Elder Activists is a vision of individuals inspiring, educating and supporting each other to become actively engaged in creating the future that will be our legacy. The mission is to inspire people with stories of Elder Activists, motivate them to take action, and provide resources to support their personal growth and education.
Like many concerned citizens, I was devastated by the election of President Trump. I feared for the fate of justice, compassion and equality in our society; and, unfortunately, my fears were realized in the very first days of the administration with the announcement of the Muslim Ban. I wanted to take action but it felt too hard to do it alone. I decided I would reach out for compatriots.
I posted on Facebook, and sent emails to friends and neighbors, announcing that I would be at my house writing postcards to elected officials on Fridays, from 2 to 3 p.m. I didn’t know how it would go, and certainly never thought about this as a long-term project. I was heartened that 4 or 5 or 8 women showed up every time during the first few months. Those early members invited others, and the group grew. Now, members take turns hosting in their homes, and we communicate through our Facebook group; we have become an ongoing venture.
What we do is quite simple. We share issues of greatest concern to us each week, and then write postcards to our elected officials, committee chairs or committee members. We have learned that postcard messages are a simple, attention-grabbing means of registering our support or opposition to stances and measures taken by officials. Over tea and snacks we sit for an hour and write exhortative messages about subjects such as immigration, gun control, environmental protection, judicial appointments, and criminal justice. We also write to express admiration and appreciation for those who have taken courageous positions.
Over the past year, we have written over 2,000 postcards. We now have over 20 members of the #PersistentPostcarders, as we named ourselves -- in honor of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who was silenced when she spoke out against the confirmation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sen. McConnell defended cutting her speech off midstream, “…she was warned…nevertheless, she persisted.”
We recently celebrated our first anniversary—we had an open house at our neighborhood coffee shop, and offered guidance so that guests could write postcards on the spot about environmental issues, immigration, or gun control. We raised money for Turn PA Blue, that mobilizes support for Democratic candidates in “flippable” districts. We heard from Helen Tai, a candidate for State Representative in Bucks County. And, we expressed our gratitude for the gift of working together.
Events of the past year have frequently been frightening and discouraging. Nevertheless, WE persist. When we are together, #PersistentPostcarders learn more about the threats to our American values, and we do what we can to address them. We get to know our neighbors, many of whom like me are “beyond midlife.” And, as we do, we find that we are cheered by the fact of acting together. We are not alone.
We are one tiny drop of water in a sea of organizing, activism and resistance.
Rabbi Dayle Friedman is a chaplain, and spiritual guide dedicated to bringing meaning, connection and solace to the second half of life. Her Philadelphia-based, national practice is Growing Older, www.growingolder.net. Her most recent book is Jewish Wisdom for Growing Older: Finding Your Grit and Grace Beyond Midlife (Jewish Lights, 2015).
For several years I have wanted to organize a local Elder-Activists group. I’ve been showing up at rallies and actions with my Elder Activists t-shirts and banner—but could not wrap my mind around how to organize a group until just this past month. And then, it was so easy! When I shared in a circle of friends that I wanted to start a group but wasn’t sure how to do so, my friend Julie replied, “Why don’t you bring a group of elders to our next POWER action?” POWER is Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild—a local faith-based, community-organizing network which has been very successful in responding to local issues. Julie is organizing a long term strategic campaign to force our local power company to create green jobs and place solar panels on the rooftops of working class homes—as opposed to building a corporate solar field.
I wrote an email and sent it to about a dozen friends and fellow activists, inviting them to the POWER action and to an Elder-Activists meeting to talk about “elders standing together” at local actions. I immediately got six or eight positive responses. That was encouraging!
I then sent the same email to a wider network of friends and a couple of relevant e-lists. By the day of the meeting/action I had about a 15 folks coming to the action, and about 8 to the meeting.
Two days before I asked a creative activist friend to help me make signs. It took us about 2 hours at her kitchen table, with markers and poster board -- “Elders demand solar jobs for our future,” Elders want Big Change,” etc. It was easy, we had fun – and I felt like I had collaborators in this work.
