It is nearly 8:30 a.m. and people are going to and from trains or having conversations over breakfast in the Rotunda of Union Station in Washington, D.C. Suddenly a group of mostly elders coalesces and begins to sing and dance:
We need to wake up
We need to wise up
We need to open our eyes
And do it now, now, now!
We need to build a better future,
And we need to do it Now!
I was among the group, participating in an Elders Climate Action on Sept. 10, timed to coincide with National Grandparents Day.
A fledgling organization, the Conscious Elders Network, had brought over about 125 members and others from partner organizations from across the country to exercise their rights of citizenship on behalf of the planet we are bequeathing to our grandchildren.
Specifically, we were in Washington to lobby Congress for the preservation of the EPA’s Clean Air Plan and for a bill to levy a revenue-neutral carbon tax, which would be returned to the public in the form of dividend payments.
The two-day action included:
- Sobering and inspirational talks by climate scientist James Hansen and Pachamama Alliance co-founder, Lynne Twist and environmental champion, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) [http://www.whitehouse.senate.gov/climatechange].
- Training in lobbying techniques and substance of the proposals primarily by our chief partner Citizens’ Climate Lobby as well as Moms Clean Air Force
- Two flash mobs, in Union Station and a House Office Building
- Meetings with staffers and occasionally a representative or senator (in my case, staffers for both U.S. senators from Massachusetts. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, Democrats, and two representatives,. Katherine Clark and Joe Kennedy, who actually gave us five minutes of his time as well. Of course, we were preaching to the choir. Others were not.
- A debriefing, a national webcast and a celebratory dinner.
I came away even more convinced that, as citizens, elders, and grandparents of all ages, we have both the moral obligation and the wherewithal to mobilize our fellow citizens to halt climate change and preserve our planet for our grandchildren and their grandchildren.
It is a moral obligation, I believe, because our generation has greatly exacerbated the accumulation of greenhouse gases that inexorably threaten life as we know it on our planet, and because all of us, but especially elders, have the responsibility for stewardship of all forms of life on this planet.
We can reverse or at least ameliorate this dire legacy but only with selfless individual choices and sustained political advocacy.
Staffers from both parties, as well as Sen. Whitehouse, assured us that they welcome citizen lobbying and input to counteract the organized, monied interests that carry outsized influence, given our gerrymandered districts and polarizing primary system.
We have the wherewithal, because Boomers-plus are 80 million strong, with a tendency to vote at higher rates and to take a longer, broader view of life, what I call in shorthand “a seven-generation and interdependence perspective.”
But along with passionate commitment, I have questions:
- What might motivate more elders to overcome cynicism and/or hopelessness to act politically on their hearts’ desire to bequeath a fundamentally more just, peaceful and sustainable world to their great-grandchildren?
- Is this really our hearts’ desire?
- Are we elders indeed “the ones we’ve been waiting for” to take a leading role in saving the planet as we know it?
What if we could imagine our great grandchildren asking us, as they did in Drew Dellinger’s poem “Turning the Tide: What did you do once you knew that the “planet was [being] plundered... when the earth was unraveling...[and] democracy was stolen?”
Could we tell them that we finaly stepped up to the plate, in the nick of time?