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Ashton Applewhite

Here we go again with “too old to be president”

It didn’t take long after Bernie Sanders announced his presidential candidacy for the anti-geezer knives to come out. Stephen Colbert had a field day, mocking Sanders as an “old white guy” and  calling him “Gray Guevara.” “Will age be an issue in the 2020 race?” asked New Yorkmagazine’s Intelligencer column on the same day, February 19th.  The headline of Mike Allen’s Axios newsletter read “Bernie Sanders and the age problem.”

The “age problem” is ageism.

In the absence of evidence that the older person is not competent or a younger contender more so, calls for new blood are always ageist. After the midterm elections, ageism paired with sexism powered calls for Nancy Pelosi to yield her position as Speaker of the House. It’s hard to imagine an inexperienced legislator handling the build-the-wall shutdown with equal skill and equanimity. Only in an ageist world is experience a liability.

The issue is the candidate’s ideology, not their age

Older voters are widely blamed for bringing us Trump and Brexit, yet class, race and gender all predict voting behavior far more accurately than age does. Older people are widely stereotyped as more conservative, yet no one discredits that myth as effectively as Sanders does. Much hand-wringing centers around the notion that an older candidate will depress activism and turnout among millennials. Yet in 2016 more youngers voted for Sanders than for Trump and Clinton combined – by a large margin.

The issue is the candidate’s health, not their age.

Actuarial tables tell us that the average 80-year-old faces a 36% risk of dying within six years and a 16% risk of being diagnosed with some form of dementia by age 84. That tells us very little about what lies ahead for any given individual. Eighty-year-old senators are healthier than the average octogenarian; many exhibit astonishing intellectual powers and physical stamina. Nor is Bernie Sanders the average 78-year-old. Clearly he should undergo a physical exam by nonpartisan authorities and make the relevant results public, as should all presidential candidates. Clearly Sanders’ running mate should also be in good physical condition. But generalizations about the capacities of older people are no more defensible than racial or gender stereotypes. Period.

The issue is the culture the candidate inhabits,  not their age

Sanders would turn 80 during his first term in office, and in an ageist world, being an octogenarian is a liability. When he announced his candidacy, the senator placed age alongside gender, race, and sexual orientation as a criterion for diversity, calling for “a nondiscriminatory society that evaluates people based on their abilities, on what they stand for.” Isn’t that the world we all wish to inhabit?  It means making ageism as unacceptable as every other form of prejudice, and collaborating across generations and across oppressions to bring that more equitable world about.

My book tour is coming together!

What have I been up to? Working on a book tour. Last year I sold the rights to my book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, to Celadon Books, a new Macmillan imprint, which will be bringing it out on their inaugural list on March 4th and sending me on tour. Very exciting! I’ll be coming to DC, Denver, Seattle, Portland, the Bay Area, Pittsburgh, Princeton NJ, San Diego, and Los Angeles, with a few more cities are still in the works. Here’s the schedule-to-date.

I’ll be posting about individual events as they get closer, of course, but feel free to mark your calendars and start spreading the word. What I could really use help with is local media. Not pointing out that “You should be on ‘Fresh Air'” (although of course I should, but Terry Gross has yet to get the memo), but personally contacting any local TV/radio/print journalists you know and putting in a good work about the book and the mission. If they’re interested, let me know (ashton [at] thischairrocks [dot] com) and I’ll follow up instantly and very gratefully.

Fighting Ageism Requires Long-Term Action

This guest post is by Jeanette Leardi, a social gerontologist, writer, editor, and community educator whose passion for older adult empowerment has led her to anti-ageism activism. It originally appeared on Stria News

Anti-ageism efforts are gaining momentum; now what can be done to sustain them?

Something radical is happening in the civil rights movement against age discrimination. After years of enduring widespread social prejudice, older adults and their generational allies are becoming more aware of grassroots and establishment initiatives to promote aging as a natural and therefore acceptable condition of life, and these efforts are gaining momentum.

Can this anti-ageism momentum last, or will it slowly fade? The answer lies in whether or not individuals, organizations, businesses, and the public as a whole commit to taking long-term action to sustain it.

Creating Personal Strategies

Any movement aimed at gaining ground over time must rely on individuals who are aware of what they are fighting for and are dedicated to that fight. That means first overcoming ageism in their own minds. “All change starts between our ears,” asserts This Chair Rocks author and Old School clearinghouse creator Ashton Applewhite in a post from her blog. She considers working on one’s own discomfort with aging as the ideal starting point.

Alice Fisher, president and founder of The Radical Age Movement, agrees. “People should not only say their true age, they should embrace the age they are at. Nobody knows what a 60-, 70-, 80-, or even a 90-year-old looks like anymore.” 

