My mental health has been pretty rocky the last year, and then this summer it got worse. This summer had multiple family health scares, bad news, personal life changes, and a big move from Scotland to England. So amid all that I just didn’t have a lot of energy to be working on my blog. But that isn’t all. I have started about five blog posts since April and not posted any of them. Why? Because I feel like a fraud.

I’ve been struggling with imposter syndrome. I don’t feel like I’m a good activist. This is partly because I find it hard to engage with climate activism these days. I’ve experienced a lot of burnout since Covid-19 began, and I’m not able to be as active as I used to be. Pre-Covid I went to protests, I started a society, I engaged with the activist community and educated myself on the climate crisis. But then Covid-19 happened and a lot of personal difficulties that has made me struggle to care anymore.

I think I may be in some kind of climate-crisis-denial. It’s hard to focus on something as huge as the climate crisis when I am struggling just to get through everyday life and work through things on a more personal level. So I think, to protect itself, my brain just isn’t really able to comprehend the big picture issues anymore. This week is COP26 and I haven’t been able to engage with anything around it. Whenever something comes up on my social media about it, nine times out of ten I keep scrolling past. Because I just can’t face it right now.

I have also been feeling… hopeless. Like I can’t really make a difference. There are a lot of things in this world that make me sad. Capitalism, colonialism, structural racism. The meat industry. The corrupt government of Brazil burning down the Amazon Rainforest and killing indigenous people. The UK’s Tory government privatising the NHS, opening up a new oil field, greenwashing, and how people still vote for them. I’ve tried to start articles on these topics but every time it feels too big and overwhelming and I don’t know quite how to express my fear so I just shut down. They stay untouched in my drafts as my fears linger on.

Why am I sharing all these deeply personal feelings with you? I guess there’s a few reasons. For one thing, I want to come back. I want to write on the blog again. But I’m maybe also asking you to be patient with me if I don’t write pieces that tackle the big picture. I want to be able to write those things one day, but at the moment I think I am going to ease myself into it with some lighter articles, maybe even some more joyous or festive things. I’m also going to try to stop feeling like I have to be perfect. Some of my blog posts may be a little messy, like this one, but I’m learning that that’s okay. I believe in imperfect activism. All we can do is our best.

I also wanted to share this so that if you also feel this way then you know you are not alone. It can be really hard to care about something so intangible, that feels so out of your control, when you have so much going on in your personal life. Sometimes the only thing you can do is survive. And that’s okay. I guess my advice to you though if you want to keep being an activist is to do what I’m trying to do… reflect on your feelings, continue your activism in little ways that aren’t overwhelming, and maybe follow people on social media, or listen to podcast, that inspire you and give you hope instead of making you feel hopeless. For example, I’ve been listening to The Bad Activist Podcast lately and their episodes on love and activism, or artists being radical, make me feel inspired. It gets the cogs working in my head again, and even if it’s only for the duration of the episode, I’m hoping these little bursts will build up and that one day I can really care again. For now, I’ll keep trying. Because that’s all that we can do.

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Inspiring Activists: Chrissy Holmes

This week I am excited to be interviewing Chrissy Holmes, who is an environmental activist and artist from my hometown of Bristol. As well as setting up her own small business on Etsy, she is also raising activists of her own, and working at Bristol’s first ever zero waste store, Zero Green. I’ve admired Chrissy’s nature themed art on Instagram for ages as well as her passion for the environment, so I am thrilled that she has agreed to do an interview with me today.

What made you want to start up your eco-friendly art business?

I love painting and drawing. It helps me focus, direct my attention on something and I can mentally shut everything else out. I suppose it is almost a meditative process for me and I don’t feel quite right when if I haven’t done anything creative for some time. Being able to make a living from my passion has always been a dream for me. I am a long way off art being my sole income but maybe one day!

What inspires you?

Nature has always been my source of inspiration. The beauty of our natural world, its vitality and fragility. My intention is to celebrate nature, and in that celebration I hope to inspire in people who see my work to love and protect our planet.

I noticed that nature features a lot in your art, is nature also a big part of your activism? 

I started working on my Natures Alphabet after the birth of my second child. That was when I began to fully understand the severity of the climate crisis and it terrified me to think of the future and what kind of world my children would be growing up in. I was feeling deep despair and one way out of it was to direct my fear and love into painting. Painting and focusing on nature. Kind of like trying to make it permanent in paint, like self care. Can self care be activism? Preservation – self preservation and planetary preservation. Perhaps.

As a mother, how do you feel about the climate crisis, and how do you try and raise your children sustainably?

My children both love the outdoors and all the creatures they encounter! They probably know way more about animals than I do as they love watching nature documentaries. My daughter, who is nearly 9, is beginning to understand about climate change and it makes her sad that animals are being driven into extinction because of it. This is challenging for me as a parent as I want to tell her there’s nothing to worry about, and make it all better, yet I can’t. What I do instead is tell her some of the exciting success stories in re-wilding/ protecting endangered species and carbon sequestering initiatives that are taking place. I want to give her hope that human ingenuity can get us out of this mess.

We try to live as sustainably as possible – avoiding too much plastic packaging, shopping locally, second hand clothes, green energy etc. I don’t stress too much about these things though as we need system change more than individual change.

You also work at Zero Green Bristol, can you tell us more about them? 

Zero Green is Bristol’s first zero waste shop. They opened 3 years ago and have expanded in that time with more staff and to a larger premises. It is not just about ditching the plastic in Zero Green, as they are also hugely ethical – selling organic and fair trade vegan products and also paying their staff the living wage.

What do you love most about working with Zero Green?

It is so wonderful to work somewhere that is in line with my ethics. Everyone I work with is interesting and we are all planet loving people involved in environmental projects outside of work. I also really enjoy of my chats with our customers. So many interesting people shop at Zero Green and it makes me feel good to witness many people trying to do their bit for the environment.

What is your favourite thing about Bristol?

I love how green it is! How it’s brimming with allotments, community gardens, farms and there’s so many initiatives that are environmentally focused in the city.

