If we choose, we can turn this hard moment into opportunity

We’ve been through a lot recently, bringing out some of the worst and the best in our country.  We’ve seen the American people come together to battle the deadly coronavirus pandemic and exercise their constitutional right to peacefully protest.  We’ve also seen our nation torn apart by social and racial injustice and the response to it.

Millions of people have lost their jobs and seen their savings depleted.  And vast numbers of older people — have died, often in nursing homes, from the coronavirus.  It is painful times like these that test the very foundation of our democracy and challenge our American ideals.

As the leader of an organization that empowers people to live better as they age, and as the mother of a son and daughter—both millennials—I am disheartened by much of what I have witnessed.  Who can doubt we are a nation in need of healing, both physically and spiritually?  I don’t want to see us devolve into a society in which people can’t get the health care they need simply because they are old, or in which young people simply live in fear.  Racism and ageism have no place in our society.  We’re better than that.

AARP has stood against discrimination in all its forms since our founding over 60 years ago. Guided by the promise of our founder, Dr Ethel Percy Andrus—“What we do, we do for all”—we have always fought to build a more equitable society because we know that discrimination of any kind eats away at our society from the inside, threatening and damaging our democracy.

We have deep divisions in our country.  And we all need to come together to heal these divisions.  The pandemic has given us the time and space to think about who we are, what’s important and what kind of country we want to be.  This is an opportunity for a new beginning, and as older Americans, we have a unique role to plan in shaping that new beginning. 

As AARP members, many of us are old enough to remember the struggle to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  We lived through the riots of 1968, and we’ve witnessed how Medicare and Medicaid have improved the health and life of people as they get older.  If there was ever a time for us to draw upon the lessons we’ve learned from these experiences and others in order to bring our society together, it is now. 

The late Congresswoman Barbara Jordan once said:  “What people want is very simple.  They want an America as good as its promise.”  Ronald Reagan put it another way.  He said that “good citizenship and defending democracy means living up to the ideals and values that make this country great.”

During these difficult times, let us use our voices and resources to continue the fight for what is right.  Let us all unite to create a society that values hope over hate, faith over fear, and compassion over confrontation.  Let us dedicate ourselves to creating a country where every person has the opportunity to live a life of dignity, good health, economic opportunity and purpose—regardless of race, income or age.  When we do that, we will not only usher in a new beginning but we will also create an America as good as its promise.

(by Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO, AARP Bulletin, July/August 2020)