The rise of armchair activism

As a queer, nonbinary, working-class, disabled person, my list of marginalized identities reads like a shopping list. As such, I’ve been involved in politics through necessity, not education, from a young age, and have had my fair share of run-ins with less than pleasant members of the political world (one particularly interesting occasion being the time someone said I was ‘lost like a **** in a sewer’). However, one thing that I’ve noticed that all sides of the political spectrum share is a love for protests and activism, with in-person action being seen as the Holy Grail of protest. Online, people are quick to throw around jargon, and there is one term that is becoming increasingly common: ‘armchair activism.’ But what does this mean?

The term ‘armchair activism’ refers to activism that can be done without moving much, or even leaving one’s armchair, hence the term. This could be organising online events, using TikTok to explain political theory, starting and contributing to discussions on Twitter – the list goes on. These are all relevant, and often necessary, parts of the political sphere (how would you spread word about protests without using things like Instagram infographics?). However, the term is often colloquially used as an insult, implying that an activist is not doing ‘enough’– that their activism is useless because they are not out in the outside world holding a picket sign and a megaphone. It has a lot to do with the rise of terms like ‘chronically online’ to describe someone involved in social issues on the internet, and ‘go touch some grass’ as a way of telling somebody to go into the real world and see things for themselves, which raises the issue: is the online world not every bit as real as what we can experience outside our doors?

Take the Covid-19 pandemic, for example. Although in-person protests still occurred, they were much fewer and more far between than they would’ve been in a pre-pandemic environment, and almost everybody had to move some aspect of their lives to the virtual sphere, whether that was working from home, attending online classes, or networking with their friends purely through social media. People became a lot more aware of social issues: rainbow posters were stuck on windows, infographics from feminism to BLM were shared across a range of platforms, people banged pots and pans on their front doorsteps to signal their appreciation for an underpaid and extremely overworked NHS. Yet how was all of this organised, if outside contact was so limited?. Through DMs, Zoom calls and social media posts.

Although most Covid-19 restrictions are now lifted, there are still those among us for whom being confined to home is the norm. For disabled people, ‘Stay at Home’ was not an emergency pandemic policy, but a way of life. Many disabled people live in the shadows of society, unseen at pride parades because there are too many people for mobility aid usage, unheard at protests because it’s too far away and the route is inaccessible. Although well-intentioned, the truth is that many able-bodied protest organisers simply forget about this marginalised group of society. Thus, online activism is a crucial part of activism and without it an entire community, mistreated by the Government and left out of even their own advocacy, would simply fade into silence, unable to protest ableist policies or inform anybody about the ways in which change is needed. Armchair activists have formed entire communities and had a huge impact without even leaving their homes, and that deserves commendation. 

[Jamie Martin – they/he – @jamiem.310]

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