In the first week of September 2015, cruising through Facebook, I saw the awful pictures of children’s bodies floating in the sea — strewn on beaches and people crying out for help as they fled from war-torn lands. Like many others, I felt despair and an awful pointless voyeurism. Then, up popped a Facebook post from a woman called Moxie DePaulitte.
Moxie was inviting us — residents of Dumfries and Galloway — to donate clothing and come together to draw colourful pictures, and write notes of encouragement, support and love that could be put in clothing pockets to be found by their new owners. She was “hoping it might raise a smile in an otherwise dark time; to humanise the situation for those who believe the media bias being spread, and to give a chance to help to those who had little to give.” It sounded a bit new age to me, but seemed better than doing nothing, and nothing else was happening at a local level in response to the massive global tragedy unfolding every day. I was not the only one to respond. Within forty-eight hours of setting up the Massive Outpouring Of Love (MOOL) Facebook page, there were over two thousand volunteers, a network of thirty collection hubs across the region, and donations of clothes, food, toiletries, cooking gear and shelter.
One year on, I have a new friend and am now a MOOLigan. Actually, I’ve made loads of new friends, and learnt a few ‘craftivism’ skills. Moxie embodies ‘the personal is political.’ She is a creative art activists. She’s trying to change living conditions by working to create art and craft with and in response to communities living in economically underdeveloped areas, e.g. by raising ecological concerns, offering access to culture and education, attracting attention to politically sensitive issues around illegal immigrants, refugees, and gender inequalities and abuses. In MOOL, we have all sorts of arty things going on alongside packing clothes and raising funds for refugees. We’ve got punk craftivism, Dumfries Knitters Aid, a knitting group to make scarves and blankets for Calais, and Maidens of Music, to name just some of our creative volunteers.
Although it isn’t just women that are active MOOLigans, women form the majority of volunteers, do most of the practical work and provide most of the leadership as ‘shared leadership’ in a classically feminist way. MOOL is a social media communication network that can mobilize ‘rapid responses’ e.g. getting warm clothing, tents and camping equipment and suitcases and rucksacks out to Calais just prior to the Calais camp closures, and tins of food and blankets to Carlisle within hours in December 2015 when the city was flooded. I think Moxie has tapped into the same esprit de corps that women’s organisations like the Scottish Women’s Institutes (rural), did in the first world war. MOOL is part of the social history of women ‘making a difference.’ It has much in common with the Scottish Women’s Institutes aim: “to bring women together … to educate, to share, to campaign, to learn, to socialise, to build a community and of course, to have fun.” There is, to me, a deep connection to the activities of ordinary women in rural Britain described by Julie Summers in her book Jambusters — an account of how the Women’s Institute of England and Wales in the early months of the Second World War overcame bureaucracy and civil servants’ antipathy to contribute to the ‘war effort’. I see the ‘make do and mend’ and the jam making of our grand mother’s generation, as a form of Arts activism, a political act.
In a modern context, it is recognised that organisations made up of people with different skills are more creative and capable of sustained innovation, and these organisations have at their heart visionary leaders. We have Moxie. She is our driving force. An actor, writer and director who drifted into physical theatre and performance art before returning to more traditional theatre, she now works as a community advocate. She grew up in a single parent family in a small Yorkshire mining village, being told that arts was for posh, rich people, but she says, “I didn’t ever think it — I was told it but thought that view was pish and told folk as much.” Defying expectation, she became a performer until she went to university. There she lost belief in herself and found she could not perform in pubic. After a break to focus on raising her family of three children — aged seven, eight and nine years old — with her husband, she began dipping her toe back into the art world via creative activism. Struggling for years with her physical and mental health, she now writes privately and engages publicly wherever possible with making art that is inclusive and community based. She says she “often gets told off for giggling inappropriately, not knowing her place, and swearing.” Her wicked sense of humour and joyful approach to life is infectious. Moxie DePaulitte’s loving activism reaches the places and people that more overt, protest-driven lobbying would not. The Huffington Post said of Moxie: “She lit a match and a fire flew right across rural Dumfries and Galloway.”
Making friends with Moxie reminded me that we don’t wait for permission to change things, we join together, roll up our sleeves and make things happen.
“I’m an old fashioned 1980’s feminist so it’s been a long time since I ‘manned’ any barriers. Getting involved with MOOL reminded me that action feels good. But MOOL would have just been another charity that I would have donated a few clothes to and gone home, had I not met Moxie; with Moxie, that was just not an option. This last year I’ve packed boxes, badgered my local MSP, made banners, marched and even embroidered a heart or two.”
Carolyn Yates turned sixty in 2015, so decided it was time to take her creative writing seriously. She is studying for a Master’s degree in playwriting at the University of Edinburgh. She writes poetry, as well as plays, and is the author of several science education books. She runs a youth theatre in Stranraer and co-directs Buskers — creating spoken word performances celebrating the creative processes of women writers, performers and storytellers. She also co-owns a traditional toy shop. An English woman by birth, and a globe trotter by inclination and circumstance, she now regards herself as a New Scot — having lived in Dumfries and Galloway for twenty-eight years.