In defense of armchair activism

On the day I published this blog, my 3 year old son broke his wrist. I went from riding the high of finally starting this project to shelving the work for several days while I shuffled my hysterical son to the ER and helped him adjust to life with a cast. In that moment, my life was reinforced as mom first, everything else second. And I don’t write that with any twinge of bitterness…it’s just the truth.

I’m sure other parents can relate, whether you stay at home with your kids or work full time. When we bring little people into this world, they are the top priority and our life becomes an ever-lasting juggling act between their needs and our needs. The limitations that come with parenting are what inspired me to start this blog in the first place. Yes, I am a stay at home mom, but I’m also an ally so how can I reconcile those two truths into something sustainable for my family and for my community?

I was introduced to the term “armchair activist” from a fellow blogger who thoughtfully explores her experience as a white ally here. An armchair activist is exactly what it sounds like…someone who engages in activism from the comfort of their chair, using their computer as the platform…and it’s a negative term. My first reaction was that I agree, armchair activism is bad. It is always my default to feel angry at myself for my inability, or unwillingness, to be more directly involved in activism. I can’t shake the feeling that I am never doing enough. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I believe armchair activism can be a powerful catalyst for change.

Last week, Cecil the Lion broke the internet. And while the story of Cecil’s death is disturbing, folks from within and who support the Black Lives Matter movement were rightly offended that mainstream media, and just about everyone you’ve ever known, seemed to care so deeply for Cecil. And yet there was no equivalent outrage for Sandra Bland or Sam Dubose. In fact, it wasn’t even close. I addressed this shameful discrepancy on facebook and a friend of mine noted my post was the first she had seen on the topic. We proceeded to have a healthy dialogue about race in a public and private forum. Did she turn around and share my post or an article with her facebook friends? I’m not sure. But maybe next time she will. And while this was obviously a small interaction, awareness was increased through a conversation that solely happened online.

Not everyone has what it takes to be an activist in the traditional sense of the word. Social media is a great way for people who might not feel confident in voicing their opinions in their own words to share a blog post, an article, or a video and thus disseminate information to people in their online world. Armchair activism allows people to slowly build confidence that their voice matters, and discover that the simple act of speaking up is powerful, which can hopefully inspire more direct action in the future.

I know this has been my personal trajectory. I went from feeling angry as I read the news but feeling too scared to engage online, to sharing news stories online, to voicing my anger in a facebook post, to writing this blog. That’s where I currently am in my journey as an activist. And maybe that’s where I’m going to stay for the near future because I’m a parent to young children. I guess I qualify as an armchair activist. Rather than feel disappointed in myself for not doing enough, I want to celebrate the small wins that can happen when you simply allow your voice to be heard. I want to remind all of us that when we’re silent we’re compliant.

So don’t let your inner voice tell you your posts don’t matter, that sharing that article won’t change anything. Your efforts might enlighten another person or inspire an online friend to speak up. And if it’s fear holding you back, don’t assume your friend base won’t agree with you or won’t appreciate a different perspective. I’m constantly surprised by who engages me in dialogue or comments on the blog. Some of the people I feared would be turned off are the ones sharing my writing with their friend network. In my opinion, being an armchair activist is nothing to be ashamed about. In fact, it’s the very least we can do. Should we strive for more? Always. But doing something is always better than doing nothing.

What do you think? Is armchair activism a good starting place for getting involved in social justice? Is armchair activism enough?


3 thoughts on “In defense of armchair activism

  1. Rhonda says:

    This was an incredibly poignant and timely post. Loved it! As a full-time single mom (with dwindling time restraints now that he’s a teenager) and employed full-time I’ve often struggled with this, with how to do my part without being able to be tangibly engaged. When I take on issues of social justice on my blog (I don’t always, sometimes the posts are downright silly) I hope that I can spur someone else on to action or encourage them to keep doing the good they do. Armchair activism as you describe it IS valuable. The awareness and encouragement you can provide through your writing is a vital part of activism. Brilliant post – thanks so much for writing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. strivingshannon says:

      Thank you for your feedback, Rhonda! I started this blog as a way to reengage in activism as an individual. I have hope that there are others like you and me out there, parents who care but don’t feel like they have the bandwidth to be an activist in the traditional sense of the word. If I can inspire anyone to use their voice, whether online or in the world, I will consider that a very good day indeed. I appreciate your readership and participation.


      1. Rhonda says:

        Well this was a very good day for you and for me because you’ve encouraged me to continue using my voice! We all need ‘cheerleaders’ to tell us or remind us why we should keep doing what we do. Thanks for being mine today


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s