Respecting Your Elders?

Ted Glick


for elders is a tradition deeply rooted within most cultures in this world. This

is as it should be; older people, generally speaking, have accumulated the

wisdom gained from years of experience. Does the progressive movement have any

unique or particular perspectives to add to this general rule?


been thinking about this since a couple of recent experiences. One was hearing

Matt Jones, long-time singer, musician and activist going back to the Freedom

Singers of the Civil Rights Movement, sing his haunting song with the lines,

"who’d have thought I’d still be fighting, 30 or 40 years down the

line." The other was attending a reunion of members of the Puerto Rican

Socialist Party (which has been pretty much non-existent for 15 or more years)

during the evening just before the huge Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City

June 11.


the PSP’ers, and myself all have in common histories going back decades in the

struggle for justice and freedom. None of us has given up, and there are many,

many more like us around the world, literally millions. Does this give us any

special consideration by younger activists, any special respect? Do those who

have been in this struggle for four or five decades or longer automatically

deserve respect from those who have not been involved as long?


one level, yes, absolutely. One thing the progressive movement must be about is

mutual respect for others, human interaction at a positive, qualitatively

superior level. If this is the way we are functioning, then it will naturally

follow that those who have given long years of their lives fighting for a new

world will be given an extra measure of respect by those who are younger.


respect is not the same thing as hero worship, and respect has to be a two-way

street. Further, those who once made major contributions when younger are not

always fully up to the task later on in life. Perspectives, world views,

ideologies, that are developed in the first decades of a person’s life can leave

a person out-of-touch in later decades if those perspectives become rigid and

inflexible. The strain and stress of daily living over the course of many years,

not to mention political setbacks and disappointments, can turn the most hopeful

young people into skeptical, cautious, or even negative older veterans of the



movements aren’t built on negativity and caution. They need, absolutely need,

youthful energy and enthusiasm. If the older, more experienced leaders can’t

communicate positively with others in the movement, our efforts will be in

danger of sputtering and eventually dying out.


question is: how can we build a movement which helps to keep all of us

"young at heart and in spirit," even if not in the joints and the



way is by rejecting the hard-line, mechanistic and dogmatic approaches that have

often been standard operating procedure on the left. More specifically, we need

to build a movement that welcomes those who have a spiritual grounding to their

personal lives, who take the cultivation and development of their spirituality

seriously. These people often have important insights to contribute that can

help our organizations "lighten up" and stay humane. Even if the

movement itself is "secular" and non-religious, which is as it should

be, in general, it cannot be anti-religious, anti-spiritual. This way lies



need to integrate music, art, poetry, and other forms of culture deeply and

intimately into how we go about our work. We should begin and end our meetings

with a song! We should honor and respect those who take seriously the

development of their cultural skills because they want to use them to help build

a positive movement for social change.


need to encourage the development of a wholistic movement linked to the natural

world, which treats our Mother Earth as the source of life that it is. We need

to learn from cultures like those of Native Americans, that have much to teach

us in this regard.


we need to be good at more than just organizing, analysis, and agitation. We

also need to be good at personal interaction with one another and with those we

are outreaching to. We need to be known not just for our good work on issues but

for the way in which we help others who are in need. As Rosa Luxemburg wrote,

"A world must be overturned, but every tear which has flowed and might have

been wiped away is an indictment, and a man hurrying to perform a great deed who

steps on even a worm out of unfeeling carelessness commits a crime."


we can do these things, all of us will benefit personally. As significantly, we

will be building the kind of movement that has a realistic chance over the long

haul of making this country what it can be, what it has to be.  




Glick is the National Coordinator of the Independent Progressive Politics

Network (www.ippn.org). His first book, "Future Hope: A Winning Strategy

for a Just Society," is being published this month. He can be contacted

at P.O. Box 1132, Bloomfield, N.J. 07003 or [email protected]