The breakout star of 2020, at least within the realm of inanimate objects, has undoubtedly been the couch. The rather basic furniture item quietly dedicated the early months of spring to transcending its interior design destiny, stepping up to take on multiple supporting roles during life on lockdown. In addition to offering its reliable and warm embrace throughout every last hour of a Netflix binge, couches everywhere transformed into at-home productivity zones when we needed them the most. They saw us through those cyber meetings-that-could’ve-been-an- email, the guided meditations via Zoom, and the frazzled attempts to keep children educated and entertained in the absence of school, friends, and extracurriculars. Most importantly though, they seated couch activists.
Incensed, and hungry for far more than trending quarantine snacks (banana bread, dalgona coffee, and so on), cravings for change were insatiable, and not even the strict limitations of a stay-at-home order could quell this appetite for activism. The couch was no longer for resting, but for strategizing. Couches became the pseudo-headquarters for advocacy work, opening up a world of opportunity even as borders closed, travel restrictions were enforced, and life as we all knew it was indefinitely shifted to the indoors.
Advocacy as an exercise normally occurs in the form of in-person gatherings, rallies, fundraisers, and programmed events – the key words here being ‘in person’. Politically-minded individuals harness a collective power by claiming physical and public spaces where their voices aren’t just heard, but amplified. So what happens when citizens across the globe are stripped not only of the right to assemble in such a way, but of the ability to take their work beyond their own front doors? They take to their couches for action.
“‘Couch activism,’ not unlike ‘armchair traveling,’ allows advocates to get equally loud about the causes and campaigns about which they are passionate, and make a lasting impact – even if they are not knocking on doors, or surrounded by other impassioned advocates,” explains Emily DaSilva, chief operating officer at the startup Outvote, which uses digital tools such as texting, social media, and video chat to make grassroots- style campaigning easier, accessible, and more personal than ever before. Embracing these tactics for digital organizing, she says, ensures that the most vulnerable members of society are recognized and supported, even if they can’t be seen, especially as the US presidential election draws near.
“There has been a large movement toward getting volunteers to text friends and make sure they are registered to vote, or their registration is up-to-date,” DaSilva says. Outvote also shifted its focus during the pandemic to expand crucial nationwide vote-by-mail opportunities. It’s an ongoing effort that requires working closely with parcel carriers, direct mail vendors, and clients to get eligible voters the applications and ballots they need to exercise their right to vote safely and effectively come November.
Even as global lockdowns eventually began to ease and Black Lives Matter protesters took to the streets in cities across the world in response to anti-Black police brutality and systemic racism, the internet proved to be an effective realm for supporting these necessary demands for change. From promoting awareness across social networks to circulating petitions through Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and beyond, members of the movement hit the virtual world like a storm, making it impossible for anyone to look away from the mission.
The work of a couch activist is serious, yes, but it can also be celebratory. DaSilva and her team even helped to throw a remote party, cleverly entitled ‘Couch Party,’ to get volunteers to download the Outvote app, join their campaign, and respond to their prompt-to-text eligible voters and encourage them to get registered. The idea took off over social and in the press, ultimately generating outreach to over 400,000 new voters. DaSilva describes the initiative as “astronomically effective,” which wasn’t entirely surprising considering Michelle Obama was the co-host of these cyber festivities.
So from the comfort of home, couch activism still managed to unite and advocate for change, even amid a challenging period of alienation and separation.
“I am hopeful,” DaSilva says, “that going forward, campaigns will continue to leverage emerging technologies and keep advocacy alive in complement with in-person events – couch activism, and beyond.”
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