Rebel with a cause ?

Remember when we were young and idealistic, engaged in changing the world or at least thinking we had all the answers? Life often got in the way and few of us became lifelong activists and may even have stepped back or even out of the political sphere with cynicism and lack of respect for our politicians. What could little old me actually do to change what happens locally let alone on a global stage? Well, as we retire, we may find ourselves with two of the most important factors needed to instigate change –  Time and Experience. We may also develop a passion and want to leave the planet just a little bit better than when we found it, if not for us then for those we leave behind.

We often associate activism with youth and we often don’t see older people as engaged — but they are and increasingly so. Activism and older generations, in fact, go together. The scholarly term for the relationship is “biographical availability.

In college and immediately afterwards, people have time to protest. But then, with full-time careers, marriage, kids and taking care of ageing parents, time becomes a scarce resource. Those are the years when people who want to take a stand, tend to sign petitions or volunteer on the weekend. They don’t take days off from work to join a protest.

Nowadays we see older people participating differently from the young in politics because they have a different endowment of resources and motivation as well as of opportunities and exposure to mobilisation benefit from a larger pool of political experience and possess a greater commitment to comply with social norms of political behaviour. Their political preferences are primarily shaped by their generational membership, whereas life cycle variations in political preferences are minor.

There was in the past evidence that older people suffered from social stereotypes about their role in participatory politics internalising societal images of older people e.g. that they should be passive in some forms of participation, such as protest activities such that their participation level was lower than that of younger people. However, is there change afoot?

Is the Grey Brigade on the march? We are not only living longer but staying ‘young’ longer. Retirement isn’t now that short interlude between work and meeting our maker but often a significant period of our lives that we have striven and saved for and now want to enjoy. It’s the Time Of Your Life! Our health is good, we remain active both mentally and physically so shout it out we’re not dead yet!

Politicians the world over have noted the demographic changes with an increasing older population. A couple of things spring to their minds – How can we afford to pay the pensions we expected to pay out over a few years for several decades and how do we attract the votes of this group who know a thing or two and are generally not so influenced by political spin and razzmatazz? – been there done that – jog on! There is obviously a balance – Economics suggests cut the pension, Politics says keep them sweet we need their votes! It’s a conundrum for them and an issue for us worth fighting for. There are now more and more pensioner interest groups fighting for better provision for the elderly across a whole spectrum from pensions to health provision fighting ‘age discrimination’ in medicine, social care, transport etc. etc.

The NPC represents around 1 million members in over 1,000 different organisations across the UK and organises rallies and lobbies of MPs, leads delegations to parliament and makes submissions to government on policies affecting older people. The NPC campaigns for both today’s and tomorrow’s pensioners and aims to unite the generations in defence of the welfare state and public services and promotes the welfare and interests of all pensioners as a way of securing dignity, respect and financial security in retirement.

Every nation is likely to have one or more lobbying groups with their interest being to protect and benefit today’s pensioners as well as those of tomorrow. So GET INVOLVED – It’s YOU !!!

You are not alone as evidence suggests the elderly are now more likely to take part in social activities such as joining a political party or church group when they retire. Although the retired are less likely to go to the theatre or cinema and other pass times which cost money, they are finding alternative ways of maintaining contact with others in society.

The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), found that the odds of retired people being “socially engaged” are 80 per cent higher than with people working full time.

It found that as people leave work they begin to take more part in activities such as education classes, political activism or church groups.

Sadly, as in so many other aspects of society, older people are largely invisible as activists. The media generally favours pictures of the young on ther front pages but in reality there are an increasing number of protesters in their 60s, 70s and 80s on rallies for many protest groups because in retirement we have more time to engage and are liberated from employer constraints on political activities. You don’t work for anyone anymore and you can say what you want!

To be sure, many retirees recoil at the word “activist” and instead see themselves strengthening the bonds of civil society and encouraging civic engagement. However you do it or whatever you call it many of us will share the perspective of Paul Newman, the late actor and non-profit entrepreneur. “I’m not running for sainthood,” he once said:-

“I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer, who puts back into the soil what he takes out.”

Now, that’s a goal worth striving for!

Q1. Is it YOUR time to become an Activist?

Q2. What will you put back into the soil to help others grow?

Q3. What are you passionate to change? 


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