7 Ways Not to Be an Armchair Activist
No matter how different we are, when we raise our voices as citizens we all win as Americans. The more action we take, the more power we take from the lobbyists, the corporations and the PACs (political action committees).
Together we can win. That said, this article does not support any particular political group or view. However I may bring up certain issues. It won't be often and they will serve as examples only. Please bear with me.
In another article, I show ways to be an armchair activist. This article compliments that one by showing you things not to do to make a difference. Keep these tips in mind as you shape the world. It will strengthen your cause and spare you a lot of unnecessary stress and heartache.
7. No violence! Leave war to the warriors
If you take anything from this article it shall be this: NO VIOLENCE. No matter how heated things get, do not get violent. This also includes property damage: don't break anything!
There is a word for the person who uses violence or threats of violence to get his way politically: terrorist. There are two options for any terrorist: prison or death. Either way, everyone who ever donated money to a terrorist's cause will be questioned. So will his family, friends and friends of friends. So will everyone who ever signed a petition he solicited. All the progress that all the activists put towards his cause over the years evaporate instantly. Then the new mission becomes damage control. Damage control can take years, even decades. It's just not worth it.
But it's hard to be violent from the armchair, isn't it? Maybe but people are creative. You'd be surprised how many threats of violence or even death an extremist can string together from home. Here's a good rule: if you're afraid of putting your name, fingerprints or return address on anything you're sending to anyone don't even bother. Rip it up and throw it away.
Please don't be violent. You are an armchair activist. You are too important. Your cause needs you.
Don't take my word for it. Pick up a copy of "The Lifelong Activist" by Hillary Rettig. Whether you are an armchair activist or an "active" activist, it will keep you focused and strong.
6. Don't burn out
Don't burn out. This is the greatest challenge any activist must face. That passion inside can overwhelm the strongest of us. But armchair activism isn't supposed to burn you out. It's supposed to empower you. It's supposed to restore your confidence in the system and your role in it. If what you're doing from home to make the world a better place is wearing you down then stop. Take the rest of the day off.
There is a simple way to keep your cool. Everyday, ask yourself: when does the cost outweigh the benefit? If you are paying a dollar for a quarter then it's time to calm down and rethink your involvement. Shifting gear does not mean you "lose." Armchair activism isn't a war and you have nothing to prove. Let someone on the other side burn out.
Don't worry about taking a breather. Unless you fighting for the rights of the invisible pink unicorns on Mars, your cause will still be waiting for you. Everyone gets discouraged. Everyone feels cornered and helpless. Everyone gets so close before facing defeat. Everyone sees the wrong bills being passed or the wrong guy elected. But somehow life goes on and there is another opportunity waiting. Then another.
5. Say no to trolls
I notice that people are polite. When I ask for directions I get them. When others ask me for directions, I give them. When I can't help I tell them immediately. We treat others with respect and they happily reciprocate.
Then on the Internets, everything changes. Something happens to us. When people are nowhere near us, when they don't see us or don't know who we are, it somehow gives us license to go crazy. It's too easy to take things out of context in a forum or a YouTube comment section. Sarcasm can be taken literally. This is especially true when politics is involved.
Things get heated and the discussion turns away from the topic. It turns into a debate about how stupid somebody is or how he doesn't have a life. The somebody is then called childish. This goes on and on, sometimes for days. Although it's mildly amusing to read as a non-participant, it is hurtful and counterproductive for those who are involved. Getting involved this is like trying to patch up a casualty that was lost hours ago.
So is this our fate in the digital age? Whenever we want to express ourselves is this what we are destined for? No! I'll make it simple: as soon as you see yourself falling into this trap, stop. That's it. Don't counter because you have better things to do. Your cause needs you elsewhere. You know what you believe but it's not your job to prove it to someone who is there only to provoke you. Let the baby have his bottle. That's it. When you see this happening between others, ignore it.
Here's how I do it. When things are getting out of hand and I'm suddenly involved, then I type out exactly what I want to say. Maybe it's the ultimate smackdown insult or the crushing blow that will prove me right in an argument. I proofread it and spell check it. Once it's perfect I delete it. That's right. Delete it. Then I leave the forum.
Character is who you are when nobody is looking. And online nobody is looking. Rise above the mess and you win.
