Call It ‘Codger Power.’ We’re Older and Fighting for a Better America.

 from The New York Times Feb. 7, 2022

Neil Young.Credit…Matt Furman/Redux

Top of Form

Bottom of Form

By Bill McKibben and Akaya Windwood

Mr. McKibben is the founder of Third Act, helped found the climate advocacy group and is the author of the forthcoming memoir The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon.” Ms. Windwood is the lead adviser of Third Act and a co-author of the forthcoming “Leading With Joy.”

Neil Young and Joni Mitchell did more than go after Spotify for spreading Covid disinformation last week. They also, inadvertently, signaled what could turn out to be an extraordinarily important revival: of an older generation fully rejoining the fight for a working future.

You could call it (with a wink!) codger power.

We’ve seen this close up: Over the past few months, we’ve worked with others of our generation to start the group Third Act, which organizes people over the age of 60 for progressive change. That’s no easy task. The baby boomers and the Silent Generation before them make up a huge share of the population — nearly 75 million people, a larger population than France’s. And conventional wisdom (and a certain amount of data) holds that people become more conservative as they age, perhaps because they have more to protect.

But as those musicians reminded us, these are no normal generations. We’re both in our 60s; in the 1960s and ’70s, our generation either bore witness to or participated in truly profound cultural, social and political transformations. Think of Neil Young singing “four dead in Ohio” in the weeks after Kent State or Joni Mitchell singing “they paved paradise” after the first Earth Day. Perhaps we thought we’d won those fights. But now we emerge into older age with skills, resources, grandchildren — and a growing fear that we’re about to leave the world a worse place than we found it. So some of us are more than ready to turn things around.

It’s not that there aren’t plenty of older Americans involved in the business of politics: We’ve perhaps never had more aged people in positions of power, with most of the highest offices in the nation occupied by septuagenarians and up, yet even with all their skills, they can’t get anything done because of the country’s political divisions.

But the daily business of politics — the inside game — is very different from the sort of political movements that helped change the world in the ’60s. Those we traditionally leave to the young, and indeed at the moment it’s young people who are making most of the difference, from the new civil rights movement exemplified by Black Lives Matter to the teenage ranks of the climate strikers. But we can’t assign tasks this large to high school students as extra homework; that’s neither fair nor practical.

Instead, we need older people returning to the movement politics they helped invent. It’s true that the effort to embarrass Spotify over its contributions to the stupidification of our body politic hasn’t managed yet to make it change its policies yet. But the users of that streaming service skew young: Slightly more than half are below the age of 35, and just under a fifth are 55 or older.

Other important pressure points may play out differently. One of Third Act’s first campaigns, for instance, aims to take on the biggest banks in America for their continued funding of the fossil fuel industry even as the global temperature keeps climbing. Chase, Citi, Bank of America and Wells Fargo might want to take note, because (fairly or not) 70 percent of the country’s financial assets are in the hands of boomers and the Silent Generation, compared to just about 5 percent for millennials.

%d bloggers like this: