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Senior citizens activists are key participants in Occupy Wall Street, social action

NJ.com – by Silvio Laccetti  In the last great outpouring of civic protest during the ’60s and early ’70s, participants consisted almost entirely of young people. The rebel mantra was “Don’t trust anyone over 30!” Not so today with Occupy Wall Street. This I can affirm from letters from my correspondents and by my attendance at the recent OWS-Jersey City teach-in at St. Peter’s College.

From the get-go, golden-agers — 65, 75 and older — have had a visible and valuable presence. They are coming out of their culture of isolation in senior citizen communities, wherein their voices are muted, and where mingling with other age groups is nigh impossible.

They are making their presence known in the maelstrom of social action, working in liberal and conservative causes. They are occupying parks and marching in the streets. They have a vast treasure of accumulated knowledge, wisdom and experience to share.

OWS seems especially positioned to take advantage of this trend because of its leaderless structure and its general assemblies open to any and all. It can inspire individuals to create new local civic action programs totally independent of OWS.

Consider some examples of senior involvement:

• The “Wild Old Women,” in sympathy with OWS aims, closed down a Bank of America branch in the San Francisco area. Wild women with walkers and wheelchairs were protesting against the bank’s eviction and foreclosure policies.

• A writer from Providence, R.I., tells me of a parade stopping en route each time one octogenarian needed a break.

• In New Jersey, there has been a silent flowering of senior creativity and participation in OWS events that should produce a full bloom of proactivity this spring.

Some senior activists, such as Ellen of Highland Park (Occupy New Brunswick), have been lifelong activists. Ellen’s story is, in many ways, typical of the empowerment she gained from her association with OWS. She says that her participation in various meetings and in the idea-nurturing general assembly convinced her she could actually organize her own activity on a local level. In that benign GA environment, she got over her fear of speaking in public and began a watchdog program monitoring the pharmaceutical industry in her area.

A most amazing example of the combination of senior prowess and wisdom with newfound abilities to speak and to lead comes from one of my correspondents, 82-year-old Fred Gohlke of Carteret. Eight years ago, Fred sent me a letter in reply to one of my columns. In e-mail exchanges, I learned of his complaints about politics and political parties. I also learned about his unique ideas on voting and encouraged him to publicize them. Impressed, I kept his political theories in the back of my mind.

I was asked to facilitate a discussion group at the St. Peter’s teach-in. I replied I would be glad to do so if I could facilitate for Fred, whose ideas were sure to provoke interest and discussion.

Fred, like Ellen, was terrified of his perceived lack of ability in public speaking. He was white-faced when he arrived at the college. But, by the time he left, his color had returned and his audience had been treated to a description of his unique participatory democracy theories (found atparticipedia.com).

Fred’s is a great story of a newly empowered senior citizen activist.

Through activist groups such as OWS, which has raised civic consciousness throughout the land, we can expect more “Freds” to be found in the rich veins of senior ability existent everywhere in this state and nation.

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