What is something you would change about Bristol?

The raising homelessness saddens me and also the air pollution needs to be tackled as its is dangerously high.

Why did you choose to give some of your art profits to Avon Needs Trees? 

I have chosen two tree charities to donate to. I donate all the profits from my Natures Alphabet cards to Tree Aid. They are regenerating drylands across Africa and helping local communities thrive by planting trees. They are also one of the main charities involved in The Great Green Wall – a monumental scaled project to plant a wall of trees across the breadth of Africa. I have raised over £200 for this charity so far!

I donate money from my Make Mankind Earthkind prints and postcards to Avon Needs Trees. This is another land regeneration charity but more local. Avon Needs Trees has bought two areas of land and are reforesting them to help tackle climate change, boost local biodiversity and also work to prevent flooding.

Giving money to charity made from my art helps complete its intention – to raise awareness and as a by-produt – funds to protecting and supporting our environment.

Any advice for other people who want to have an eco friendly job like you or make activist art? 

I don’t feel qualified to give advice as I don’t really think of myself as a success!! But I am just a person who is passionate about art and the environment and this directs my decision making.

Thank you so much Chrissy for answering these questions and for all of the amazing and inspiring work that you do. Make sure to follow Chrissy’s activism on her Instagram and please do support her art by taking a look at her Etsy.

Do you know of any inspiring activists you’d like to see interviewed? I’d love to see your suggestions, please comment down below.

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4 Activists On How To Handle Burnout

In this article, four activists (including myself) look at the topic of burnout — what causes it, how to avoid it and how to handle it in day to day life.

A lot of us experience burnout, but what actually is it? According to Psychology Today, “Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress.” Burnout can leave you feeling exhausted, lethargic, and sometimes physically ill. It is your body’s way of telling you that’s you’re doing too much and you need to slow down. Anyone can experience burnout, but it might be more common for those who are students or those with a stressful job or living environment — and it is quite common with activists.

Activists often take the weight of the world on their shoulders as they realise that things need to change, and they are a key part of making that change. This responsibility is exhausting, and can lead them to believing that they have to work constantly. Plus, activists often aren’t paid for the work they do, which means a lot of them have to hold a job alongside their hours of activism. This can be pretty exhausting to say the least. So I have talked to three activists — who I have previously interviewed if you want to learn more about them — Shona Louise, Tori Tsui, and Grace Kress, on their take on burnout.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Shona Louise:

For me handling burnout begins with being able to recognise it in the first place, and trying to avoid it happening rather than letting it get to the point where it’s overwhelming me. Like many people, my activism is mostly online right now and occasionally I’ll have a tweet take-off. In these instances I find it really important to remember that I cannot reply to everyone, and it’s okay to mute the thread if I need to. I used to get stuck in the trap of replying to every single tweet and it would just exhaust me, so these days handling burnout for me is more about taking steps to avoid it.

Having boundaries is really important, especially online, so don’t feel bad for needing to take a step back. Let someone else take the wheel every now and then.

Photo by Ivan Samkov on Pexels.com

Tori Tsui:

Burnout has been normalised as the blue print of activism and the capitalistic system. It is precisely why we have to actively resist and dismantle these expectations in order to transform our societies radically. Rest is an active form of resistance in a world which treats people as disposable.

Photo by Sasha Prasastika on Pexels.com

Grace Kress

In a society that is profoundly sick, it is ever more important that we focus on healing ourselves, caring for those around us and working towards futures of freedom and joy. In a Capitalist society there needs to be a working class in order for wealth to be generated. Capitalism is founded on exploitation. In order to generate wealth there has to be poverty and that’s why low paid jobs exist and why they are typically the most essential roles within society; care work, cleaning, the production and sale of food etc. We are taught societal myths from an early age, such as, ‘work hard and you will go far’. But our reality is very much a different picture.

The culture of over-working and basing our value on our productivity comes directly from the economic system of Capitalism. It is all too easy to base our self-worth within the confines of the social framework, forgetting that this framework exists in order to sell us stuff and perpetuate the status quo. Liking yourself is revolutionary.

Even deeper than this, to really explore burn-out we have to address our history. Slavery is very obvious and direct example which illustrated how labour has been exploited in order for wealth to be generated. Working conditions were poor and people were worked non-stop in order to make white wealthy people even richer. Similarly, the system of Imperialism continues to exploit international labour and plunders resources of the global south through domination and war.

So when so much of our lives are consumed by work – day jobs, night jobs, raising children, house work, campaigning etc… how do we ensure we don’t burn out?

I really believe that creative expression is the foundation of our freedom. It helps us reflect, rest and rejuvenate. It helps us connect, develop community and explore collaborative processes. It helps us to understand our place in the world, imagine the futures we want to create and even dive deep into the unknown with a sense of exploration and joy rather than fear. Creativity can give us more life. This is a part of why I created Shelby x Studios. I wanted to create a space to connect with other people who also want to create a world with community care at its core.

I also think that to avoid burn out we need to acknowledge that it exists. Here are some of my regular thoughts on how to avoid it:

  • Join a revolutionary movement and participate in collective action
  • Set boundaries on how much energy you can afford to give
  • Remember that you can’t offer anything if you are not in a place to
  • Remind yourself that whatever you can offer is enough
  • Sometimes just surviving another day is enough
  • Practice affirmations to remind you of the positive things and ground yourself
  • Rest, sleep, stretch, meditate, eat, drink plenty of water
  • Disconnect from technology and get in nature as regularly as you can
  • If your body, mind or spirit is telling you something, listen
  • Check in with yourself regularly and build collective care practices
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Me (Kaja Brown):

I actually emailed these brilliant activists months ago asking if they’d be happy to contribute to an article on burnout. And then I got burnt-out myself and didn’t getting around to writing up the post. I’ve been a university student for the last four years, and alongside that I’ve also had jobs, worked for magazines, been involved with activism, and of course started this blog. Although all these opportunities have been amazing, it has also meant I experience a lot of burnout. And for me this is very physical. When I get burnt-out I am tired all the time, I get ill with colds/ earache/ or headaches, and it is hard for me to go on with what I feel like I need to do.

