Greta Thunberg thunders on, while not far behind the 20-year-old Swedish climate awareness star, is a similar cohort of men and women, age sixty and above, coming together under a two-year-old umbrella organization called the Third Act.
Like typical third acts in theater, the movement refers to a growing number of the so-called elderly who ‘sum up’ past careers by applying their professional skills to civic activities in new ways.
If the name calls to mind F. Scott Fitzgerald’s disputed phrase – “there are no second acts in American lives’ – where ‘Great Gatsby’s author seemed to disparage late age turnarounds, it’s hardly the case with these folks.
Founding a Movement
Led by 62-year-old Vermont-based writer and environmentalist Bill McKibben, the movement’s founder, they are eager to make their presence known – especially on March 21, which they have termed a National Day of Action, probably the group’s most profile event to date. Members will gather that day in downtown Washington, DC, outside branches of four ‘dirty banks’ to protest what they see as those institutions’ lopsided investment in fossil fuels.
It’s theater of a different kind. Speeches and entertainment for sure, but also the spectacle of a “Rocking Chair Blockade.” A 24-hour seated vigil beginning March 20 will find core participants rocking away through the night in four-hour shifts. Others expect to cut up their bank credit cards.
A Rocking Chair Painting Party will be held on the 16th following an appeal for members to donate chairs as well as scour thrift stores and other second-hand sources in hopes of obtaining at least 50 chairs, a ‘fun’ way to mock the old-fashioned images of old people traditionally seen ‘sitting out’ issues of the day.
A ‘Bucket Drum Brigade’ class teaching how to make and use an “action-bucket-drum’ is scheduled for the 18th to get people comfortable playing different rhythms when accompanying a church choir. Non-Violent Direct Action training happens early on the 21st, followed by a Prayer Circle in DC’s downtown Franklin Park.
For people like Lisa Finn, a Peace Corps veteran and retired small business owner helping organize Third Act in Northern Virginia, such activities have meaning in other terms as well. “People complain about the environment, some even are sad and angry about it, but I feel by being part of a group doing something useful for the world has helped my emotional and physical well-being. We’re doing something helpful.”
Third Act’s publicity materials emphasize the sense of community such activities entail, alongside an emphasis on fun. “Getting Back on the Streets is Going to Be Fun!” Mr. McKibben’s recent newsletter asserts.
It’s Never Too Late
“I’m new to activism,” says Ms. Finn, 68, a veteran of the 2017 Women’s March on Washington. She credits a daughter in her twenties with getting her to take part in a more recent stand against a 42-inch natural gas pipeline to be built through Appalachia. The suit seeking to prevent its construction is currently held up in court.
Getting the show on the road has been a learning project for many, complete with bulletins circulating on the use of using social media, obtaining permits, and arranging care and feeding of crowds. Some, like Mark Rasmuson of DC, have been at it longer. He was arrested a year and a half ago at an event “organized by indigenous people about fossil fuels.”
‘I just gradually got more involved since stopping work in the international health field a few years ago. For me, it’s just the whole elder movement that has engaged me – a huge source of people with talent, experience, and time, with resources.” Third Act, he emphasizes, “takes a long view.” One next step will be targeting some of the big companies that have credit card affiliations with those banks.
His other inspiration came from membership in the Buddhist community locally and ties to a California-based religious group called Interfaith Power & Light. It was founded in 1998 by the Rev. Canon Sally Bingham, now IFL president emeritus, to bring attention to the link between religious faith and the environment. It began as a coalition of Episcopal churches to address climate change. The website credits her as “one of the first faith leaders to fully recognize global warming as a core moral issue.”
Americans Mr. Rasmuson’s age have a personal interest in such action since they have a large share of the country’s financial assets. “Embracing elderhood isn’t just an opportunity to travel; it’s a compelling vision for me,” he says.
It’s Not Political
He doesn’t call the coming demonstrations ‘political’ in nature, which is why the DC action – which he hopes will attract 500 or more people – is taking place near a downtown park rather than in front of the US Capitol. Dozens of similar dramatic stagings are expected in other cities in greater or lesser numbers.
Immediate results are unlikely, Ms. Finn admits. “It’s just to shame them [the banks]. To get them for their own good to invest in renewables.”
As for the chairs: they will be auctioned off to raise money for the cause. Especially if Jane Fonda shows up and sits on one of them.