4. Be careful with Facebook
Facebook is a social network. It's very popular. Let's move on.
Facebook is interesting because people use it for many different reasons. In your case, it can be effective in keeping you up to date with your nonprofit groups. Aside from that you have to remember that not everyone you know is an activist.
A lot of people use Facebook to keep in touch with family and friends. It's just easier for us to catch up with each other on Facebook than by individual emails. One day, I thought it would be a good idea to spread the word about my cause. We're all friends after all, right? I was wrong. Many of my friends cut me loose immediately and I don't blame them.
Online newsletters from the nonprofits who fight for your cause will give you a chance to post something on your Facebook page. Don't do it. Every time you post a link to a politically charged article or video, you lose friends. All of your contacts see you as a political SPAM-bot and then they ignore you. Then they don't think highly of your cause. Not cool.
Also, Facebook isn't really all that keen on protecting your privacy. They say they are but the way they run the site I'm not convinced. Privacy settings are complicated and change almost every other month. Whenever you "Like" a page, your contacts will know. Every time you make a comment on a page, your contacts will know.
Twitter is another social networking service that can be easily misused. Not to say that Twitter is useless. It has shaped the world in more ways than we can imagine. Just be extra careful with it. Know what you want with it before using it for your cause. The last thing you want to do is use it to annoy friends and relatives.
For now enjoy Facebook and Twitter your way. Leave politics out of it and your cause will thank you.
3. Don't talk. Listen
Part of what's going on here is "Don't be cruel" and "Don't burn out" but there's more so listen up.
Sooner or later you'll meet someone you disagree with. If it's a coworker or stranger then don't say another word and don't bring up the issue... ever. If it is a friend or family member, listen to what he has to say. Keep listening. He won't talk forever so stay quiet.
At least two things will happen here once he's through:
1. Your friend will appreciate your tolerance. He will feel better for having the chance to make his point without shouting and he will trust you more. Your political differences probably won't come up again since he already made his point. Conclude with, "Oh. That's cool" and then carry on with your tether ball game.
2. You will learn something about your cause. As he talks about his point of view, you will learn the weak points of yours. You think you already know them but you don't. His honest argument is critical analysis you can't get anywhere else. As long as you don't interrupt him, he will go through every point of his argument. You will need every ounce of this intelligence once you get into your armchair.
If there is anything that isn't clear, ask him. He will happily oblige. This isn't to be condescending or to humor him. This is to dig deeper into what he's saying. If he goes on long enough he might find holes in his argument. If he finds enough holes on his own, he won't be too stubborn to listen to you.
I always listen to my friends and so do you.
2. Don't bother with (most) big media
Turn off the cable network news. All of it. Don't ever turn it on again. It's rotting your brain. They don't care about you. The events that are rocking the world to its core will never be covered in full because they don't want to offend their sponsors or their viewers. What you get from them is bleached, sterilized, high-fructose infotainment--the best that the corporations can buy. Yum!
I'll save you the trouble and summarize all cable network news right now. It's pundits and "experts" shouting at each other all day, everyday. These are the craziest, Cluster B, maladjusted people on Earth who are starving for attention. Take away their medication, liquor them up and put them in front of a camera. It's reality TV. But why do all this? Ratings. Money. Book deals.
So what's the problem? Just turn on the tube knowing all this and enjoy the circus, right? Wrong. They pigeon-hole you into two different political groups, each with its very own color. Each group then gets its own set of ideas on an issue. It's impossible to step out of line or ask a question because TV doesn't listen. While they're not listening they continuously burn you out, feeding you their secret sauce infotainment until you're numb to the core. All day, everyday.
It doesn't help you as an armchair activist. If you agree with all their ideas, it will only placate you and dumb you down. If you don't agree with their ideas it will only burned you out. Either way, you just won't be as effective as you need to be.
If you must get your news via television, go for the local news.
1. Don't lose hope
We have not lost power to the lobbyists or special interest groups. Our power has always been there but it's hard to realize because we don't use it enough. When we do, it's sometimes misused or misdirected. But in those moments it's used correctly and effectively, it is truly beautiful. You can be there when it happens. Your effort will make sure it does. But you have to be there. Don't give up.
Your cause needs you. You are an armchair activist.