I think something that has helped me is in realising that rest and doing things you enjoy are just as important as doing the things you feel you *have* to do. If you don’t take the time out for yourself, then you won’t be able to sustain the work you want to do. I love taking baths with herbs and salts, reading, napping, going on walks, or baking, as all of this gives my brain a break and rejuvenates me before I start my next project. I get frustrated at myself sometimes, especially as I don’t seem to be able to do as much as I did before the pandemic, but I think that’s natural and you just need to keep reminding yourself that you are enough, and that relaxation is essential.

Photo by Taryn Elliott on Pexels.com

So there we are, I hope those tips help you guys with your own burnout. Thank you so much Shona Louise, Tori Tsui, and Grace Kress for your help! Don’t forget to check out their work for more of their brilliant ideas and activism.

What do you guys deal with burnout? Leave a comment below!

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Why You Should Read This Book!

Book Review of Alix E. Harrow’s The Once and Future Witches by Kaja Brown.

The will, the words, and the ways – these are the only things you need for witchcraft according to The Once and Future Witches, and it’s no mistake that this is all you need to be an activist too. The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow is a fictional grimoire filled with tantalising tales that would make even the shyest witch don her suffragette sash and take to the streets in protest.

And this book has worked its magic on me. It includes everything I love; strong female protagonists; lesbian main characters; folklore, magic and activism — all woven into one fantastic novel. Top this with Harrow’s beautiful and compelling writing style and this makes for a spell book that is nearly impossible to step away from.

The story is set in an alternative 19th century New Salem and follows three sisters, James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna – who are respectively a mother, maiden and a crone – that set out to find the lost ways of witchcraft to give women the power in an oppressive, misogynistic society. This book tips out the contents of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and uses the history of the Salem Witch Trials to create something new and profound. 

These themes are incredibly important at a time when 97% of women in the UK have reported being harassed on the streets, and we are still reeling after the brutal murder of Sarah Everard. We need books like this which explore the importance of feminism and the resilience and power of women. The protagonists of the novel seek out to smash the oppressive nature of the white patriarchy and do so by forming an activist group of people from all backgrounds (women of colour, working class, trans, lesbian, mothers, sex workers, etc.) to pool their resources and use the forgotten ways of witchcraft to bring about social change. The book tackles many issues and looks at how although things are horrible for women, they are even worse for women of colour, and the character Miss Cleopatra Quinn, (who may also be an exciting love interest for one of the sisters) helps educate the sisters and the reader on matters of equality and institutional racism.

This book is clearly thoroughly researched and weaves history, folklore, fairytales and spells into the fabric of the story. Something I particularly enjoyed within this novel is the use of folk tales and nursery rhymes. It is discovered that although women are not allowed to practise witchcraft, the witchy ways have been passed down in ‘women’s things’ such as fairy tales for children, poetry books, stitching and recipes. Some chapters are separated with full fairy tales with Harrow’s own take on them, which readers will enjoy if they are a fan of Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit or Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. The tales serve a purpose of grounding or foreshadowing events in the book as well as drawing out the misconceptions of evil witches and what these characters truly represent. The world building is incredible and it is all these tales and details which makes it an incredibly immersive read.

I can’t recommend it enough. The Once and Future Witches left me contemplating philosophy, society, feminism and my own views on witchcraft and left me with a political itch that’s hard to scratch. If you want a read that will put a fire in your belly, to help you through this tumultuous time when we feel the most powerless, then this is it. Learn to reclaim your power, just as the three sisters do in this book.

And please let me know what you think once you have read it. 

Did you enjoy this book review? Please let me know down below! Also please recommend other books you love that have themes of activism and powerful women in them.

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Martyn Brown: Poet, Anarchist, Collector

Martyn Henry Brown was a man of many talents and passions, a lot of which he passed down and shared with his family. Today, April 6th 2021, would have been his 82nd birthday. I was so lucky to have Martyn Brown as my Grandad and I’d like to share with you some of the great things I learned from him.

Love and respect nature

I remember once I was in the back garden picking mulberries from Grandad’s precious mulberry tree, when I hoisted myself up onto the brick wall and Grandad told me to be careful. I’d just kicked some moss to the ground without thinking of it. He pointed to the rest of the moss on the wall and said to me: “You know, the moss feels things, just like me and you.” I didn’t quite understand how moss could feel things and I was confused about this statement for many years. But it instantly made me respect nature and consider my relationship with it.

Grandad loved nature, he was a bird watcher and knew the names of plants and animals which he passed down to his daughters. I remember one time when I was ten I was walking with him behind a hotel in Italy and he would get all excited as he pointed out lizards and dragon flies to me. I knew in that moment that he felt the same bliss at seeing them that I did.

One of Grandad’s poems about Swifts learning to fly

Express Yourself

Grandad expressed himself in many many ways — his fashion, music, poetry, and his giant museum-like collection of antiques. He was always wearing his jewellery and had a closet that could house Narnia. He encouraged his New Romantic daughters when they combed their hair big, shaved it short, and posed in gothic clothes in graveyards. He similarly encouraged me and my cousin’s fashion sense and even gave me some of my skull rings, waistcoats, and loud jewellery. He didn’t care about gender norms or what other people thought, he just thought people should express themselves however they wanted. I’m so grateful to have had a grandad who felt like this.

The written word is emotional

I remember in year seven I wrote an emotional poem about being bullied and standing up for yourself. I was studying Shakespeare at the time and my poetry had some wild language and imagery interlaced in it. I proudly read it out to my family at a dinner out somewhere, and my Grandad was so impressed with me he took me aside after and said with an emotion-filled voice that he loved it.

Fast forward eight years, after he had had his diagnosis, when we were sitting in my nan and grandad’s living room and I asked him to read out some of his poetry. He read a poem about meeting my nan and marrying her. He started crying halfway through the poem and read the rest all chocked up. It was because of grandad I realised how much weight and emotion is carried in the written word.

