On Wednesday, Sept. 12, the newly formed National Council of Elders released the Greensboro Declaration, the first statement of the organization since its founding a month ago. The NCOE founding conference was held in Greensboro, N.C., site of the historic Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins in 1960, which represented a major advance in the civil rights struggle. The Declaration was presented at significant historic sites of struggle and freedom seeking work, with the anchor being the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The eldest member of the NCOE, 97-year-old Dr. Grace Lee Boggs, had this to say: "This statement represents a new epoch, it calls on Americans to become engaged in a different kind of citizenship, one that transforms their souls in addition to asking them to go to the polls." The NCOE was called into formation by civil rights and human rights veterans, Dr. Grace Lee Boggs, Ms. Dolores Huerta, Rev. James Lawson, Rev. Phil Lawson and Dr. Vincent Harding all of whom represent decades of committed activism in all of the major human rights movements of the 20th century.
Dr. Vincent Harding sums up the Council's view: "We realized that human societies are at their best when youth and elders combine their gifts. We can serve, teach and inspire each other across generational lines as we carry out the never ending work of 'creating a more perfect union and a more compassionate world.'" This realization came as the elders recognized that they were continuing to play a critical role in the human rights movement in the country and the emergence of the Occupy movement which was clearly on a parallel path helped to move the NCOE onward in taking concrete steps to organize itself. Little time passed before the connection between the Elders and the younger Occupy forces began to develop.
While the members of the NCOE will continue to extend their support to Occupy as well as other younger generation activists, they will make sure to continue their own civic engagement in arenas where they have worked for years. They will continue to be committed to the documentation and archiving of their own movement experiences in order to leave a substantial, accessible legacy for the justice workers who will come after them (NCOE Press Release).
In this era, when it seems that there is an enormous amount of rudderlessness among young and old alike as to the way ahead for us as a nation, it is refreshing for a group of folks (elders) to take the bold stand of being willing to be counted. They are willing to assert that they know something of the way ahead and they are ready to share that knowledge. In too many instances in the political arena the elders do not seem to realize that there is a new and better role for them than to continue to seek to hold onto their offices. Our younger generation leaders at the local level and the national level could beneft from having the knowledge of those who have learned much from their many years of service. Elders who are willing to allow those who are coming after them to forge a new path which reaps the benefits of their knowledge and supports them in carrying out new visions.
We need the Occupy movement and many others like it to begin to move us back to the democracy that we dream of being. We need to seek the path that will lead us to a place of being a country that wants to do what is best for every citizen and not a select few. We need to reflect more deeply upon the ways to wage peace instead of war. We need to tackle with new energy and determination the issues of racism, sexism and heterosexism, classism and abelism. These issues along with our economic short falls and the millions of poor people that have so little cannot be ignored. Our nation can only become weakened by the effort to sweep the people and the issues that are troubling to us under the rug. The youth need to become more mobilized to forge new paths of activism in America, but they need those of us who have gone before them to be their support and to help them escape some of the pitfalls that confronted us. It makes no sense for them to have the same pitfalls when they can have counsel that might prevent a repeat of them.
While the younger generation of activists does not need dictators, it is no doubt that it will gladly welcome the thoughtful and caring mentoring and nurturing that can come from the elders. The NCOE provides a wonderful model for those of us in the elder age group across the country to reflect carefully upon the ways in which our knowledge, experiences and wisdom can be used to assist the younger generation. Hopefully many more of us will find the energy, courage, creativity, faith and vision needed to offer our gifts as we move forward with the work to save our country and our planet.