REALLY OLD, REALLY MAD
IT’S TIME, old people, to rescue America.
Critics, cynics and crybabies – people who can’t imagine growing up – will sneer at us, as usual.
Really, most people believe that the old ones are the planet’s most contemptible creatures.
Too slow. Wasting the time of The Young, who trapped behind us at the check-out as we fumble for exact change, only to scatter pennies on the supermarket floor, simultaneously dropping our keys, and then, sorry, also dropping our over-sized sunglasses..
We hog the high-speed lanes, stubbornly locked into the speed limit, our telltale bald domes and elephantine ears infuriatingly visible through the rear windows of our creaky Corollas and Civics.
Mumble our words, yes we do, even as we demand that the speaker repeat what he – clearly – just said.
Smelly, too. And don’t forget forgetful, as we inch toward the grave, having looted the Social Security and Medicare trust funds, leaving our grandchildren a few tattered birthday and valentine cards plucked from the discount racks at what once were known as “drug stores.”
Let’s not even discuss our most outrageous debacle, how we’ve used up the oxygen during The Covid, occupying all the ICU beds because of our pathetically “weak” immune systems, forcing everyone else to wear masks and worse, to stay home with their kids.
So what do the old ones have to offer America?
It’s a resource desperately needed to wake a nation sleep-walking into an election that could accelerate America’s descent into history’s most dangerous, cruel and frighteningly high-tech repressive regime.
UNLEASHING OLD PEOPLE’S ANGER is not my idea. Thank my old friend, Richard Donelly.
A veteran (union) actor, Donelly has had roles in numerous plays at Rhode Island’s Trinity Repertory and Gamm theaters, along with credits in TV’s “Law and Order,” and last year’s prophetic film “Don’t Look Up,” in which he played, appropriately, “Old Aide #2.”
Donelly, 75. is no ordinary starving artist. He’s also been a licensed (union) plumber, meaning that even while he pursued lofty artsy goals, as a practical matter, he could unclog your drain and put food on his table.
“Let’s start a movement. Angry Old Folk March on Washington!” Donelly said, adding a practical note that only experience can provide: “We will need rest areas and a Port-O-John every 10 yards.”
ABOUT THIS TIME, another aging savant, the environmentalist Bill McKibben, co-authored an essay in the New York Times that called on the activists of the 1960s and 70s to use their organizing experience and vast numbers to undertake new and urgent crusades.
“We need older people returning to the movement politics they helped invent,” the essay declared, explaining the formation of a new group, “Third Act,” whose first foray has been to pressure banks to stop financing the “fossil fuel industry” and climate change.
Commendable, I think, but too civilized. McKibben and co-author Akaya Windwood jokingly referred to “codger power,” which makes old folks sound a little too cuddly, when what we really have to offer is our fury.
Richard Donelly, for example, brings chain-saw energy to the challenge of our times.
A frequent letter writer to the Providence Journal, Donelly injects smoldering common sense into the debates about Republican subversion, climate denial and Covid foolishness. Last Nov. 2, he wrote about Sara Kaan, a nurse at the Rhode Island Veterans Home who had been featured in a news story pleading with the state’s governor to exempt her from vaccination mandates.
"I am simply terrified of this vaccine," said Kaan, who is 72, and an ardent Trump supporter, crediting him for advancing vaccine development. But personally, she said, she has had bad reactions to antibiotics in the past and to a flu shot she received 20 years ago.
“She credits Trump with supplying ‘the push’ to get the vaccine, while refusing it herself,” Donelly wrote, and he said "I would feel very uncomfortable being cared for by a nurse or doctor who hadn't taken the precautions science developed to lessen the chances of spreading COVID."
He noted policies at Gamm and Trinity that protected patrons and staff.
“So it seems I am safer being in a theater than I would be visiting a patient of Sara Kaan’s,” he said. “There’s something wrong with that. Hospitals should be safe – shouldn’t they?”
AS A GROUP, the old ones are stark-raving mad, and we have a right to be.
Death is a daily insult. Our partners, our friends, relatives, neighbors, former colleagues and favorite musicians are dying every month, or are reported to be on their way. By the time you get to 80 – four months left in my case -- death is in your face.
Our bodies have betrayed us. We hurt when we bend over and hurt when we don’t.
We have buried our parents, somehow survived cancer and heart disease, had some successes, maybe walked away from car crashes, but now we look back on decades of missed opportunities, books unread, countries not visited, money squandered and now face the ways in which we've let down our partners and our kids And now it’s too late.
Makes us mad.
The challenge is how to harness this anger, at a time when the forces of reform are discouraged, weary and passive, seeing Trump's many sins go unpunished and that the momentum is with his crazed acolytes.
Which is where the anger comes in.
We can follow Richard Donelly’s example and speak up, name names and call out foolishness and hypocrisy wherever it shows up. Sara Kaan threatens our health? Call her out.
We need to counter, at every chance, betrayal, cheating and sedition. Let’s share some of our Social Security benefits with candidates, news organizations, businesses, non-profits, any group that can make a difference, and lots of them are trying hard to do that.
If we can still make it up the steps, knock on a few doors on behalf of a candidate. Not up to that, ring some phones – even during supper. Invest in a few stamps, and write letters -- we know how to do that. We can text, tweet, email, post on social media -- and can learn learn how, if need be.
We can vote.
We’ve got the numbers. There are millions and millions of old ones. Stop yelling at the kids trespassing on our lawns. Instead, let our rage drive us to the polls. Fill out our ballots, or mail them in, or drop them off. Don’t let the spoilers, the cheats, the gerrymanderers, the fixers, the scoundrels, scare, intimidate or discourage us. Get mad, send a message and make sure it gets counted.
Our time is short.
But in the remaining moments, we can still bare our gums, sharpen our canes and fire up our walkers. On behalf of our grandchildren, we demand a democracy in which they can grow up to be just like Granny and Gramps: free and furious.
Thanks, Brian. From the time I read your Providence Journal pieces about the high school girl whose refusal to stand for the Star-Spangled Banner, I've trusted and appreciated what you write.
2/15/2022 03:50:56 pm
I'm all for Old People getting involved in politics and the environmental movement, and I'm involved in both. But I'm not sure that "anger and rage" are the best motivations. I don't think they get you very far, and they seem to produce your opponents' anger and rage. Gray heads should be calm, wise heads, in my humble opinion.
Brian C Jones
2/16/2022 12:13:31 pm
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BRIAN C. JONES