The first time I saw you, you were dancing with a girlfriend

In a dancehall, around two handbags.

I too was with my friends from my unit in the Army.

I claimed a dance, but you refused me oh so politely,

So I persisted and you resisted until eventually you gave in.

When we married you wore a Chanel suit,

Not quite lilac but pink, with a hat.

And oh, did we speak.

Poem by Martyn Brown

Acceptance

My grandad was the joint-head of a family filled with pagans, queers, non-conforming political women and Rockstar men, and he accepted us all. He wasn’t phased by me being gay, or writing an essay in a book about my (strong) feelings on the absurdity of gender roles. In fact, I dedicated this essay to him because it was grandad’s belief in self expression and his acceptance and support which led me to where I am today. He loved me so much for being just who I am. I wish I had more time to tell him how much that meant to me.

My grandad was a poet, a musician, an anarchist, a wine taster, an antique collector, and so much more. He travelled the world, made many friends in many places, and started a family with my nan. He had an amazing life; being a rascal at school who climbed trees when he wasn’t meant to, working in the first coffee house of Newcastle, playing guitar and and even meeting The Beatles. He was an amazing and complex husband, dad and grandfather. We shared a lot of loves; nature, poetry, Chaucer, and a sense of creativity, wonderment and humour. I miss him so much. He passed in 2020, at the end of his birth month. But he will always live on in our memories. And I hope that from this you take a piece of him with you and believe in yourself. Write that poem, wear that statement piece, go out in nature and lose yourself in the poetry of the world. Do it with a glass of wine if you want to (he would.)

Happy birthday Grandad. I love you.

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Why am I a vegetarian & trying to go vegan?

Even though Veganuary is up, for a lot of people being plant-based is a long term investment. In this article I wanted to talk a bit about my own journey to vegetarianism and the current changes I’m making towards veganism. I’ll be answering a few common questions about the subject, so if you’re interested in either vegetarianism/ veganism then I hope this helps!

Why did I become vegetarian in the first place?

I’ve always loved animals, and I’ve always been strongly against animal cruelty and exploitation. It wasn’t until I was seventeen, sitting in Philosophy class where the majority of girls were vegetarian/ vegan, that I really made the connection between the animals I loved and the meat on my plate. I think that’s how a lot of people eat meat — they see it as a food and not something that was alive. For me that moment where it just clicked was the start of a really important journey.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Was it hard to become vegetarian?

I didn’t find it hard to give up meat at all. The only mistake I made was having a very plain diet – eating just pasta with tomato sauce, or chips and toasties for a while. (I guess that is the student experience). Because of this I got extremely low Iron and B12 levels which made me tired and dizzy all the time. But this was a wake up call and I looked up which foods I could find had the most iron and B12 and started incorporating them into my diet. I cooked with quinoa, kale, tofu and Quorn pieces for the first time. I started looking up recipes and experimenting and had more fun with cooking than I ever had before.

The only other thing I found hard was giving up fish. I’m half-Icelandic, my girlfriend is Norwegian, and fish is a staple in Nordic diets. I did really like fish, so for a while I was pescatarian – thinking in my mind well at least fish get to live in the sea instead of horrible factory farms. But after a while I educated myself on how bad fishing is for the sea and how cruel super trawlers really are and I went fully vegetarian.

Photo by Bedis ElAcheche on Pexels.com

Do I ever get meat cravings?

In my first year of being a vegetarian I sometimes gave into my cravings and had say a bacon sandwich, and I always found I was disappointed afterwards, and that the meat never tasted as good as I remembered. I then realised that if my body is craving meat then what is there in meat that I really want? Maybe I needed more protein or iron? Then I would incorporate that into my diet and the craving would go away.

Have people called me preachy?

When I started out as a vegetarian I was so scared of becoming one of those preachy types that the media stigmatised. But strangely enough I found a lot more meat-eaters preaching their lifestyle to me. All I would say is that I’m a vegetarian (usually because I had to in a dining situation) and people would suddenly get defensive about why they eat meat and how they could never give it up. Someone even asked me if I had always been a vegetarian and when I said I hadn’t they said, ‘Well at least you haven’t wasted your whole life’. This made me so angry and upset.

So now, I am a bit preachy. I will share posts about how pigs are smarter than dogs and cows have feelings, or how being plant-based is better for the environment. Because I care so much about animals and I just want to help people understand why they should too. But I also won’t shame anyone who is trying to be more plant-based but haven’t completely given up meat. It’s a process and every little helps.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Why are am I trying to be a vegan?

Over the last few years I’ve made changes in my diet to go more vegan because the egg and dairy industries are just as cruel as meat. Cows have to be pregnant to produce milk, and often their babies are ripped from them just after birth and soon they will be inseminated again. Cows have emotional attachments and can cry for their babies for days. And if the baby was a male, it is often slaughtered, and if it is female it is subjected to the same life it’s mother has had. Hens are often brought up in horrible conditions in order to lay their eggs. Even if the carton says the hens are free range, this is a very loose term, and often the chickens are still suffering.

That sounds horrible, so why aren’t you fully vegan yet?

I find that a change in diet takes time, experimentation, and also some education. For example, I was vegetarian for three years before I realised that marshmallows had pig gelatine in and had to start looking for specifically vegetarian marshmallows (M&S do some great ones). Although cutting out all animal products straight away is great, that isn’t for everyone, and if you are really attached to a product, say cheese, and you eat that but still stop drinking cows milk or eating eggs then you will still be making a great difference over time.

Photo by Fuzzy Rescue on Pexels.com

What vegan changes have you made and how easy was it?

Three years ago I transitioned from dairy milk to vegan milk with my morning cereal. This took a few tries of finding the right one. Neither me or my partner liked oat or almond milk. Eventually we agreed that we liked rice milk best and we’ve been using it ever since. Around the same time I started using non dairy butter which was also a pretty easy transition.

