Armchair Activism

chapter_upennWe are born. We live. We love. We hurt. We reflect. We die. Perhaps there is a God in the sky who will shake our hands if we were nice, and perhaps if we were naughty he will kick us a burning curb. The best I can figure in the interim is to help bring peace and justice to those that I can. But how to go about this?

That’s where I get hung up. My colleagues and I are dolling out $40,000+/yr to learn how to be good social workers. Living in Philadelphia amidst rampant urban decay, poverty, homelessness and blatant inequality casts a certain amount of irony over our high minded discussions safely contained within the walls of an ivy-lined campus.

It’s something we all struggle with. How do we balance the benefit of a great education, lifelong connections, enlightening dialogue, and a chance to experience first hand the inequality pervading the city, with the reality that perhaps we could bring good to the world without Penn’s seal of approval, without singlehandedly keeping student loan companies in business?

We all undoubtedly do social good through the very fact that we contribute our time and efforts to various social organizations throughout the region, but there is a call we feel to do something more. It is hard to sit through classes and have tough discussions about racism, about sexism, poverty, welfare, healthcare, homelessness, elder abuse, child welfare, food insecurity, and the myriad of other issues that we do, and then go home at night to our warm beds.

And so some of us talk. We talk to each other about these feelings and our passion to do more. Some of us volunteer our time above and beyond our field placement requirements. Some of us insert random acts of kindness into our daily routines, and more likely all of us do some combination of all of these things.

One of the things I do is write. I feel compelled to share my ideas about the world, my passion for social justice. I feel hopeful that someone will stumble across my Action of the Day Page and say “hey, I don’t support executing people without evidence” and place a phone call, or “hey, torture isn’t cool” and sign a petition. I hope that someone will stumble across my Media section, and give second though to immigration laws, or will decide to engage in the political process. I hope that someone will read my “Policies for People” article and discuss these ideas with others.

But for all of these hopes and posts, I run the risk of becoming an Armchair Activist. When I go to a photo exhibit in Philadelphia about hunger in our city, and then walk home and heat up a bowl of soup, I run the risk of becoming an Activist in Theory. When I go to a Housing Conference, talk to people about homelessness, and go to sleep in the Hilton Hotel, I run the risk of mistaking words for action.

Perhaps I am being harsh on myself, and my fellow social workers, but the question is very real, and very relevant- Are we bringing good to the world, or are we Armchair Activists?

Asking this question is so important for all of us who believe in social change, in equality and justice, because it is so very easy to become jaded, to become burnt out, to have our exuberance stamped out by reality. And more importantly, we, I, must answer the question: What am I going to do today to make a difference?


I especially welcome comments from Sp2 students here. Also, please feel free to join the Sp2 Committee for Action


14 Responses

  1. Man, I have been all over the economic spectrum, and what’s in your bank account doesn’t matter. It’s whats in your heart. If you have food, then eat it. If someone else is around, or you know someone else that is hungry, then feed them. If you want. There’s no need to feel guilty about money. It’s only when the love “of” money comes into being that things go bad.
    I can tell you, that as an educated person, you have access to solutions within your mind, and all around you. You can write, and influence others. You can write to the right people, and influence them. Need I remind you that Jefferson, Paine, Lincoln, wrote some pretty powerful words that changed the course of our country.
    If you really want to make a difference, maybe you should decide what your greatest gift is, and use it to make a difference. Hope that helps, Jim

  2. Wow! I’m glad I stumbled here through Alpha. Honestly, I believe that crisis can be a good thing. I can’t wait to read the post titled, ‘The Angry Black Woman’ — maybe I’m an angry white woman. The people who read the ‘About’ section of one of my blogs may think so … feelings are fleeting.

  3. Jim- thanks for the encouragement.

    Iowa- I’m glad to have you here. “The Angry Black Woman” is actually the name of a another blog- not a post of mine. I do hope you check out her blog, although I encourage you to explore mine further ^_^

  4. You make some good points. I write about social justice and human rights also and sometimes I wonder if it makes a difference. Most psychologists would say that the first step in healing is to be aware of what your issues/problems are. Perhaps in raising awareness, we are helping in making that first step toward healing. Obviously, more needs to be done, but it helps to at least get our heads out of the sand. Nice site. I’m going to add your blog to my blogroll and invite you to visit my site as well. Thanks.

  5. Hi Austin- welcome to my blog- good to have you here!

    I think that you are right about raising awareness being inherently valuable in itself.

    the chain of change goes:

    change in thoughts —> change in words —> change in action

    Thanks for the add… I’ll check out your blog as well!

  6. I’m leaving a BIG comment here today. I’ve found a nice place to share. I trust it. There’s a few things I’d like you to ponder from a perspective that may be foreign. Weighs on me to express it but I found some interesting news today that urged me to do it!

    Father’s Day Poll 2007
    From April 23, 2007 to May 3, 2007, Peter D. Hart Research Associates conducted a national survey for the Family Violence Prevention Fund and Verizon Wireless to measure men’s awareness of domestic violence’s prevalence, their recognition of the role they can play in addressing this problem, their willingness to get involved in efforts to stop it and their impressions of efforts by institutions to address it.

