January 18, 2017
(Next Avenue invited all our 2016 Influencers in Aging to submit essays about the one thing they would like to change about aging in America. This is one of the essays, and it was taken from a recent post on 2016 Influencer of the Year Ashton Applewhite’s popular blog, This Chair Rocks.)
I wake these days feeling that something awful has happened. Reality assembles itself, and I feel worse. The multicultural, egalitarian, globalized society I hope to inhabit is under assault. Bigotry is ascendant. Racism, sexism, homophobia, religious intolerance — pick your prejudice! — are sanctioned, even celebrated. How do we respond to attacks on those most vulnerable? How does the mission to build a movement against ageism fit into this historical moment?
Until I thought hard about it, just posing that last question felt self-indulgent. Why insist on adding another “ism” to the list when so many higher-profile forms of discrimination, racism in particular, rightfully demand bandwidth? Should ageism move to the back of the line, at least until Medicare is in the crosshairs?
Here’s the thing: We don’t have to choose. It’s not a competition. And it’s not zero sum. All forms of discrimination intersect with and compound one another. The flip side is that when we make a community a better place in which to be from somewhere else, to worship a different god, to have a disability or be non-white or non-rich, we also make it a better place in which to grow old.
Ageism is the perfect target for collective advocacy because it affects everyone. That very attribute, its universal nature, means that we undermine ageism when people of all ages show up for stuff. It’s that basic.
The vital task for each of us — youngers and olders alike — is to join whatever struggle matters most to us in the days ahead. Stand up and step out — into the community, the classroom, the courts, the town squares.
Age-integrating the struggles ahead means coming to grips with our own internalized ageism, the voices that whisper “too old” or “too young,” that make us complicit in our own marginalization.
At times, there may be good reasons to sit tight, but age alone is not one of them. Only when each of us rejects this culture’s ageist script can we play the roles for which we were born — and we were all born for this time.
The vital task for each of us — youngers and olders alike — is to join whatever struggle matters most to us in the days ahead.
Every stage of life has its strengths, from physical resilience to historical perspective, and we are strongest when we collaborate. That’s true whether everyone in a group is the same age, or whether the collaboration is focused on carbon emissions or hate speech. We are stronger together in the streets as well.
Standing together — whether in front of a mosque or a clinic or an encampment or a bank — undermines age stereotypes and builds solidarity. We are all old or future old, and joining forces across our years offers a unifying cause in these divided times. We add ageism to the list of “isms” that we will not tolerate — implicitly, because all ages show up, and explicitly, because we insist upon it.
Dismantling ageism changes from an aspirational goal to certain outcome. We move organically towards a society where young and old, gay and straight, black and white, rich and poor, all have a voice and a path.
We have no other option, because we’re going to need all hands on deck — and because the possibility for radical social change has never been greater.
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