Elderly Americans Blockade Banks, Demand Divestment

I’m going to assume that you are all familiar with the supposed conflict between generations. I don’t recall when I first encountered an article about how horrible millennials are, but it feels like the topic has been a mainstay of “news” media for a couple decades now. My initial reflex, and it’s one that still tempts me from time to time, was to point to the ways in which the Boomers dropped the ball on climate change, or screwed over our economy with their blind support for neoliberal policies, or continue to hold on to most of the wealth and power while blaming younger generations for problems that existed before we were born.

The issue with that reflex is that, beyond the fact that it’s not particularly helpful, is that it’s inaccurate. I’m not saying that my accusations are wrong – all of those things happened and continue to happen – but rather that blaming Boomers as a generation lets the real culprits off the hook. When Boomers were younger, they also had to contend with an entrenched aristocracy, global imperialism and capitalism, white supremacy, and many other problems that we’re facing today. Likewise, they were subjected to constant propaganda, and were lied to about many, many things. They also had some reason to believe that the world was just getting better naturally over time – a belief that is constantly reinforced to this day.

But more than that, I think it’s a mistake to say that they stopped fighting. There are plenty of people who dedicated themselves to fighting for a better world long ago, and who show every sign of fighting till their last day. I’ve been privileged to know such Boomers in my life, as well as a whole spectrum of others at other levels of involvement. I also think it’s important to remember that it’s fine to have different levels of involvement, according to people’s abilities.

Still, when I look at the obscenely rich, elderly, and out-of-touch people who seem to be “leading” us all to extinction (another reminder that Joe Biden is a pre-Boomer), it can be easy to forget the details of class and race politics, and to blame all of this on old people in general. It’s an impulse that our media loves to cultivate, and it’s hard to get rid of because it always has a few grains of truth mixed in. That’s why I personally appreciated seeing this story in The Guardian:

The protests, across more than 90 locations, including Washington DC, are billed as the first set of mass climate demonstrations by older Americans, who have until now been far less visible than younger activists, such as the school strike movement spearheaded by Greta Thunberg. In a nod to the more seasoned age of participants, older people in painted rocking chairs will block the entrances to some of the US’s largest banks to highlight their funding of oil and gas extraction.

“So far the kids have had to do all of the work and they’ve done an amazing job but it’s not fair to ask 18-year-olds to solve this problem,” said Bill McKibben, the veteran climate campaigner who co-founded the Third Act group last year, which is designated for people aged over 60. The group has gathered momentum, attracting more than 50,000 members and recently holding a test-run protest in New York City, where participants marched under a banner reading “fossils against fossil fuels”.

“Older people have got money and structural power coming out of our ears,” said McKibben, who is 62. “We have to show young people we have their back. I’m going to be dead before the climate crisis is at its absolute worst, but being nearer the exit than the entrance concentrates one’s mind to notions of legacy and we are the first generation to leave the world in a worse place than we found it.

“I understand why people say ‘OK boomer’ – it’s not like we have done an amazing job in protecting the world.”

While polling has shown that fears over global heating are most prevalent among younger people, to the extent that some question the wisdom of having children themselves, McKibben said he has found “huge concern” among older people about the climate emergency.

“There is a sense people get more conservative as they age but I’m not sure if that’s true of this group of older people,” said McKibben, who pointed out that people in their 70s and 80s now were young people during the cultural upheavals of the 1960s.

“The people sitting on rocking chairs on Tuesday were marching on the first Earth Day in 1970,” he said. “We probably all believed that the government would address these concerns – we may have gotten a little complacent.”

I do honestly appreciate that. Over a decade ago, I spent a couple years actively trying to get older members of a community I was in to do more about climate change, and it was a frustrating process. I said then, as I say now, that people should practice some form of disaster “prepping” if they have the resources, and I was told that I was being alarmist, for example. I honestly find it hard to tell what proportion of the older generations are active on this stuff, but I think the answer, as with all the younger generations, is “more than a couple years ago, but not enough”. I also appreciate their choice of targets, and the reasoning behind it:

McKibben said he hoped the protests would highlight the link between “cash in the bank and carbon in the air”. Third Act is encouraging people to sign a pledge to quit Chase, Citibank, Wells Fargo and Bank of America if they don’t stop funding fossil fuels. The “big four” are the world’s leading banking financiers of oil and gas projects, despite variously committing to helping address the climate crisis, with a recent report finding they have collectively provided $1.1tn in financing to fossil fuels since the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

I don’t have much faith in a bank boycott, but I view activism like this as being similar to asking nicely for raises and safe working conditions before going on strike. It’s a demonstration of good faith, and a good way to build a case for more radical action, in the (very likely) event that capitalists continue funding destruction for profit. As ever, I hope to be proven overly pessimistic. Regardless, I support these protests, and I hope they grow beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. As I said, I don’t blame “The Boomers” for their inability to defeat the ruling class, but after hearing so much condescending “this is the fight for your generation” talk, it feels good to see older folks putting in the work.

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