Armchair Activism: Why the pen is mightier than the sword

LicolnThere is something inherently flawed about the notion that actions speak louder than words. The creation of words is an action, and in a world where matters so often get out of hand, a lot can be said for the idea that the pen is mightier than the sword. Armchair activism, as it is sometimes known, is the decision to step back from the potential antagonism of in-person protest to create positive change through written means. And in the modern day, that increasingly translates to online conversations that coalesce into international communities that may never meet, yet spur change through a rapid, mass exchange of ideas. It is this perpetual facilitation of thought that makes the concept of armchair activism so effective, and while hawkish types belittle digital campaigners by decreeing that activism must come through physical actions and is only valid when performed by those living locally, this two-dimensional thinking is inconsistent with reality. Take as a prime example the Canadian First Nations grassroots protest, Idle No More. Sparked on tribal land in 2012, Idle No More burned like wildfire across the world thanks to the domino effect of social sharing. As recently as December 2018, its founder was on a cultural visit to Lapland in northern Finland, the movement going strong.

A little closer to home, Benefiting All Students in Cranston Schools (BASICS) is a parent advocacy group dedicated to finding practical solutions to the city of Cranston’s educational financial crisis. Established by a group of engaged parents, BASICS began life as an internet community and has grown from there, raising enough money to become an official 501c3 non-profit in 2014.

“We started as an online platform for parents to talk and ask questions and share information,” explained BASICS president, Kerri Kelleher. “So many parents use Facebook, and we have grown to more than 3,000 local members. What’s amazing is that according to their provided data, we have about 2,500 active members at any given point. Cranston is a super diverse community and it’s a great way for people to think beyond their own experiences and perspectives.” As recently as last week, BASICS gathered 976 pounds of food to donate to a local food bank. 

And BASICS isn’t the only online activist group making waves in the Ocean State. Uprise RI is a digital platform started by local journalist Steve Ahlquist that focuses exclusively on issues pertaining to social justice, human rights, progressive politics and climate change. To date, Uprise RI has published more than 1,020 articles, which isn’t bad for a platform established as recently as fall 2017.

National campaigns have also found a home in Rhode Island, and Resist Hate RI is one of them. Operating in tandem with the nationwide “progressive online organizing platform” Action Network, Resist Hate RI “brings Rhode Islanders together to fight for racial, economic, environmental and social justice, and against the Trump agenda.” The group provides “a doorway to activism, community-building, education and opportunities for collective action to combat systemic oppression” operating in myriad communities across the state. And like BASICS and UpriseRI, Resist Hate RI is growing by the day.

Do we still need action? Indubitably; nothing can be achieved in the vacuum of the Internet alone. But what armchair activism can achieve is connecting like minds with a rapidity and scope impossible through other mediums. This writer, as a case in point, has connected and worked with individuals across the world, all thanks to Facebook. Indeed, some of my most effective partnerships are the result of digital conversations, and many of those individuals I have never met in person.

This is 2019, ladies and gentlemen, and the days of separating the digital from the physical are long past us. For if we no longer fear meeting a stranger online and getting into their car (just ask Uber), surely it’s not too much of a leap to embracing – and engaging in – the power and potential of armchair activism.