Visual cues are one thing to consider, but also important is language that promotes ageism. Kirsten Jacobs, director of dementia and wellness education for LeadingAge, says that she “always encourage[s] people to start by noticing language. Removing phrases like ‘senior moment,’ ‘I’m too old for that,’ or ‘100 years young’ from our collective vocabulary will make a huge impact.”

Personal strategies to defeat ageism can be applied more broadly to interpersonal relationships. Marci Alboher, vice president of strategic communications for Encore.org, advises everyone to “[h]ave an open mind about your own judgments. Ageism runs in all directions, so the next time you find yourself discounting a young person for her lack of experience, try to catch yourself. Also, try to find ways to connect across age differences, around common interests.”

There’s a reason why Alboher considers this strategy important. “A big contributor to ageism is age segregation––the separation of generations at home, school, and work,” she says. “When older and younger are in close proximity, we know that real relationships form––and ageist stereotypes begin flying out the window.”

Like Alboher, Jack Kupferman, president of the Gray Panthers, NYC Network, believes that older adults shouldn’t be the only ones involved in this collective endeavor. “It’s essential that this movement be intergenerational,” he says. “This is not a movement for older persons. It is a movement for all those aging… Perhaps, if we address the defeat of ageism as a legacy for future generations, we might be able to bring power and resources.”

Setting Professional Standards

Power and resources are two assets usually found in organizations and businesses, and because of this, they can help sustain the anti-ageist movement––provided, of course, that they have set standards of practice for themselves that align with the movement’s goals.

Fisher emphasizes that all establishments should “[p]ractice what they preach. The staff of any organization should be intergenerational. Members should not only be exposed to one age cohort in their organizations, institutions, schools and businesses.”

Paul Kleyman, national coordinator of the Journalists Network on Generations and editor of Generations Beat Online News, sums up the situation: “Too many American business leaders are caught today between bad attitudes and unrecognized advantages of our aging workforce,” he explains. “They need to recognize and dismiss common myths, such as that older workers cost them more on the bottom line.” He believes that businesses should invest in phased-retirement programs, which “offer more flexible work arrangements for older employers while enabling them to continue contributing their skills and knowledge to the company, while also mentoring younger employees.”

Taking a Public Stance

Even if individuals follow their own strategies and organizations and businesses improve their standards of practice, these efforts may not be enough to sustain an anti-ageism movement. A final piece needs to be put in place: keeping ageism clearly in the cultural consciousness by taking a public stance. But how?

“Talk to your legislators and other influential players that can make a difference,” urges Fisher. “Start a consciousness raising group on the topic of age… Encourage people to interact with each other and share their stories of age discrimination.”

According to Alboher, the media should play a responsible role as well. “Aging is one of the few experiences we all share, yet so many fear it,” she says. “It’s helpful when the media portrays older people as complex human beings, not as caricatures or sad figures.”   

Adds Kleyman: “[P]ublic awareness is the best ‘disruptor’ that can lead to any hope of real change. Especially important many times is becoming aware of gaps in coverage and letting news editors and producers know that they need to explore serious issues of aging beyond the cute story on the 100-year-old’s birthday or parachute-jumping former president.”

Also important to consider is the intersectionality of ageism with other civil rights movements. Says Jacobs: “I think we are starting to make strides, but we have a long way to go. I’m also mindful that a lot of ‘-isms’ in our society desperately need to be addressed. We will all make the most impact when we work in coalitions to address differences in our society.”

Ultimately, what’s needed to keep the anti-ageism movement’s momentum going? Kupferman sums it up well: “Awareness, Education, Organization, Resources, Action.”

Screw you Ashton Applewhite: How I Learned to Stop Looking Good “For My Age”

This guest post is by Danielle Hughes, who runs a branding, marketing, and copywriting agency for businesses and solopreneurs that counts many major American corporations as its clients. She earned her BFA in Advertising and Graphic Communication from Washington University in St. Louis, but realized she was a much better writer than a designer. Danielle lives in Forest Hills, NY, with her 13-year old son. This post first appeared on the Amazing Community blog.

I’m not a vain person. Yes, I take care of myself and I like to look good, but I’m pretty low maintenance as a “typical” (stereotypical) woman. I go out most days with unwashed hair and no makeup. I can often be seen donning one of many baseball caps. My go-to outfit is workout clothes or joggers and sneakers. That said, I do like to wear makeup. I do get dressed up and I can accessorize like no one’s business.

As someone who once weighed 235 lbs, I’ve had a long struggle with acceptance and appearance. Now, much fitter (I’m a 5-year CrossFitter), weight isn’t much of an issue for me, but at 46 years old, other things are. Grey hair. Wrinkles. Loose skin. Sun spots. I’m fairly “young at heart,” again another stereotype, but compared to most other women, or men, at my age, I’m pretty fit and healthy. And this is where the issue rears its ugly head — “compared to.”

