(Couch)Surfing the Wave of Participation with Armchair Advocacy
What is Armchair Advocacy?
Although a lot of resources for citizen advocacy emphasize in-person participation, there are many opportunities to participate that do not require one’s physical presence at a specific event or location. I refer to this not-in-person form of participation as “armchair advocacy.” As in, you can do it from your sofa at home.
The term, “armchair advocacy,” sometimes has a negative connotation because it is not viewed as a true form of action. Many discussions of armchair advocacy limit participation to social media use, such as liking or sharing posts. However, a broader view of participation is necessary for building a strong and sustainable movement to make positive political change. Rather than viewing armchair advocacy as inaction, we ought to reframe armchair advocacy as another form of being in action. Many of us who have responsibilities (e.g., work; family; school) or other challenges (e.g., physical limitations; lack of transportation) may be unable to regularly participate in-person events and activities. But all political participation matters and the contributions that you can make through armchair advocacy activities are of equal value to in-person activities. To support equal opportunity participation, below is a starting point list of armchair advocacy ideas to help us all stay in action in a way that works best for each of us.
Armchair Advocacy in Action
Pay attention to what’s happening. Staying aware of what’s happening and having a basic understanding of key issues is essential for being an engaged citizen. Simple things, such as regularly reading the news over breakfast or listening to NPR on the way to work or school, will keep you up-to-date on the important stuff that is happening.
Vote! Democracy requires that citizens cast their votes for the candidate(s) of their choice. If you don’t state your preferences on the ballot, then you are leaving everything that you care about to the decisions of others. Registering to vote is the first step. On Election Day, make sure that you show up to cast your ballot to make your choice(s) known (including for primaries, special elections, and local elections).
Encourage others to vote. Talk to your friends and family members about the importance of voting. Share information with them about how to register to vote and support them in making plans to show up at their polling place.
Sign petitions. Although the influence of petitions is limited, it is a way to participate without making much of a commitment. Petitions through websites, such as MoveOn and change.org, are available for a variety of issues (you can also create your own petitions). Signing petitions is good practice for making your voice heard; however, it is important to recognize that petitions alone may not lead to significant change.
Share opportunities for people to get involved. The saying, “it takes a village,” is very true for making political change! Telling others about how they too can get involved is essential for building a large and sustainable movement.
Share good quality information. There’s lots of crappy information floating around online and on social media. Learn how to identify fake news sources and how to effectively fact check information. Be a source for quality information that can help support critical thinking and positive political discussions to build an informed and engaged society.
Provide social media, website, or administrative support for local community organizations or grassroots groups. Very generally speaking, the folks who are most attracted to being active members of grassroots groups are the ones who enjoy doing the work “on the ground” (e.g., door-to-door canvassing; rallies). However, without the proper support and outreach, grassroots groups may struggle to keep a functioning organization and expand their impact by recruiting new members to get active in their communities. You can help these groups continue to build momentum by assisting with administrative or communication functions.
Share your talents and interests to support a community organization or grassroots group. Do you love to cook? Would you be willing to make dinner to bring to a local evening meeting? Are you great at public speaking? Could you share your tips on public speaking to help build skills among group members who regularly speak at local government or group meetings? Activities utilizing your talents and interests can make a difference, such as keeping volunteers working “on the ground” going (particularly during long events and evening meetings) and maintaining morale.
Contact your representatives and share your concerns. This is your right as a constituent. Your representatives can be reached by phone, letter/postcard, and e-mail (you can also visit their offices, but this is a tip for armchair advocacy). Of all the armchair-based contact options, phone calling is the most effective, since you can have a direct conversation with a member of your representative’s staff. If you want to write to your representative, a postcard will make it to your representative’s office more quickly than a letter in an envelope, due to the screening procedures for mail. E-mail can be used to contact your representative, but just be aware that you may not get a timely or personal response, as your representative gets a lot of e-mails that staff must handle.
Raise money for important causes. With social media, it is now easier than ever to spread the word and collect donations for causes about which you care. Facebook offers an integrated fundraising tool, and fundraising sites, such as GoFundMe and YouCaring, offer free platforms to raise money for various causes.
Do something consistently. Whatever you choose to do to get involved, make it a regular part of your schedule. Rather than trying to do a bunch of different activities, pick one (or a few, but no more than three) that you enjoy doing and can stick with over time. Consistent participation in an activity over time is not only manageable, but is also necessary, since making real change can take time.
“We sometimes underestimate the influence of little things.” --Charles W. Chesnutt
Small actions can make a big difference when done consistently. Armchair advocacy opens participation opportunities to everyone, which is essential for building and sustaining action to make positive change. How are you going to get involved?
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