About 10,000 Americans a day turn 60 (that’s roughly the same number of Americans born each day), and each of us passing that mark will live, on average, an additional 23 years and seven months. This is the baby boomer cohort, and along with the older “silent generation,” we hold 70% of the nation’s wealth. We vote — people in the 60-plus age group were about 50% more likely to cast a ballot in 2020 than those ages 18 to 29. We also watch approximately five hours of television per day.
We can and should be doing more. The United States faces divisive crises. Older Americans, who are experienced Americans, owe it both to themselves and to their grandkids and children to move the country in a better direction. The two of us are over 60, and we hope — we trust — that our peers who care about civil rights, economic justice and environmental sanity are ready to direct their life skills and resources toward the common good. Our cohort was involved in, or witnessed to, profound cultural and political shifts in the first act. We were either shaped by, or benefited from, the civil rights movement, women’s equality drive, and massive war against Vietnam. If you’re about 70 now, you were about 20 on the first Earth Day, which means there was a pretty good chance you were out in the street
Of course, not every young person in those years could be called progressive. The fervor seemed to have waned among those who were there, even though they were still active in the long second act. Maybe we believed we had solved the problems we were interested in, or maybe we found ourselves acting more like consumers than citizens. Many of us did the right things, got jobs, had families, and it was easy to just put our heads down and go to work, while our families and communities looked after. But now, we are able to look back on our later years with wisdom, talents and sometimes the money to put these skills to good use. We should be reminded by our children and grandchildren that we can make the world a better place if we do not act now.
The conventional wisdom is that people become conservative based on their age. Certainly the right wing works hard to make it appear so: The median age of Fox News viewers is 68. The Koch network and the American Petroleum Institute, for instance, helped fund the 60-Plus Assn. , has opposed healthcare reform and climate legislation. You may also be inclined to smug ignorance, regardless of your political views. So, OK boomer.
Jill Filipovic, a journalist, pointed out in her book “OK Boomer. Let’s Talk” that although we were good parents and gave our children a “safe place to grow”, she said that society was not doing enough to help us. We voted for tax reductions.
Bruce Gibney wrote in “A Generation of Sociopaths” that the boomers had “destroyed a feeling of social solidarity, a feeling of commitment to their fellow citizens.” That ethos is gone and it’s been replaced by a cult of individualism.”
Generalities obscure as much as they illuminate: Women of color in the 60-plus demographic have worked harder than anyone else to keep that sense of solidarity and optimism alive. It’s clear that many of those born after World War II could attend college and leave with very little debt. We could have benefited from the great escalator in real estate prices if we were not relocated from the suburbs. Although we worked hard, maybe too hard — work-life balance wasn’t our forte), more work needs to be done immediately.
Here’s one example: Perhaps no legislation in the lifetime of anyone over 60 has been as transformative as the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It should be painful to see it fall in the face new voter suppression laws. You can join existing campaigns against voter suppression at both the state and national levels. Also, you can invoke your long memories of voting, which will help ensure that no one takes it as granted.
Meanwhile, young people including Greta Thunberg have explicitly asked for help in addressing the climate crisis. Here’s an option: Join demonstrations on Oct. 29 that will target giant financial institutions such as Chase and Citibank, funders of the fossil fuel industry. If the retirement funds that they hold are filled with the cause, their executives might pay attention.
The leadership of progressive action is mainly from the young, such as Black Lives Matter or the Sunrise Movement. However, older people can also be catalysts for profound change. It is not fair to expect the young to save their world.
If enough of the 70 million of us who’ve passed the six-decade mark join in, then we’ve got a chance. It’s been done before.
Akaya Windwood is lead advisor at Third Act, a new effort to organize older Americans. Bill McKibben, founder of the climate group 350.org, is a Third Act co-founder.