For eggs, I’ve started using eggs substitutes. For breakfast I make scrambled tofu which is so so good, I honestly prefer it to normal scrambled eggs. (Check out my Instagram for the recipe). In baking I use chia seeds or a substitute I bought and honestly I haven’t been able to tell a difference.

Cheese is the hardest thing. I do love cheese, but I have been trying out vegan cheeses and I really like ‘Violife’ so far. I’m excited to keep on trying new things.

I’m also trying to be more conscious with non-foody things like make-up products. I’ve found Superdrug really helpful as their own line are all vegan and cruelty free and if you ask workers there which makeup is vegan/cruelty free they’ll be able to point them out for you.

Nachos made with Quorn pieces and vegan cheese

Is it expensive being plant-based?

I’m not going to lie, a lot of ‘alternative’ foods can be expensive, and that goes for anything. I’m gluten intolerant, and things like alternative gluten-free pastas are way more expensive than normal wheat pasta. So I guess because I had already had to buy more expensive gluten-free things, it didn’t come as a shock to me that rice milk is more expensive than dairy milk.

Saying that though, the more people buy these things, the more demand there is for it, and the cheaper it becomes. A lot more people are buying vegetarian and vegan products than ever before, and as a result some supermarkets are cashing in and making affordable own-brand vegan products (Morrisons have some yummy vegan ice cream for just 80p!) There’s also things you can do to save money, like bulk buying, making your own vegan milk from oats, and utilising your city’s community fridge if you have one. Also, things like steak or fish can be really expensive, so by going plant-based you save money there.

Is there one right way to become a vegetarian/ vegan?

I would say absolutely not. For some people veganuary really works for them, for me it really doesn’t as I need to take my time with things. Some people will need to transition slowly with having less meat based meals, for me I gave it up after a quick decision. You just have to listen to your body, educate yourself, and take it one step at a time. Obviously I would love it if everyone was plant-based and no animals had to suffer, but until that day, we just have to keep trying to make the world a better place for everyone.

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

So that’s my experiences with being plant-based, I know there are so many other aspects to it, so if you have any more questions feel free to ask them below and maybe I’ll make a second post on this topic.

Let me know if you found this useful and would like more posts like this!

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Inspiring Activists: Judith Brown

This post is a special one as it’s about someone who has inspired me for my entire life. She’s one of the strongest women I know, and where I get a big part of my activist spirit. This inspiring activist is Judith Brown — my Nan.

Judith Brown is the Ambassador for Bristol’s Older People’s Forum, which she was also the Chair of for over ten years, and she helps run BAB (Bristol Ageing better) as a Trustee. Both of these groups are there to make older people’s lives better and to advocate for them in a society that often overlooks and undervalues the older generations. Bristol’s Older People’s Forum promotes the rights of older people in the city of Bristol by informing, campaigning, and working with key local, regional and national partners, and Bristol Ageing Better works as a partnership of individuals and organisations working together to reduce isolation and loneliness among older people in Bristol. Judith has worked hard within these organisations to create awareness of older people’s rights and has been directly involved in the BAB Aadmin animation short about loneliness as well as the Babbers broadcast with Ujima Radio which was run by and for Bristolian older people who wanted to make their voices heard. The show presented a positive depiction of ageing and challenged stereotypes for five years.

As well as being apart of this collective action, Judith has also campaigned for older people on an individual level by starting petitions, talking to politicians, and even uploading a song on YouTube about how important older people’s bus passes are. Judith doesn’t just campaign for the rights of older people though, she has been working all her life to fight for equality. In an interview on Babbers, Judith talked about how she was influenced by the strong women in her life to help other people. When she was a child she saw her grandmother standing up to defend a neighbour and her family from an abusive partner. This made quite an impact on her, and inspired her to stand up for others. Judith did this in part by working with the NHS and being a Nurse Welfare Worker and Social Services Trainer before she retired. She has also been on Pride Marches, protests against the Tampon Tax, protests against the Tories’ public sector cuts (Nan took me to this when I was about twelve, it was the first protest I had been too and had a real impact on me). Judith was even present at the famous Greenham Common protest back in the 1980s, which was an incredibly important part of Feminist & Green activist history.

Judith has done a lot for society and particularly Bristol’s communities. Her work has been recognised with several awards and she has deserves all the recognition. But… I’m going to stop being so formal now. I wanted to talk to you about her like this so you can see all the amazing work she has done. But to call her Judith Brown is weird to me, because she is my Nan. And it would be amiss to talk about all Nan’s achievements without mentioning how she did all this whilst also raising two strong women and helping raise her grandchildren too. My Nan has been there for me all my life. My dad left me as a baby and until my step-dad came into the picture, my Nan stepped into that dad role to help my mum raise me.

Nan has greatly influenced who I am, and she has always supported me in following my dreams and working as an activist to help society be better. In fact, her example has inspired everyone in my family to hold these values. My mum works to help young people in a college, my aunty works in a nursing home, my cousin works at a care home…. I feel like my nan has influenced all of us to have the same drive that she has in wanting to help people and change the world. I love her and appreciate her so much for this, I can’t even begin to describe it.

I wanted to share a bit about my Nan with you because I think with all the jokes about older people being stuck in the past, we forget how the older generations blazed the trail for current activism. My Nan has been an activist all her life, and today she is 82 years old. She is a strong woman, a mother, grandmother, activist, ambassador and more. When I asked Nan what her advice would be for the younger generations in this interview series for Rife, she said it would be to always stay true to yourself. This is the lesson she has lived by. And I am so proud of her.

Thank you Nan for all the work you have done and for being such an inspiration. I love you so much. Happy birthday.

If you want to wish my Nan a happy birthday, feel free to comment down below. I’ll make sure to tell her about all the birthday wishes. Thank you for reading this article and sharing in the love of my nan with me.

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Three Activist Books To Kickstart 2021

Education is a powerful tool for activism. When we educate ourselves on matters like the climate crisis, racial injustice, ableism, or other oppressive systems in society, we can make informed decisions on how to act and make the world a better place. You can educate yourself in many ways, from watching documentaries to going to (virtual) talks or even following activists on social media.

