Thirdact.org aims to reignite the activist power of a generation
BY ANN HEDREEN
One fine June day, I did a dangerous thing. But I was not alone. Not even close. There were thousands of us, that sunny Sunday, who left our homes and headed to Othello Park in South Seattle. We carried signs. We carried anger. We carried grief. We wore masks. For three months, we had kept our distance from other people. But this was a moral and ethical emergency.
It had been 12 days since George Floyd’s death. Our neighborhood march, officially titled the “We Want to Live March for Black Lives and to End Violence,” was one of countless peaceful protests that took place all over the world that Sunday. We were many months away from vaccines (though we didn’t even know that; we thought it might be years), and we knew far less than we know now about how COVID-19 spread. Every single person present on that day had to seriously weigh the risks of being in the streets with so many people. And every single person who showed up had done that reckoning and decided it was worth it.
And many of us were not youngsters. We knew we were at higher risk of illness and death from COVID, but we also knew the power of taking to the streets.
3rd Act Magazine now has a powerful namesake friend in the nonprofit world whose mission is to tap into that power. Founded by Akaya Windwood and Bill McKibben, ThirdAct.org plans to put our generation’s energy and experience to use, as we face the enormous challenges of climate change, racial justice, economic inequality, and immigration. As Windwood and McKibben wrote in a guest essay in the New York Times, “we need older people returning to the movement politics they helped invent.” It is time, they say, for “experienced Americans” to “grow into a wave if we’re going to defuse the challenges facing us.” ThirdAct.org is already organizing people over the age of 60—via affinity groups, issue campaigns, and location groups (there is a Pacific Northwest group in the works)—to “muster political and economic power to move Washington and Wall Street in the name of a fairer, more sustainable society and planet. We back up the great work of younger people, and we make good trouble of our own.” As Windwood told Third-Acters who gathered on a recent Zoom call, “Let’s partner well. We’re never alone. We’re always connected. And take a breath.”
There’s really not a moment to spare, when you think about what is happening to our planet and our country, from the burning forests of the West to actual book burnings. And though there is still reason to be cautious about gathering in large groups, if you’re healthy, vaxxed and boosted, and you’re gathering outside, which the book burners certainly are doing, there’s nothing like people in the streets to bring attention to what matters. There’s also nothing like putting your money where your mouth is—and that is something many older Americans are more able to do now than during the protest era of their youth. According to the Federal Reserve, Baby Boomers and their elders hold 70 percent of the country’s wealth. (Millennials account for five percent, and Gen X for 25 percent). One of Third Act’s first direct actions is to protest the investment of four major banks in fossil fuels development by urging bank and credit card account holders to sign a pledge to close their accounts or cut up their cards if their bank(s) are still funding fossil fuel projects at the end of 2022.
Another current focus is to work with partner organizations to get out the mid-term vote in toss-up states by sending out handwritten postcards. If, like me, you wonder if all those postcards you and your friends wrote in 2020 made a difference, studies show that indeed they did. The percentages may look tiny (.4 percent, .07 percent), but keep in mind that many races in 2016 and 2020 hinged on hundreds or thousands, not millions, of votes.
When I took my first look at the ThirdAct.org website, my reaction was, “Oh no. Don’t make me hope.” Last year at this time, I was so full of hope I could barely sit still. But this year? After Omicron, wildfires, storms, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and two more deaths in my extended family (not from COVID, but likely hastened by the stresses on hospitals caused by the pandemic), after all of that, I’m not so quick to hope anymore. But I would like to learn to hope again. And maybe the kind of collective action Third Act is calling for is exactly what I need. What we all need.
As Lisa Verhovek, who is on Third Act’s Pacific Northwest coordinating committee, put it, “We’re malnourished” after two years of living with the pandemic. We need the “food for the human spirit” that is connection and community. “We can’t do this work frantically, with our hair on fire.”
Ann Hedreen is an author (Her Beautiful Brain), teacher of memoir writing, and filmmaker. Ann and her husband, Rustin Thompson, own White Noise Productions and have made more than 150 short films and several feature documentaries together, including Quick Brown Fox: An Alzheimer’s Story. Ann is currently working on a book of essays.
Photo: Bill McKibben, founder Thirdact.org