Why “Just Elders”
I have been a community organizer since 1972. I consider myself in the tradition of Saul Alinsky. I love the philosophy, the methodology and the effectiveness of this type of organizing. I have seen it do amazing things all over the United States, in Africa and in Great Britain. I think the concepts of power, self-interest, and relationship building are magical. I think the tools of one on ones, good meetings, power analysis, cutting issues and doing actions are transformative. I think becoming comfortable with agitation and confrontation is essential for developing leaders and holding your own in the public arena.
I have retired from organizing but still am involved in mentoring organizers and creating new organizations and I find doing so still very rewarding. However, I am appalled by the recent developments initiated by the election of Donald Trump. I want my activities to not just be “rewarding” I want them to be measured against the power leveled against my values and against the poor, elderly, working class and minorities in this country.
As an organizer, I have measured my effectiveness by the number of people I involve. I have organized meetings of 1,000, 3,000 and 5,000 people. These are decent sized events in my tradition of organizing. But I am humbled and impressed by the movements of Occupy and of Black Lives Matter and am in awe of what women did in their march on Washington. I am also impressed by how they are continuing to engage millions of people at the local, statewide and national levels. I have been studying the material on the “Indivisible” site and see how technics and strategies can be made available to millions of people. Several years ago a professor at San Diego State University told me that the best organizing in the world is combining the old types (our type) of organizing with the new tools of social media. We are seeing the truth of her remarks playing out in the resistance to Donald Trump.
When I was invited to join a group of people to discuss how those of us who are retired or near retirement could continue in our lifelong commitments to justice, I thought that it might offer the opportunity to experiment with combining our methods of organizing with those of social media to have a greater impact than we now have.
We met in person, gave ourselves a temporary name “Just Elders”, called for a retreat of 30 to 50 people, and named our target group.
We just completed the retreat – 35 people attended and another 20 wanted to be with us but could not due to illness or previous commitments. The retreat drew together people who have been in the struggle for 30, 40 and 50 years. The commitment and wisdom of the group was moving and profound. They made a commitment to one another to organize a powerful movement of “Just Elders” using our techniques and those of social media.
It is our contention that there is an untapped demographic in those over fifty who have a history and a sense of duty in working for a better world. We are the children of “the Greatest Generation”. We are the ones who have shown long-term commitments to our congregations, to our unions, to our community organizations the causes for social justice. We have some time on our hands, and many of us have less financial obligations than those younger than us. And most importantly we still have our gifts and talents; we still have a commitment to justice, and now we have decades of experience. And by damn, we are not about to be put on a shelf and be ignored. We are fired up, pissed off, and ready to go.
We think we have chosen a powerful and untapped group to engage; we have chosen the tools and methodology from the very best of old style organizing and we are determined to master the tools of the new type of organizing. We have a just cause and we have plenty of reasons to aggressively engage in resistance. The questions we have are: Will we master the new tools quickly enough to manage what we know will be a huge interest from thousands of people across the country? Will we have enough key people in cities and states and at the national level to join with us in creating this movement? I hope that you go to our “Just Elders” webpage; see what we are up to; and join the movement. “We will not go quietly into the night”.