One of the ways I like to educate myself is by reading material which are either written by activists, touch on activist subjects, or generally make me think about society. In this article I wanted to share three of my favourite activist books which I think are an excellent way to start off 2021!

‘SOS – What you can do to reduce climate change, Simple actions that make a difference,’ by Seth Wynes

I’ve mentioned this book a few times before because it really is a fantastic read for anyone who wants to get involved in environmental activism. In this book Seth Wynes looks at the best possible things you can do to prevent climate change, along with why they’re the best, and how to do them.

Some books on climate change can be really daunting or contain a lot of scientific terminology, which although important, can be confusing. This book is written in a brilliantly concise and accessible way with a clear and moving introduction, and chapters covering each type of action you can take — from transportation to collective action. It ends with a chapter on how it all adds up and a tick-list where you can decide which eco-friendly steps you will be making this year.

I can’t recommend it enough, and at the moment you can buy a used copy for just a couple of pounds on Abe Books, so go for it!

‘Girl, Woman, Other,’ by Bernadine Evaristo

This book won the Booker Prize 2019 and was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020. It’s the only piece of fiction in this blog post, and it is a really compelling read. The novel explores the lives of twelve characters, mostly black British women, whose experiences are often intertwined. The book starts with Amma, a socialist lesbian playwright, and ends with her incredible performance at a London theatre, which a lot of the other characters attend. Themes include intersectional feminism, race, immigration, family relationships, LGBT+ rights and more. I love the way the book is written and how some of the stories are intergenerational — exploring different perceptions of shared experiences, from daughter to mother to grandmother.

Trigger Warning: it does discuss difficult topics like rape, abuse and manipulation. I usually struggle with these topics, but it was handled very well within the novel. Honestly, I found it hard to put this book down. It was an insight into lives very different from my own and an education on how black women, non binary-people, and immigrants are treated in the UK. Even though it is fiction, it’s written by literary activist, Bernadine Evaristo, who has talked about how her own experiences shaped the stories told within this novel.

It’s an incredibly important read and I hope you’ll add it to your TBR list this year. You can currently find it for £7.89 from Hive, who support independent bookshops.

‘Vegan Life – Cruelty-free Food, Fashion, Beauty and Home’ by Jo Peters

This book was a gift from my girlfriend this Christmas and I honestly love it! I’ve been a vegetarian for about five years now and I’m looking to transition into veganism, so I was overjoyed to find this under the Christmas tree. The book doesn’t try to push you into anything, but instead holds your hand while exploring a vegan way of life. Like SOS, it’s written in a very accessible way, with clear facts sprinkled throughout the book, along with lovely illustrations and photos which make it an easy read. I honestly love the aesthetic of this book.

It covers many topics in veganism from animal welfare to the best non-dairy milks, and it even goes beyond the topic of food to talk more widely about living an eco-friendly vegan lifestyle, with top tips on fashion, home, makeup and more.

I hope this book brings you a little joy like it’s brought me, and that maybe you’ll find it helpful too! You can currently buy it for about £5 on Abe Books.

So those are my book recommendations to start off your activism journey of 2021! I really want to expand on my own activist reading pool this year — so if you have any recommendations please comment down below!

P.S. All of these books are either available second-hand for good prices on Abe Books or from ethical sites like Hive. Check out the links below their descriptions. This post is not sponsored by Abe books or Hive.

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Inspiring Activists: Grace Kress

This week I’m very excited to be interviewing the incredible Grace Kress who is an artist using their creativity to campaign for revolution and social change. Grace runs SHELBY X Studios and has worked with groups such as Justice for Grenfell, Women Against Rape, the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Defence Campaign UK, and Sisters Uncut, as well as having run community arts programmes and painting murals across Europe. One of their core beliefs is that art can be used to bring communities together, make information accessible, inspire change, and above all spread positivity. 

In this article Grace talks about their journey into ‘Artivism’ and creating SHELBY X Studios, as well as how you can use your art as a powerful tool for change:

What made you want to be an activist? 

I was raised by activists in a communal house, so I was campaigning before I could walk. I was lucky enough to be encouraged to fight for social justice from an early age. Then, I lost my dad as a teenager, and whilst I was grieving that loss I found a lot of hope in reading liberation literature. This contributed to my political education because I was reading a lot of material written by the Black Panthers, so I have people like Angela Davis, Bobby Seale and Fred Hampton to thank for my understanding of the system. They put information across in a really relatable way and their minister of culture Emory Douglas had a big impact on my work, both as an activist and an artist.

My parents also lived in Philadelphia in the 1980s and met the MOVE family, a black liberation organisation. The state dropped a bomb on MOVE’s house, killing 11 people, including 5 children, and destroyed 61 homes. Having witnessed that and being involved in raising awareness of this horrific attack, my parents continued campaigning about what had happened to MOVE when they came back to London. Because of this link, I was involved in the campaign to free political prisoner and journalist, Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is a huge supporter of MOVE and many other global cases of injustice. He’s been hugely motivational in my activism work.

Art by Shelby X Studios

Why did you want to use art as a form of activism? 

People like Emory Douglas, Frida Kahlo and Sylvia Pankhurst have had a huge influence on me and I was struck by the way they communicated through visuals and type. They have all been really impactful in generating recognisable revolutionary culture in the US, Mexico and the UK. I’m not sure art is a form of activism as a stand alone thing, but it can be a massively beneficial tool when used to support political work. Whilst working on the free Mumia Abu-Jamal campaign, we needed banners, flyers, event posters, things like that, so I kind of fell into the role of designer. I also volunteered as a designer at Women Against Rape whilst at college, working to communicate data and information in a visual way, which had an impact on the type of design I became drawn to. I’ve worked on a lot of visuals for a variety of projects for organisations and individuals. During each project, I’ve witnessed the power of art in engaging people. People seem to really respond to information presented through creative means, so they stop and think about the content more, which means they’re more likely to then act on the information.