At Amazing Community’s Inclusion by Design conference  on October 24, the dynamicanti-ageism activist Ashton Applewhite gave a talk entitled, “Aging While Female.”And frankly I hate her now. Ok, not really, but I have always prided myself on the above. On these comparisons. I loved telling people my age and have their jaw drop. I thrived knowing that I was not your typical 46-year old, whatever that means. And Ashton has taken that away from me…but with good reason.

Because her impassioned keynote demonstrated to me, that by boosting myself up, I had to also be tearing others down. That this myth of beauty and youthfulness was perpetuated by society and mostly, let’s be honest, by white men, to keep women fearful. To keep women in line and desperate for attention and validation. Because if you are so focused on looking good, you can’t possibly notice that opportunities are being denied to you, that you are being held back and that you and other minority groups are being persecuted.

Heavy stuff, but it was like a gut-punch. The glory hound in me wanted to say “screw you, Ashton,” let me have my youthful looks and energetic spirit. Let me revel in being told I look 35. Let me gloat in how good I look for my age. But that’s just it. What do people my age look like? They look like, well, whatever they look like. There’s no barometer or benchmark. You can’t look good or bad for your age, because you are simply you. That is how you look.

It’s not a competition, though society certainly wants us to think it is. Without competition, the beauty industry wouldn’t be a $445 billion industry that preys on insecurity. All that money spent to look good, to look young to preserve youth. And, for what? Would we do this if we weren’t told to from a young age? If we grew up without media, would we be buying countless creams, lotions and products to keep our skin supple and wrinkle-free? Would the idea of dying our hair even cross our minds? Would the idea of injecting a disease into our face to smooth out lines?!

I’m not saying you shouldn’t want to look good. I still plan to work out (for my health and my physical ability as I age), wear makeup and color my hair, but we need to redefine what “looking good” means. And more importantly, we need to be ok with the fact that what one person does, shouldn’t affect what another does and there is no wrong or right way to age. No judgment. If you want to color your hair, great. If you don’t, great. So long as you are doing it for you, and not for validation and not because society makes you think you have to. We, as women, need to stop defining ourselves by our appearance. We are so much more than that. We are smart and industrious and talented and creative and passionate and strong and just simply amazing.

As we recognize this and support each other more, while belittling each other less, we can even the playing field and recognize the true beauty in every woman at every age.

great graphics for our campaign to transform “Dress Like a 100-Year-Old Day”

The 100th day of school used to be an opportunity to teach kindergarteners about the number 100. Somehow it morphed into kids dressing up like imaginary centenarians with mini-walkers and tiny canes—an event that reinforces ageist stereotypes. We’d like to turn it into one that educates little kids about late life, and nips ageism in the bud.  Whether you’re a parent, grandparent, teacher, or advocate, this post explains how to join the movement against ageism’s first nationwide direction action.

You’ll find some great suggestions in the comments on this Changing Aging post. Feel free to use and disseminate this image, the work of artist Celeste Fichter. (For a high-res version, contact her at thischairrocksassistant@gmail.com.) And here’s a link to a GIF that shows a jar of pennies filling up–great for sharing on social media.

Old School newsletter #2 is out

Not boring! Find out how the global movement to end ageism is gathering steam, and see which Resources We Love this month. Sign up for updates, and please use the submission form to send new resources our way. Old School will only reach its potential with input from teachers, writers, scholars, and advocates around the world. With your help, in other words.

 

A reminder: to qualify, the resource has to focus explicitly on ageism–not on positive aging or  productive aging or healthy aging or conscious aging or creative aging.  Old School can’t be all things to all people, its purpose is narrow: to educate people about ageism and help dismantle it.

International Olders Day kicks off with a superb anti-ageism campaign

In October, 2016, I had the honor of addressing the United Nations on the International Day of Older Persons. My keynote was titled End Ageism – Or the Rest Is Noise. Two years later, it’s thrilling to announce the launch of #AgingEqual, a superbly orchestrated anti-ageism campaign created by AGE Platform Europe.

For 70 days, culminating on the 70th anniversary of International Human Rights Day, the campaign will be teaching people how to recognize ageism, how serious it is, and how important it is to stand up for your rights—no matter what age you are. In their words:Ending discrimination requires collective action. Unless we confront ageism now, we will all face it sooner or later. Let’s join forces to create a society for all ages!”

Rhetoric is easy. #AgeingEqual is so much more, which is why this post is crammed with links to well-written, easy-to-implement ideas and instructions. You’ll find Easy Steps To Become An Anti-Ageism Champion on the campaign’s home page: know your stuff, spread the word, and add your voice. The organizers have created a downloadable Guide for Supporters. There’s also a downloadable Social Media Guide with hashtags, logos, sample posts, and instructions on popping your twibbon cherry (temporarily altering your social media profile picture – it’s a thing). Plus Get Inspired: a section of best practices and inspiring stories from organizers and allies around the world.

Pick your starting point, and let’s get cracking.