An elder revolution? It's possible

If you are over 50, or plan to be over 50 at some future date, you have just been issued a challenge. You might call it a leadership alert.

New York Times columnist David Brooks, who does have a good head on his shoulders, yesterday published an interesting column advancing the theory that real social change will come from the geezer generation. Those at the time of life traditionally perceived as fuzzy, withdrawing and passive. Or at best, the time of life in which most are inclined to let the young folks do the heavy lifting. But those times, Brooks maintains, have changed.

Citing studies undertaken over past decades, Brooks explains that the geezer generation (in which I am a fully accredited member) is now understood to be not so dimwitted and inept as long thought. Beyond new research that shows brains can continue to thrive and develop into one’s late years, people who had been studied over a 50-year period proved to be increasingly outgoing, self-confident and compassionate.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that we geezers — a population about to boom as the Boomers hit Medicare age — are eating up a way disproportionate share of the GDP. So pensions are going to keep getting money that would better be spent on education, taxes will go to fulfill earlier promises, etc.

Then, though, Brooks turns it all around a new corner:

In the private sphere, in other words, seniors provide wonderful gifts to their grandchildren, loving attention that will linger in young minds, providing support for decades to come. In the public sphere, they take it away.

I used to think that political leaders could avert fiscal suicide. But it’s now clear change will not be led from Washington. On the other hand, over the past couple of years we’ve seen the power of spontaneous social movements: first the movement that formed behind Barack Obama, and now, equally large, the Tea Party movement.

Spontaneous social movements can make the unthinkable thinkable, and they can do it quickly. It now seems clear that the only way the U.S. is going to avoid an economic crisis is if the oldsters take it upon themselves to arise and force change. The young lack the political power. Only the old can lead a generativity revolution — millions of people demanding changes in health care spending and the retirement age to make life better for their grandchildren.

It may seem unrealistic — to expect a generation to organize around the cause of nonselfishness. But in the private sphere, you see it every day. Old people now have the time, the energy and, with the Internet, the tools to organize.

The elderly. They are our future.

We could start by convincing seniors to ignore the scare tactics of their conservative friends and support health reform. Mount a movement for what is morally right: health care for all Americans. Their grandchildren will thank them.

Not being a community organizer myself, I don’t know how to start this campaign. But if you have any suggestions I’ll join the movement.

Op-Ed Columnist – The Geezers’ Crusade – NYTimes.com.

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