Stepping Out of Our Lane

We here at ASA have been wrestling with exactly how best to address multiple complex and devastating issues that recently hit the news. A common refrain across many organizations is not to take sides, because this or that topic, whatever it may be, is not in our lane and that, for the organization’s sake, we should stay in our lane. But where’s the humanity in that? When did it become OK to remain silent?

The shooting in a supermarket in Buffalo, NY, this past Saturday and that in a church in Laguna Woods, Calif., on Sunday, pushed us out of our lane. Because, in the end, all of the hottest topics in 2022—mass shootings, abortion, India’s heat wave, the war in Ukraine, the Jan. 6 riot, but most unrelenting, the hate and racism that fuels localized violence—are all in our lane. Because which of these does not concern older people?

Who were disproportionately the victims in Buffalo and Laguna Woods? Older adults. So many lovely, community-, charity- and family-minded elders. Buying birthday cakes, or strawberries, or simply praying.

Who is often seen now on the frontlines, marching and fighting for reproductive choice? Older women and men who protested the first time around in support of Roe v. Wade and do not want to see a return to that world from the 1960s and 70s.

Who feels the worst outcomes from heatwaves, whether they occur in Washington State or in New Delhi? Older adults.

Who was most likely to remain behind in Ukraine, to untold suffering? Older adults.

And who participated in and are attempting to prosecute the Jan. 6 rioters? Older adults on both sides.

So where is ASA’s place here?? We believe we have an obligation to show how so many social and economic issues are inextricably linked to our aging society. That is why in the face of such tragedies, we will continue to inform, educate and inspire our membership and older adults who we know can and will make a difference. And we hope it spurs everyone to take any action in any lane to help turn around this sorry state of affairs.

To be certain, older adults should not be relegated to passive victim status in these stories, because there are strengths in aging. They have bright futures fighting to preserve our climate in Mick Smyer’s Growing Greener climate change group. Or transforming communities as Raymond Jetson does with MetroMorphosis.

Some, like Larry Curley of the National Indian Council on Aging have for dozens of years been pressing for better health, social services and economic well-being for Indigenous elders. Others, like Imani Woody from Mary’s House for Older Adults, have been advocating for women, people of color and the LGBTQ community for decades. Then there’s Ashton Applewhite at This Chair Rocks, who’s out there loudly training people on what is ageist and how to fix it.

These older leaders are all longtime friends and mentors to ASA staff and members, and we salute their work and hope it inspires you to sign on for what appears to be a long, hard fight ahead. So go ahead, pick a lane.

Peter Kaldes is the President and CEO of the American Society on Aging.