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.

What We Do Now – I

I’m in the middle of reading an anthology of short essays on how to live post-election called What We Do Now, edited by Dennis Johnson and Valerie Merians (Melville House, Jan. 2017). I want to share some of the quotes that struck me.

Ilhan Omar, the first Somali-American legislator (MN state rep), writes, “It is essential we recognize the inherent obligation of humanity: to build community. Surviving life in a refugee camp at a young age, I find this obligation to be very real; hope and unity were essential to a fervent community.”

Omar also quotes Solon, an ancient Athenian lawmaker, as saying, “Wrongdoing can only be avoided if those who are not wronged feel the same indignation at it as those who are.” For me, this is the most important theme in this volume:  solidarity, cross-movement unity.

Cristina Jiménez, director of United We Dream, refers to it as “showing up for each other when we come under attack, and showing up for each other when we have an opportunity to advance the cause of justice.”

Linda Sarsour, the Palestinian director of the Arab American Association of New York, writes,”One of the most important things we can all do as Americans is to begin investing in relationship building. Do you know your neighbors? Do you know who leads the local community-based organizations in your neighborhood? Do you know the heads of local churches, local mosques, and temples? Do know who your local elected representatives are? If no, start now. If yes, how can you deepen those relationships so that they are transformative and not simply transactional.”

And she asks us all to “Stay vigilant. Stay focused. Stay outraged. Perpetual outrage is what’s going to fuel our movements right now.” And she concludes, “The question is: What are we willing to sacrifice? What history will we write together?”

In a post-election sermon, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum put solidarity in very concrete terms: “The president-elect has said he intends to register every Muslim in this country. Well, let him try. Because if he tries to register Muslims, there are going to be a lot more Muslims to register than he ever imagined. Millions of us Muslims.”

Many of the authors in this book, especially the ones who are not household names, argue that “we need to shift much of our energy from the national stage to the local,” as M. Dove Kent, director of Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, puts it. She also writes something it is very important to keep in mind: “We’ve got to find new frameworks for common ground, and and the litmus tests that separate us. … The thinner lines in the sand that previously divided us must be erased. We will need to find a way to get over ourselves, and quickly, if we are to be of service.”

More wisdom comes from Brittany Packnett, cofounder of Campaign Zero and author of my favorite piece so far, “White People: What Is Your Plan for the Trump Presidency?”: “The work of freedom is messy, dangerous, and intentionally uncomfortable. Here’s a simple test: if the action step you’re taking isn’t really costing you your comfort, chances are you’re not doing enough. … Getting in the way to protect the vulnerable, building something new that empowers the marginalized, and endangering yourself to shield others are the acts of an accomplice. We need no more allies — we need accomplices.” Powerful stuff.

I’m just halfway through this sometimes enlightening, sometimes provocative anthology. There should be another blog post in it.