Take a Stand
“Here I Stand” is a blog series of the Ruth Frost Parker Center for Abundant Aging of United Church Homes (UCH). Every eight weeks, the Parker Center blog writers meet via Zoom. From their conversation emerges a broad series theme, from which the writers author columns from their experiences and perspective. This first column in the series, published June 9, 2022, is reprinted here with permission.
By the Rev. Beth Long-Higgins, UCH vice president of engagement and director of the Parker Center
This is the first blog in a series around the theme of “Here I Stand.” Knowing that rulings from the Supreme Court would be coming in the month of June and in response to state legislative initiatives around the country, the writers felt a need to reflect where we feel the need to take a stand or observe others who have taken stands that lead to justice and the transformation of our society. We also recognize that taking a stand can lead us to stand in the invitation to prayer and to stand alongside others who are hurting. We do not all have to agree on which issue is more important, nor do we all choose the same places or actions in those spaces where we stand, but perhaps we can find the encouragement to recognize our role and be able to say, as an individual, Here is where I stand given the years of my own experience and reflection.
Standing in the Third Act
At the final plenary of the American Society on Aging annual conference this year, Bill McKibben gave the last word. Bill is an author and journalist whose passion has centered around the issues of global warming and the environment.
The American Society on Aging is one of the largest associations of organizations and professionals who work in the field of aging services. It provides a platform for those in aging to network, share ideas, learn and innovate. They provide educational opportunities for professionals working with older adults. And they are advocates for policies at the state and federal levels for older adults.
So, why was there an environmentalist speaking at the conference full of social workers, advocates, service providers and aging thought leaders? Because Bill has taken a very public stand and is increasingly joined by others who see their age as an asset in doing so. “In the third act of our life, we’ve got to be ready to stand for the change that needs to take place” he proclaimed.
Third Act was founded by McKibben as a movement for those over 60 to take action on climate justice. When you visit their website the first message is “Third Act: Our Time is Now.” He is attempting to awaken a generation who has already witnessed profound social transformations: worker’s rights, civil rights, LGBT rights, voter rights, the end to the Vietnam war, women’s rights — to name the big justice issues. Akaya Windwood, former president of the Rockwood Leadership Institute points out that today’s generation of individuals who are now over the age of 60 did a lot, “but as a generation we have been largely quiet and asleep. And it is time for us again.”
The Time is Now
“Our Time is Now” is an affirmation that those who are over 60 are needed now more than ever. In the second half, the third act, our elderhood is not about looking back, but acting now and looking forward. In a video on Third Act’s website, the Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., president and CEO, Hip Hop Caucus, suggests that “now more than ever we have wisdom and passion and love.” And Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass, points out that “elderhood is not a time for stepping back, but for stepping up and into our own power. Becoming an elder is both a precious gift and a serious responsibility.”
McKibben told the story during his keynote address of being invited to join a demonstration organized by much younger individuals about global warming. He joked that it was a bit humbling to march behind the banner that had been made for his group that read: Fossils Against Fossil Fuel. But more importantly, their participation was one way for older and younger generations to come together to bring awareness to an issue important to our planet.
He also receives messages from individuals who express their appreciation for the opportunity and realization that we can take a stand throughout our lives. McKibben has an arrest record for his activism work. He points out that he is freer now, over the age of 60, to take those stands that might lead to an arrest because he doesn’t worry about what his record looks like. He isn’t worried that having an arrest record might jeopardize future job opportunities. He doesn’t have to worry about missing a days’ wages if he is detained in jail. His plea is that 19 year olds don’t have to be the ones to jeopardize their future. Older adults are very capable of standing and marching, demonstrating and participating in free speech. He shared that he has received at least one email from an older adult who has added “get arrested for activism work” to their bucket list.
Standing for Legacy
What is the thing that stirs your passion, keeps you up at night or is something you value? Where is the place, what is the issue, who are the people for whom you are willing to stand in order to amplify the possibilities of creating a just and loving world?
Life in our later years is not necessarily the time to “retire” and sit back and be consumed by leisure activity. Perhaps it is the time to consider our legacy and know that we can continue to shape what that is for the generations who will follow. Perhaps life after primary careers is the time to apply the decades of professional and work experience to improve the social fabric of our communities. Perhaps.
Where are you willing to take a stand? In the coming weeks we will explore examples of some who are very clearly standing as they contribute their energy to change and transformation in the world.
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