The meeting went well with a group of 12 around several tables. As we parked the car we gained two men who were arriving early and decided to join us. We sat on the edge of the food court of the regional train station and attracted attention from another friend who joined us.
We began with several rounds of questions. First, we identified ourselves by name and where we lived – a quick way to get everybody noticed in the circle. I then offered a bit of background on why I had organized this circle of elders and invited them to this action. Then, I asked everybody to tell their story – “What attracted you to this gathering of elders, as activists; this vision of elders standing together; of speaking our moral voice in support of the welfare of all, the future for all children?”
It was a wonderful question for all to begin to hear each other’s voices. My friend Susan, who had been at a previous elder action 2 years ago, shared a chant – which we all repeated several times. “TELL ME what an Elder looks like. THIS IS what an Elder looks like!”
Finally, I asked if there were specific issues or ideas for how to be engaged together. Some good ideas emerged – coming together for the Women’s March on Jan. 20th, going to Washington DC together in support of the Rev. William Barber’s Poor People’s Campaign and supporting a local mass incarceration action.
We got everybody’s email address, took a group picture and some people shared business cards. We were beginning to make connections.
After a short bathroom break we walked the two blocks to the action – two of us carrying the Elder-Activists banner, and the rest walking behind, holding our home made signs. We used our chant as we arrived to the assembling crowd -- “TELL ME what an Elder looks like. THIS IS what an Elder looks like!” – and were greeted with shouts and whoops!
That was the organizing part but the result was impressive. Several of the speakers referred to the elders in their talks, some referred to the moral responsibility to care for the future, for our children. Many other elders walked over to us and wanted to know more.
We had accomplished our objectives –
to bring elders together,
to inspire ourselves and others, and
to raise our moral voice in the public square.
And, we had fun!
If you are interested in beginning a local elder-activist group – send me an email and we can talk and share ideas.. I am happy to support others in this endeavor.
“Gratitude is our birthright. It steadies us to face what is happening to our world. It grounds us and enables us to face and honor our pain for the world.” These words of Joanna Macy, an environmental activist, author and scholar, are especially helpful to me as I contemplate the daily news.
Gratitude is the starting point for being able to engage with my despair and pain. These days as I read the news I feel myself overwhelmed with the social unrest, the racism and bigotry, and the enormous climate disruption, as hurricanes and fires run wild. I find myself angry with our leaders, who I assume are as smart as I am but act as though they don’t understand the dire consequences of their actions -- or inactions.
As I face what is happening in our world I understand that this interplay between pain and gratitude are two sides of the whole –the interconnected nature of all life. My pain springs forth from my humanity, my compassion, and, all that is good within me. I can use that goodness and that sense of connection to propel me to do what my heart yearns to do – to create a more sustainable and just world -- one step, one day at a time – in spite of all the craziness around me.
There are moments when I feel blocked and I can’t figure the next steps – those are the moments that I seek inspiration from others – friends, teachers, the Earth itself. I am more creative when my mind dances and plays with those of my friends, and what emerges is so much greater than I, or they, could generate alone.
What comes to mind is the African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”
Yet, I am the kind of person who likes to go fast, and I have to urge myself to slow down. I am proud when I discover those ways to slow down and connect with our beautiful interconnected web of life – Mother Earth.
In this season I am grateful for my garden. I have this huge raspberry patch, planted by the previous owners of this house. Each day I must pick and some days I am busy or tired – but still I must pick or the berries get too soft, or moldy. So, I have a practice of thanking the plants as I pick. I express thanks for the delicious berries, for the berry crisps that I make, for the growing bags of frozen berries in my freezer for the winter. As I talk to my plants the picking is so much more fun!
If you are still reading this blog – THANK YOU! Thank you for hanging in with me, for encouraging me to do this work. Hopefully it will serve us all. I know that gratitude is a gift that I give myself – and hopefully a gift that you give yourself as well.