The Silver Standard

Finally! News you can use for seniors!

By Joan Hunt

Without knowing it, I became an activist at the age of seven. A kid in my school whose name was Junior Johnson used to sit at the end of the slide and watch the girls slide down. In those days, we all wore dresses to school, so Junior was getting an eyeful of assorted pairs of underpants. Our playground was gravel, and on my way back up the ladder I grabbed the biggest stone I could see. On my next trip down, I landed it right in the middle of his forehead. It felt great! He chased me home, where the story came out, and Junior’s career as a voyeur ended abruptly.

I never burned my bra for women’s liberation, because frankly I needed it to have any semblance of a figure, but I have always stuck up for what I believed in. In the sixties, it was de rigueur. We protested the Vietnam War, civil injustice, corrupt government, and parents. We went to bat for the underdog—and, of course, we went overboard. We demanded students’ rights—and surprisingly, we got them.

There was plenty of fodder for the fuel at my college, which still gave demerits for answering the hall telephone in your bare feet. Boys were never allowed above stairs, and we had a particularly sour dorm mother who instituted the nightly lockdown at curfew with the grimness of a prison warden. A political science professor at my school was reprimanded, and then sacked, for showing a film that the administration believed to be “anti-American.” Students were up in arms. We lost that one.

One night, I was waiting on a customer at the Greek restaurant where I worked to help pay for school. The guy had come in with a bunch of his friends, and when I asked him what he would like, his answer was nasty and degrading. His friends laughed, until I tipped a mug of beer slowly over his head and walked away. When I told the restaurant owner what had happened, he grabbed the young man by the scruff of the neck and ejected him from the premises. Had Caesar Bico not supported me, I would have found another job. But he validated my position, and I have never forgotten how it made me feel for him to do that.

My grandmother taught me to BE the change I wanted to see in the world.

I was fortunate to have great role models growing up. President John F. Kennedy encouraged people to ask not what our country could do for us, but to get out there and do our part to make it a better place. Martin Luther King, Jr. warned that we should not judge people by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. My grandmother taught me to BE the change I wanted to see in the world. And my dad said you had to live what you believed every day, whether it was popular or not.

Those were heady times. Challenging. Many people died for their courage. Most of us just became better people. And now we are grown – some might say overgrown. We are on the other side of the equation. Where once we felt overlooked because of our youth, we now are sometimes undervalued because of our age.

And maybe this time it is our own fault.

Since Baby Boomers have begun to reach retirement age, more than 40 million of us have emerged in the United States. We are the dynamic that got things done decades ago, via the sheer numbers of our voices, and we could have that same power now—but we are reluctant to use it.

So, I ask, why?

I remember how impressed I was to read about Mother Jones, the diminutive white-haired Labor organizer who fought for the mine workers and their families in the early 1900s. “I have been in jail more than once, and I expect to go again,” she said. She was in her 80s when she fought off rats with a broken beer bottle during one of her incarcerations.

I am not suggesting that we wield weapons or put ourselves in physical jeopardy. But there are still battles that need to be fought, and we are uniquely qualified to wage them. Who is unaffected by stories about our peers who are suffering from neglect and abuse in local nursing homes? Is it okay that groups and individuals prey on the savings of elderly citizens? Shouldn’t society find a way to help seniors who must choose between food and medications to stay alive? It is a shame that so many of us feel lonely and detached as elders, when we have spent so much of our lives giving to the people and causes that we love.

At different levels throughout my life, I have felt what I can only describe as unreasonable guilt. I have felt guilty being white because of slavery, being German because of the Holocaust, being economically comfortable because of the extreme ravages of poverty—and so on. And a little of that guilt is good, because we are all part of the human condition. What diminishes one of us necessarily diminishes us all. That doesn’t change just because we got older.

It may be easy to look the other way, but at the end of the day, we are still either part of the solution or part of the problem.