Art by Shelby X Studios

Where did the idea for Shelby x studios come from? 

SHELBY x Studios is rooted in creating a legacy for my dad, who I lost to cancer as a teenager. He was an inspiring community activist who fought against police brutality, poor housing, and the hostile environment faced by refugees and migrants in Hackney, London. He took an educational and creative approach, bringing communities together to take collective action. The name for this project combines a family name from my dad’s side, Shelby, X which represents collaboration, and Studios, a space for creativity. 

Another catalyst for starting this platform was the fact that I manage chronic pain, which has made doing political work in the way that I used to pretty challenging. After speaking to other comrades and people doing social justice work, I recognised that there are lots of barriers to being politically active. Things like living in remote areas, raising children, working unsociable hours or just not knowing where to start. So a core goal of Shelby X Studios is to make activism more accessible to people. Burnout is really common for activists too, so I’m also focused on creating communities of growth and learning, that recognise collective care as key to our liberation. 

Your art covers many different topics, would you call yourself an intersectional activist? And why is it important to address so many issues in your activism? 

It’s true that I cover lots of different topics. That’s because I see the root cause of all these social injustices and layers of oppression stemming from the same place – racial Capitalism. I would call myself a revolutionary artist because that’s the goal – revolution. The current economic system is parasitic, that’s why I call it racial Capitalism – because it feeds off of the exploitation of the global South, both in terms of labour and resources, in order to function. So it’s important to draw the links and highlight the root cause of social injustice so that we can use art to imagine and create the kind of future that supports all life to thrive. Community care is an essential part of our liberation. My aim is to use art to help create communities of care.

Art by Shelby X Studios

What advice do you have for others who want to use their art for activism? 

All art is political so how we use our creative skills is important. My advice would be to spend time getting to know yourself and what your values are so that the artwork you create stays rooted in authenticity. Don’t be pulled into the social media whirl of comparison or working on issues just because they become popular. Stay true to yourself. Collaborate with other people. Keep social justice at the forefront.

Any advice for the activists who also want to make a living from their work?

This is a tough question because activists and artists share the experience of commonly being undervalued, especially financially. The majority of the activist work I do is unpaid to be honest so I’m not sure I’m best placed to answer this, but I do believe that if we value activists and their work, we should pay them. There is a lot of unpacking we need to do in terms of our relationship with money because it’s common for those interested in creating a better world to feel like money isn’t something they want to be associated with. I would ask people to consider what money narratives they’ve internalised and how they can combat some of that. If we don’t financially compensate people for their labour, what message does that perpetuate? It’s a complicated thing to be honest that I’m still navigating myself. 

How can other ‘artivists’ get involved with SHELBY X Studios? 

People can follow the SHELBY X Studios Instagram or sign up to the newsletter for all our upcoming news. I’ll be commissioning more artists for the zine in the new year. There’ll also be artivism prompts, calls for art and lots of other ways people can get involved. 

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be? 

One thing?! Oh my days, there’s so much that needs to change! Can I escape that question a little and say abolition? Abolish the patriarchy, abolish Imperialism, abolish all the borders, abolish the prison industrial system, abolish the current Capitalist oppressive system. Abolition isn’t just about getting rid of things, it’s about creating the world we want and need. 

How can people support your work? 

There are three ways people can support: 1. Commission me to work on a graphic design, illustration or community arts project, to facilitate a workshop or hire me as a guest speaker. 2. Purchase merchandise, we’ve got a big range including tea towels, tshirts, enamel pins, stickers and screen printed artwork. 3. Subscribe to our new monthly e-zine which is launching in January 2021

Art by Shelby X Studios

Thank you so much Grace for answering these questions and for all the amazing work you do. Make sure to follow Grace’s ‘Artivism’ on Instagram and check out the SHELBY X Studios website

Do you know of any inspiring activists you’d like to see interviewed? I’d love to see your suggestions, comment down below!

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25 Eco-Friendly Tips For A Sustainable Christmas

Today is the first of December. It’s cold enough that I’ve pulled on my tomato-red Yule Cat jumper over my pyjamas, and this morning we opened our Russian Dwarf Hamster’s advent calendar for him (I think we were more excited about this than he was). This can only mean one thing… Christmas is coming.

Recently on Instagram I asked what content people would like to see, and one friend said they’d like eco-friendly Christmas tips. I could have thought of maybe a couple of tips, five would make a good article, but oh no, we are going all out this year. Here are TWENTY FIVE eco-friendly tips to make this year’s Christmas a sustainable one!

1.   A real tree is better for the environment than a fake one. If you haven’t gotten your Christmas tree yet, then I’d suggest getting a live tree this year. I’ve read a few articles on this, but the gist of the matter is that fake trees are made from plastic (from oil) which takes a lot of energy to produce and won’t decompose for hundreds of years. A real tree has about half the CO2 emissions as a fake one. And if you get a potted tree then that is even better for the environment. Me and my girlfriend got one from our local farmers-market and we can’t wait to see it grow with us for years to come.

2.     Have a plant based Christmas. In this guest post with Ellie talking about veganism, we already addressed how going plant based is a lot more eco-friendly than eating meat, so why not have a vegan Christmas dinner this year? If you don’t know where to start then you’re in luck because I’m going to be making a little blog post about plant-based Christmas meal ideas soon..

3.     Buy food locally or in season. Why not go a step further and buy food locally or look up what veg is in season? That way you can support local businesses as well as avoiding food air-miles.

4.     Give an eco-friendly book on Christmas Eve. I’m half-Icelandic but I only learned a couple of years ago about an amazing Icelandic tradition called Jolabokaflod where people give each other books on Christmas Eve. This way families can spend the night cosied up together with a new book to hand. I think this is such a nice tradition that anyone could get involved with – and why not make it extra eco-friendly… Firstly you could get a second-hand book from a charity shop or online at Abe Books to save paper, and secondly why not gift a book on an environmental topic that will make people feel good to read? I love ‘What you can do to reduce climate change’ by Seth Wynes, which has so many easy facts and solutions to follow. And I was so excited to get the Greta Thunberg book from my nan last Christmas – thanks Nan!

