Knitting Nannas Against Gas

24 / 08 / 2015

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This month we’ve got the wonderfully talented Karen Pickering, host of Melbourne’s monthly feminist talk show, Cherchez la Femme, writing in our Culture Club corner about the brilliance of the Knitting Nannas Against Gas and their activist practice as “positive, creative and above all, fun.” 

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A reliable way that the mainstream media uses to sow discord and sell papers is to pit people of different ages against each other in the hope that both sides will take the bait. Sometimes they do and the results are bad for everyone. You’ve seen the boring cliches: teenagers are running amok, baby boomers are selfish and greedy, children these days can’t read books, and senior citizens are doddery and helpless. However old you are, there’s a generational stereotype designed to alienate you from people of different age brackets and within feminism this plays out in an especially pernicious way.

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The idea that feminism has fundamentally changed for the worse is kicked around every now and then, based on the lie that younger feminists resent the interference of elders and have no real commitment anyway, and that older feminists see the youth of their movement as ineffective, apathetic and downright ungrateful. Now I’m the first person to admit that feminism is a complex and complicated set of ideas, and that fierce disagreement happens a lot within our movement. There are, for instance, intense debates happening internally about race, trans women and men, sex work, pornography, and motherhood, among many other contentious topics.

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But to cast these disputes along age lines is simplistic and unhelpful – I know women decades older than me with far more radical views on sex than most of the young people I know, and who are champions of sex workers and trans folk, and I know young women who have barely unpacked these issues at all. Likewise, the activism that is a constitutive part of the feminist project is not only being driven and executed by younger feminists like those who run protests like SlutWalk, Reclaim the Night and Hollaback! (though it must be said that older women make important contributions to these campaigns too).

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An absolutely brilliant concept has been realised by a group of women in the Northern Rivers District of NSW, that harks back centuries to some of the earliest women’s rights demonstrations. Knitting Nannas Against Gas stage peaceful protests against environmental destruction and abuse, by sitting peacefully on camp chairs and knitting everything from berets to protest banners. They’re inspired by the original Tricoteuse women of the French Revolution, who infamously sat next to the guillotine and knitted while executions took place. These knitting women are among the fabled radicals of history and KNAG (yes, isn’t it brilliant?) have chosen fine role models for public disobedience and symbolic action.

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KNAG describe their activist practice as “positive, creative and above all, fun” and it involves staged sit-ins at sites of environmental degradation, outside politicians’ offices, and at other events where they can meet other locals and talk about their mission to save the earth for their children and grandchildren. It’s really about the most organic type of community-building imaginable and their old-school consciousness-raising techniques (groups of women chatting, one-one-one conversations) are extremely effective. The venerable CWA have also operated in political ways but this kind of collective takes it to a new level and with the primary focus on environmental causes it’s certainly a much-needed addition to debates in regional and rural areas. KNAG have been very successful, garnering a ton of publicity and inspiring satellite groups (called ‘loops’) around the country.

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In my work organising campaigns and events I’ve had the incredible privilege of meeting feminists of many different ages and now have some of the most precious and meaningful friendships with people twenty years either side of me. So it comes as no surprise to me that these women “in their prime” are fighting the good fight in a way that not only leverages their unique power but also makes them really happy. I think younger activists can learn a great deal from KNAG’s organisation and ethos, and I also think there’s probably a few nannas in Melbourne who could set up their own “loops” for some creative civil disobedience! There really is no age limit for meaningful advocacy and engaging in your community in a positive and powerful way.

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