Gizmodo – Earther, by Alex Schwartz (4.6.2020)
Last October, Jane Fonda received the 2019 Stanley Kubrick award for excellence in film, a prestigious honor from the British Academy of Television Film and Arts. Regrettably, the then-81-year-old actress was too busy getting arrested on Capitol Hill to accept the award in person.
“Thank you, BAFTA!” she shouted as police led her away in plastic handcuffs. The civil disobedience was part of Fire Drill Fridays, a weekly rally organized by the actress-turned-activist in partnership with other climate justice organizations. More than 30 other demonstrators also filed into police vans that day, one of whom was Lynne Iser, roughly 10 years Fonda’s junior.
Iser got her own pair of handcuffs and rode to jail with Fonda and a few other arrestees. They talked about their motivations for joining the climate movement, their engagement with different environmental organizations and the importance of doing something to support a cause they cared about.
“She just felt the same angst for her grandchildren,” Iser told Earther.
Though she was in college during the Civil Rights Movement and supportive of the era’s societal change, Iser was never one to get arrested for a cause. But as she aged, her worldview shifted. She began to see growing older as an opportunity to reflect on the kind of world she would leave future generations. The wisdom and experience gained through the years of life under her belt became assets in making that world a fairer and safer place. She wasn’t aging; she was “eldering.”
“What I think is most important now is creating our legacies,” Iser told Earther. “What do we want to stand up for and fight for?”
As her daughters became anxious about the state of the Earth’s climate, Iser decided she would fight for a habitable planet. She joined Elders Action Network, an organization that engages older people in social justice and climate activism. Once she heard about Fonda’s plan to be arrested every Friday for the remainder of 2019 and into 2020, she headed down from Philadelphia to join her, along with folks from all generations willing to sacrifice their criminal records for the good of the planet.
People like Fonda and Iser may seem out of place in the primarily youth-led climate movement—they’re at least half a century older than activists like Greta Thunberg, Isra Hirsi, and Jamie Margolin. But as they age, older people are becoming more willing to stand alongside their grandchildren in the fight for a livable future—and they have the time, networks, and wisdom to make a real impact.
A small group of concerned older people founded Elders Climate Action (ECA) in 2015 to mobilize their generation on climate and social justice-related issues. The group—now more than 10,000 strong—has seen a significant uptick in membership since youth-led movements made the climate crisis a top issue. ECA partners with environmental organizations like the Environmental Voter Project and youth-led movements like the U.S. Climate Strike and the Sunrise Movement to bring older people into the climate fight alongside younger generations.
These climate elders come from a variety of backgrounds and have varying experiences with activism. Hazel Chandler, a co-leader and founder of ECA’s Arizona Chapter, has participated in the environmental movement ever since the first Earth Day in 1970. Back then, she saw firsthand how demonstrating for clean air and water resulted in meaningful policy change. Today, the climate movement is trying to tackle an even greater challenge than cleaning up toxic waste or regulating air pollution. It’s trying to transform humanity’s relationship with the Earth to prevent the catastrophic decline of ecosystems we depend on for our survival.
“My son, who just turned 51 years old, was a toddler on my hip when I first knew global warming could be a problem,” Chandler told Earther. In 2015, she retired from her job at a state organization that funds early childhood programs and decided to devote her free time to ensuring those children have a livable planet to succeed on. One phone call with ECA, and she was suddenly on the newly formed organization’s national steering committee.