    Key Findings Include:

    o Men recognize the prevalence of domestic violence/sexual assault
    o More than half think a woman they know will be a victim
    o Many men believe they can make a difference in addressing the problem of violence against women
    o Most men are willing to get involved in efforts to address the problem of domestic violence/sexual assault
    o Many men are already getting involved by talking to children about healthy, violence-free relationships
    o Many men are willing to express their disapproval when individuals – either friends or celebrities – make jokes or demeaning comments about women or exploit them
    o Men do not give any institutions high marks for doing enough to raise awareness and address the problem of domestic violence and sexual assault
    o Men broadly support employer-based efforts to address domestic violence and sexual assault

    This last one really touches me. And I can see the most hope with this one. My own personal journey of being mother of young children and a wife of a husband who was violent at times. My confession of ignorance is this. I believed that calling the police would land him in jail. The consequences of that would mean losing his job (I thought in my mind) He was and and still is the Medical Director of the State of Iowa Department of Corrections. His job provided for our family. I believe that for this reason, many women feel faced to decide the fate of their families. I did call the police chief once, and he went to speak with my husband then. I have gone to the Dept. of Human Services. Each of these actions increased the anger in him … I reached out far and wide for answers before calling it quits.

    The helping professions for women such as me are lacking. They are not well educated about the victim and often re-victimize the victim. My stories lend credence to this conviction. My husband made a quarter million dollars a year. Of course, I was without access to it. The divorce lawyers I interviewed over a few years wanted a ten thousand dollar deposit. I stayed. Saved. Prayed all of the time. I used to be a doctor’s wife.

    I hope that you might find your way to provide some relief on behalf of those raising the next generation … relief may not be a fitting word. Answers might serve this call best. The cycle of violence in our homes must be addressed. The helping professions must be trained. Resources for families in this kind of situation must be accessible to all regardless of “family income.”

  7. Iowa, thank you for your openness, and for providing an interesting subject to think about. I’m sorry for the situation you endured, but I am happy to report that you strike me as alive and well today ^_^

    The one part of your story that really strikes a cord with me, is that you stayed on longer than you would have liked. This is very representative of domestic violence- women often feel trapped for a variety of factors, and so are forced to endure a situation that they should not have to.

    The way right now that I am trying to incorporate awareness of this issue into my work, is through a white paper I am writing for my agency, the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania.

    In the paper, among other things, I discuss the effects that a lack of affordable housing has on many groups-children, elderly, homeless, disabled, etc. One of the groups I talk about are women who experience domestic violence. The lack of affordable places where a women can move to on a single income, and often with children, forces many to stay in bad situations.

    I spoke with a women from the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape about this topic, and she gave me contact info for a dv survivor who shared her story with me. I will be sharing her story in the section of the paper that deals with DV, as it is important for people to understand the many faces of suffering as a result of unaffordable housing. Many people wouldn’t instinctively think of domestic violence survivors…

    Speaking out, like you have, is one of the most powerful tools to combat dv, since it relies on secrecy and silence. Only when it is brought out into the open, can the public be called to account to bring change.

  8. Housing is key. I applaud your effort of thought and action. It is important to understand the different faces of DV, there is a pervasive ignorance that it effects specific genders and races and, I do hate the term ‘classes.’ Neither do I want to be labeled those. And there are individual stories from those living on ‘the ground’ that may serve future strategies of what may be done. My intention is this. I see a brilliant fellow here (smiles) and cannot help but write my ‘different’ view. Gives me hope. Being turned away had to do more with an income level (on the opposite side) which closed the doors. Had me wishing I was in a different ‘place.’ The words come less easily this time of night 😉

    Hope is what drives us out here. Hope is what changes the landscape for all humans. God, am I glad Obama was raised by a single parent. I’m tickled he has white relatives. I feel hope we can look at humanity (we’re all pink on the inside!) Change is on the horizon. I’m inspired with your blog because it gives me hope.

  9. Iowa- thanks for your gracious comments, and I do agree that hope, while often ridiculed as a campaign theme, is an important part of the human condition, and a prerequisite for action. If people did not have hope that things could change for the better, there would be no motivation for people to pursue those changes.

  10. Why is it everytime I come here I just want to say AMEN?! Enjoyed reading the comments almost as much as I did the post!

    Hey there Jim! Good to see you here! This is another great site!

  11. […] Armchair Activism by douglaskev […]

  12. You are way too hard on yourself, kd. What are you doing today to make a difference? You are learning how to be a good social worker!

    Every minute you spend on your studies (and I’m guessing that’s a lot of minutes) is time spent making a difference. You need every one of those minutes to effect real change down the line. Effective long-term solutions come from careful, educated planning.

    Invest yourself whole-heartedly in your studies, and you’ll be doing all of us a world of good!

  13. Merry Christmas!

    And I agree with Brain…you are too hard on yourself, and you make a difference not only with your studies but also everytime you post something like this!

  14. Brain & tothewire- thanks for the encouraging words!

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