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Why I Decided to Become an Activist in My 60s

It's never too late to try and change the world.

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Photo collage of female activist surrounded by earth, megaphone, and leaves
Franziska Barczyk
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Why did I become an environmental activist in my 60s?  The answer was clear in the fall of 2014, when my first granddaughter was born. Just the image of her reaching the prime of her life in the 2040s, when the worst effects of climate change would be inescapable, was heartbreaking.

The thought of her turning to me when I’m 90 and asking what I did to prevent the devastation made my stomach turn. 

This, as I imagined her growing up in a world where beautiful species of wildlife had disappeared. When thick forested hillsides and mountains were replaced with parched earth from drought and wildfires. When the lack of fresh water and polluted oceans were unable to sustain our basic foods. Hurricanes, droughts, floods, frigid cold, hellish heat. The list goes on and on. 

To compare that image to my carefree childhood with lush forests made my head spin. No, I had to do something. I am endlessly inspired by this quote from Hopi elders: “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

We, of the boomer generation, are the ones who have the perspective and wisdom that’s needed in this global crisis. We have the grandchildren that are inheriting the world we have created.  This (along with some really cool ’70s music) is our legacy.

I knew that recycling, changing out light bulbs and driving a hybrid just wasn’t enough. A good friend told me about Elders Climate Action (ECA), an organization created to attract seniors to get involved in climate action. It sounded perfect — working with other grandparents on this issue. We developed a mission statement, a website, a logo — and decided to lobby Congress for a carbon-pricing policy. It was thrilling to be in on the ground floor, offering my time, talent and energy to provide a place for elders to get involved. Once established, the intensity of getting ECA off the ground led me searching for an organization that already had an infrastructure, a place where I could pace myself a bit more and participate in a broader range of activities.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) had been around for a few years, with dedicated and interesting members, so I joined. It was there that I have found my home to best impact the environmental movement, with a nonpartisan group that has the ear of elected officials.

I’ve been pushing for climate-friendly legislation and policy at the local, state and national level for seven years now. This work has empowered me to use my passion, my voice and my skills to do important work — and feel relevant — in my later years.

For the first time, I spoke publicly at a City Council meeting. I’ve met multiple times with my local member of Congress and now she recognizes my name and face.  I feel like I matter. I no longer worry about doing things “right” or worrying about whether I’m enough of an expert or how I sound or look.  That’s one of the gifts of age.

Sometimes, I ask myself: how much longer will I be doing this. Will I be an activist into my 80s?

The answer is yes, for as long as it gives my life meaning. We boomers grew up as changemakers, helping to stop a war, fight for equal rights and ignite the green movement that formed the roots of focused environmental consciousness.

Though saving the planet is clearly a prevailing issue of our times, it’s certainly not a new concern. In a 1907 presidential address, Theodore Roosevelt had this to say about protecting the riches of nature: “To waste, to destroy our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them, amplified and developed.”

Do you have the time and passion to become an activist for a cause that fires you up? It is never too late to become an activist. Perhaps, like me, it is environmental work, though maybe your calling is to focus on stemming gun violence or bigotry.

Working for change will recharge you in ways you would never expect, as you meet new people and experience the joy and satisfaction of turning your outrage into action. However, it does take patience, as change happens slowly.

I retired from the jobs for which I got a paycheck. The payback now is priceless. At the age of 68, I know that I am helping, in incremental ways, build a cleaner, safer and better world for my fellow seniors who are living longer than ever — and for future generations that deserve to enjoy the riches of nature the way we got to do.

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