Restart Podcast Ep. 58: You say you want a Repair Revolution

The authors of Repair Revolution

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This month, Dave talks to John Wackman and Elizabeth Knight who are prolific in the New York repair community. After years of involvement in repair cafes, they decided to share what they learned by writing a book. Repair Revolution: How Fixers Are Transforming Our Throwaway Culture, is a lesson in how to start a repair cafe and how to fix. Knight and Wackman also note that integral to the book is its collection of personal stories from repairers all over the continent. These are stories of community that Restarters will recognise well. 

The repair revolution across the pond

Knight tells us of how she first became involved in the repair movement. It’s a story of noticing the failures in the system around you – even in your local area – and feeling the need to fix it in whatever way you are able. This ethos is carried throughout our conversation with Knight and Wackman, and throughout the book itself. 

In comparison to the items that we fix at Restart Parties, much of the fixing chronicled in Repair Revolution is of a different ilk. Household electronics like lamps are one of the most common fixes that they have seen coming to repair cafes. But there is also a focus on activities like visible mending of clothes, patching up of stuffed animals, and woodworking. It is a refreshing reminder that the repair movement looks different in every iteration across the globe. 

Community is at the core

Knight and Wackman emphasise that community is perhaps simultaneously the biggest facilitator and result of the repair cafe movement. Repairers come together to share their skills, not only out of care for the planet, but also care for others. 

“[Repair] is more than just an opportunity to fix broken things. It’s also an opportunity to fix broken systems and relationships…It creates opportunities to nurture neighbourly networks and it calls on the invaluable wealth of community knowledge.”

Repair Revolution contains many stories of how community repair has affected individuals in a deep and personal way. Knight and Wackman share a few of these stories with us. Some stories are moving, others are funny, but they all emphasise the human element of repair and how it connects us. 

An intergenerational approach

Part of Knight and Wackman’s vision for the future of repair is transferring skills to younger generations. Repair is an essential skill that is being lost. They would like to see it re-introduced into traditional education and, until then, they are “providing teachers” to preserve these skills. While the Right to Repair movement is working to make repair more accessible on a large scale, Knight and Wackman recognise that for the time being community efforts are crucial to create repair opportunities. 

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[Photo courtesy of Lauren Thomas]

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