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Elders in Action for a Better World

Retirees have launched a social movement, determined to bequeath a better world to their grandchildren and future generations

By Kathryn Skrabo

Forty-seven activists gathered in Burlingame, California, in 2014 to explore a vision and a question:

Can we create a movement of elders to transform our American society?

Two people sitting at a table with pamphlets and photos. Next Avenue
EAN "elders" Sherie Stark and Richard Burke, leader of the Elder Climate Action Southern California chapter, staffing a table at the chapter’s collaboration with Third Act SoCal at the Day of Action against Dirty Banks in California.  |  Credit: Photo by Rick Forrest

At the meeting, convened by an aerospace engineer and entrepreneur named John Sorensen, the activists agreed that they were not ready to "retire" but to do something else — to work toward make society more just, caring equitable and committed to leaving a better world for future generations. Out of that meeting grew a social justice and climate action group known today as the Elders Action Network, or EAN.

Nine years have passed since EAN's founding. Over the intervening years, EAN has expanded its membership locally and nationally and initiated a number of campaigns. One calls on investors to pressure oil companies to abandon fossil fuels and switch to renewable energy. Another campaign involves elders, as EAN members call themselves, to pressure the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate auto emissions and other air pollutants more strictly. A third campaign encourages people to buy fewer material goods, eat more plants and conserve energy.

Aging Has Changed

EAN describes its mission as "building a movement of elders to address the social, environmental and governance crises of our time." Concern for their grandchildren and future generations is typically why many want to come together to be part of the solution and to make a real difference.

Aging is not what it used to be. Older adults today are healthier, better educated and better resourced than in years past, living in a time of historical change. With about 10,000 people turning 65 every day, EAN believes the world is ready for a new social contract, one that asks elders to use the talents, experiences and skills gained over the decades to work on the serious social, governance and environmental problems facing our planet.

Many EAN members were activists in their younger years and still remember the passion that motivated us to support issues we cared deeply about. EAN is seeking to reignite that passion.

Elders Action Network offers many older adults a connection and pathway to purpose through a range of activities and actions. It also educates members on pressing issues using online courses and webinars led by guest presenters and EAN members.

Intimate discussion groups called World Cafes and bipartisan Living Room Conversations cover a range of topics, teaching people new ideas, exposing them to different points of view and giving them an opportunity to express their own ideas.

EAN seeks to engage public attention and influence public policy in four areas: climate change, social action, voting rights and "regenerative living." Unlike sustainable living, which seeks to reduce environmental damage, regenerative living seeks to reverse the damage.

Many Issues Ahead

Climate Action chapters around the country focus on issues at the local level and feed into the national Climate Action group. The Social Justice Action team works on timely issues like FixMyFunds, a campaign to leverage the power of investors to pressure banks to stop financing fossil fuel companies. Elders for Sound Democracy encourages voting, promotes civic values, proposes ways to reduce gun violence and resists assaults on academic freedom. Regenerative Living teams counsel people on adopting that lifestyle.

A podcast, The Way Forward Regenerative Conversations, lets you listen in on conversations with leading thinkers and doers in such fields as environmental change, agriculture, technology, governance, sustainability, organizational design, international peace and personal renewal. EAN started the podcast  to share ideas and stimulate listeners' imagination with "out of the box" thinking about what is possible for the future.


I became involved with Elders Action Network after serendipitously coming across an internet announcement about a virtual EAN Town Hall meeting to discuss the need to register voters across the country.

I attended that Town Hall meeting and learned EAN needed volunteer writers. I signed up and quickly met many people who, like me, were eager to be more engaged.

That was seven years ago, and I still feel inspired to be a part of the change. As more older adults step up to volunteer, the more we will be able to accomplish and, in the process, stay active and engaged later in life. We owe it to the next generation to do what we can to improve the world we all share.

Kathryn Skrabo, a retired social worker, is a member of Elder Action Network's leadership council. Read More
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