My background in community organizing informed the founding The Radical Age Movement. Community Organizers look at the world through a holistic lens. We see the connections between systemic and personal issues. While others are busy feeding the hungry, community organizers look to see WHY there are so many hungry Americans. In today’s world, we need both kinds of activists. We need people on the ground to give immediate aid to those in need, and we need others to try to find the cause of the need and to, hopefully, eradicate it.
Here’s a parable, author unknown, with a little adaptation by me that many of us who do community work are familiar with.
THE STORY OF THE RIVER
Once upon a time there was a small village on the edge of a river. The people there were all social work case workers, with the exception of one lone community organizer. Life in the village was good. One day a villager noticed a baby floating down the river. The villager quickly swam out to save the baby from drowning. The next day this same villager noticed two babies in the river. He called for help, and both babies were rescued from the swift waters. And the following day four babies were seen caught in the turbulent current. And then eight, then more, and still more!
The villagers organized themselves quickly, setting up watchtowers and training teams of swimmers who could resist the swift waters and rescue babies. Rescue squads were soon working 24 hours a day. And each day the number of helpless babies floating down the river increased. The villagers organized themselves efficiently. The rescue squads were now snatching many children each day. While not all the babies, now very numerous, could be saved, the villagers felt they were doing well to save as many as they could each day. Indeed, the village priest blessed them in their good work. And life in the village continued on that basis.
One day, however, the community organizer raised the question, “But where are all these babies coming from? Don’t you think we should go up river and find out where they are coming from?” And so, the community organizer put together a team to head upstream to find out why these babies are being thrown into the river in the first place!”
We know that there are so many issues that affect older adults in our country; i.e., social security, Medicare, affordable housing, food insecurity, just to name a few. We also know that there are many wonderful organizations which are addressing these specific issues. We are not one of those organizations.
As The Radical Age Movement, we are the team that is heading upstream to find out WHY there are so many issues facing older adults in our society.
We are determined to get at the root causes of why older adults are not receiving the services they need…why their quality of life is constantly undermined by our government, our medical establishment, our workforce, the media, and in some cases, even by our own families. We believe that the underlying cause for all these troubling concerns is AGEISM.
Simply put, ageism is prejudice expressed toward anyone because of their age. Although we can often recognize prejudice against young people, in this movement we are looking at prejudice expressed against older people. Because we have all grown up in this extremely youth-oriented society, most of us harbor our own ageist tendencies. Yet, while we fight racism, sexism, classism, etc., there is very little advocacy to address this prejudice. When people are ageist, they are setting themselves up for prejudice against their own future selves.
Ultimately, we need new social visions that will inspire and support people to grow and participate actively throughout their entire lives. No age segregation or pitting generation against generation—we want a society that works for all. We can’t leave it to experts to tell us how to age ‘well’ or ‘successfully’ or to an aging industrial complex that sees older adults as a dependent group or growing market of consumers.
To accomplish this, we must first expose the ageism that lies beneath and allows the exploitation of and prejudice against people merely because of their age. This is what The Radical Age Movement is about.