Seniors and Activism: A Perfect Match

There was a large turnout for the immigrant Accompaniment Training this Sunday (see the blog post on it), and a great majority of attendees were senior citizens. At 62, I felt young.

This is a great thing. Accompanying immigrants to check-ins with their ICE officer and immigration court hearings (both in Hartford) consumes a great deal of time, often the better part of a day. Retired and semi-retired individuals can fit this into their schedule or schedule around it. Most other people cannot.

Against expectations, although seniors have more free time, historically they volunteer less than middle-aged people. And it is not just because of health problems. But as the Baby Boom generation retires (and about 40% consider themselves retired already, even though the median age of the generation is around 62), it appears that, at least for those on the left, they will bring values and a history of activism that will make them give more of their time than past generations of retirees. That is what I felt at the church where we met on Sunday.

I found myself with a group of retired women who are members of a literacy program for those speaking English as a second language. They wanted to direct their compassion toward another form of service to immigrants in our community.

We Baby Boomers have the skills, the time, and the independence to do more than we’ve done so far, and to do more than any retired generation has ever done. We will increasingly have more space in our life to think not only about ourselves and our families, but also about the legacy we will leave to future generations.

As we move into the last stage of our lives, what some people call “the third chapter” or “the third age,” it’s important to ask ourselves (à la Jonas Salk), What kind of ancestors will we become? Will we be what some commentators predict: the only growth industry of the next few decades, defenders of our entitlements who insist we’ve given and now it’s time to take, the creators of a Generational Storm, a Boomer Bust, or even a Boomergeddon, where taking care of us and paying our pensions will stretch the country’s resources beyond the breaking point, leading to tax hikes, high interest rates, and hyperinflation? Will there be intergenerational warfare that will make the Generation Gap of our youth look like a lovefest?

Or will we Boomers find it in our hearts to give as we take, to serve rather than be served (the AARP’s motto), to use our experience, skills, and free time to change the nature of aging and of caring for the aged; to serve our communities, especially the poor, the young, and the disabled; and to advocate less for our own interests and more for those who come after us? Can we turn ourselves into the Generative Generation, a generation that sees itself as the trustees of future generations, with an obligation to protect and further their interests?

The current political mess might be just the thing the Boomer generation needs to throw itself into activism. I hope that this blog helps CT Boomers decide where to turn their energies, and I hope that Boomers share their experiences and ideas here, as well.

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