5.     Support Small Independent Businesses. Instead of funnelling your money to certain billionaires, why not buy your gifts from small businesses that do a happy dance with every purchase? I made this gift guide with some excellent suggestions (if I do say so myself).

6.     Buy second-hand from charity shops. If the pandemic isn’t too bad in your area, why not get your presents at a charity shop? You get second-hand items for affordable prices and all the money goes to a good cause – it’s a win win!

7.     Give eco-friendly gifts. Why not give someone gifts like shampoo bars, epic reusable water bottles or a soap dish to start them on their sustainable journey!

8.     Make the gifts yourself. Nothing says I love you like something you’ve put time and effort into, and by doing it yourself you’re cutting out all the emissions that mass production factories create. Ideas could be wax wraps, photo disks or home made decorations.

Photo by fotografierende on Pexels.com

9.     Give to charity on behalf of a loved one for Christmas. I know some people roll their eyes when Aunt Lindsey adopts a goat for them at Christmas, but I think that charity gifts are a great idea as it’s both anti-capitalist and your money is going to someone who really needs it. That makes both the giver and receiver feel good. Some charities I recommend are Choose Love and UNICEF as you can pick gifts for refugees, and your special someone can receive an e-card afterwards.

10.  If you love this idea, why not ask people to give to charity for you! There are a bunch of environmental charities you can ask them to donate to. One of my favourites is Amazon Watch that help indigenous people protect the Amazon Rainforest.

11.  Make your own decorations this year. Instead of buying lots of plastic crap, why not spend some cosy evenings crafting your own Christmas decorations? That makes them extra special.

Photo by Susanne Jutzeler on Pexels.com

12.  Get your festive decorations from charity shops. If you don’t have time for that then why not find some unique decorations in your local charity shop?

13.  Use recyclable gift wrap. 227,00 miles of wrapping paper is thrown away each year, which could really be avoided if we recycled instead. If you’re not sure if your gift wrap is recyclable, then try the scrunch up test. As a rule, shiny wrapping paper with foil, glitter or plastic generally isn’t recyclable. Some supermarkets let you know which of their rolls are recyclable on the labels! Or you can get some brown craft paper – you know where you stand with that stuff.

14.  Make your own gift tags! I like to cut up last year’s Christmas cards and re-use them as this year’s gift tags. You simply need some scissors and a hole punch, or even a pen if you don’t have the latter!

15.  Use Christmas dinner as an excuse to talk to your family about being the environment. If they argue that Christmas isn’t the time for politics, then why not remind them of the political messages in some of their favourite Christmas songs?

16.  Use your time off work to educate yourself on the climate crisis. You could read books, watch documentaries, Ted Talks, or even listen to podcasts to learn something important while hanging out at home.

17.  Swap your usual box of chocolates for vegan ones. Me and my family usually treat ourselves to a fancy box of chocolates at Christmas. This is usually Quality Street, but recently I found out they’re owned by Nestle (don’t even get me started on how unethical Nestle are). If this sounds like you, why not start a new tradition of getting a box of vegan chocolates instead? Most supermarkets have a great selection of vegan treats, or you can look online

18.  Use your leftovers! A lot of us over-cook for Christmas in anticipation for hungry guests and then find there’s a lot of food leftover at the end. (Or if you’re used to more guests than you’ll get because of the pandemic then it might be hard to size down.) If this is the case, why not avoid food waste and save the yummy leftovers for later? One of my favourite things about Christmas lunch is having leftovers for dinner and brunch the next day! 

19.  Re-purpose your Christmas jumpers. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has put on weight during the pandemic. Which is totally fine, our bodies are perfect whatever size we are. But it can still be upsetting to find out that your Christmas jumper doesn’t fit anymore (this happened to me a few days ago). Instead of getting upset, why not repurpose that jumper! You can make it into hand warmers or a pair of nifty mittens to gift someone this year. 

20.  Find “new” Christmas jumpers from charity shops or depop to avoid fast fashion.

21.  Go on a nature walk. Part of being a climate activist is respecting and appreciating nature. Me and my family go on a nature walk every Christmas and it’s one of my favourite traditions. Nature walks have been one of the ways I’ve stayed sane (-ish) in the worst of lockdown. It also reminds me what I’m fighting for. 

22.  Donate to food banks. Because of the pandemic, Brexit, and austerity, the UK’s economy isn’t doing too well. A lot of people have lost their jobs, their businesses have gone under, or they may have even ended up on the streets. Consider donating to food banks and homeless shelters this year. Even if you don’t have much, you might find there’s some tins right at the back of your cupboard that you’d like to declutter, and it might make the difference between someone going hungry or having a warm meal for Christmas. Often supermarkets have donation points, or you can look into local projects and homeless shelters near you. 

23.  If you are travelling home this Christmas, use the travel-time to listen to podcasts or ted talks about the climate crisis.

24.  Consider switching to a green energy supplier. Chances are you’ll be using more electricity around Christmas time, whether that’s caused by turning up the radiators because it’s cold, or lighting up the Christmas tree, so make sure you’re not contributing to the fossil fuel industry and instead swap to a green energy supplier like Bulb or SO energy.

25.  Rest and take care of yourself. This is my last tip and a really important one. Christmas can be a difficult time of year for many reasons. Some of us might be uncomfortable in family environments, or we might be spending Christmas alone for the first time because of the pandemic. Some of us may have suffered a bereavement this year. I understand that. My grandad died in April and it’ll be our first Christmas without him. So whatever you do, make sure you take some time to look after yourself and rest. Check in with your feelings and have some strategies in place for if you feel lonely or overwhelmed. Audre Lorde said that self care is an act of preservation so that you can be a better activist. Take care of yourself this Christmas. 

Have any more eco-friendly Christmas tips? Share them in the comments below!

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