An Invitation to Dialogues: Organizing for Unity in the Current Crisis National Council of Elders and Movement Activists

“What shall we do with the poisons in our food, in our air, in our water, in our hearts?  We have no models for a new American society, but we know it must be.” Vincent Harding


“We are at the collapse of the US system of domination.  The only question is will what replaces it be better or worse?”  From a conversation between Grace Lee Boggs and 

Emanuel Wallerstein, US Social Forum, 2006.


An Invitation to Dialogues:  Organizing for Unity in the Current Crisis

National Council of Elders and Movement Activists 


We are veterans of a long struggle for social justice in our nation and peace in the world.  We are the National Council of Elders and we stand alongside legions of elders who work to resist oppression and build dreams of new worlds. Our commitment is to accompany younger 21st-century leaders in their effort to bring a greater measure of justice, equality, and peace to our country and world. 


In the span of our lifetimes, we have experienced some of this nation’s most soul wounding times. We have been outraged by how violence distorted every arena of our lives — from the testing of the atomic bomb in New Mexico to the historic use of germ warfare, the legacies of lynching, mob violence, murder, and police terror. Indigenous people, whose sovereignty has been denied, continue to suffer deadly assaults on their personal and collective beings.  From Japanese internment camps to mass incarceration to imprisoning refugees, we have witnessed the brutality of state power.


As young organizers, nurtured by our elders and the generations before us, we found ways to resist this culture of violence. We believed another world was possible. We formed movements and organizations, challenging racism, militarism, and materialism. We organized to end the wars in Viet Nam, Cambodia, and Laos.  With the practice of nonviolence, we dismantled legal segregation, expanded voting rights, and intensified the demand for self-determination in all our communities.  We called for the creation of a public life that fully embraced women, people of color, lesbian, gay, transgender, and gender non-conforming people, and people with varying abilities.  We offered sanctuary to those whose lives were deemed illegal, as we challenged the military policies.


The culture of violence we see today is the most vivid and encompassing we have seen in our lifetime. The nation is experiencing a lightning bolt of clarity that illuminates the deeply embedded injustice that exists in the US health system, consumer economy, and a broken government that serves corporations and leaves our people in a fragile infrastructure for survival. In recent years, this failure is overseen by an incompetent, self-serving, authoritarian president who loves the military and is charged by violence. 


On the broadest and most personal levels, we are seeing our people die in their homes, on the street, in prisons and jails, and in under-equipped hospital rooms. This country was not prepared for a pandemic because historic racial and economic injustices stood in the way. Our country is now facing multiple life-threatening conditions – the looming threat of climate change, a tragically inept response to the pandemic, economic collapse, the use of military force against protesters, and escalated violence from right-wing citizens.   Now the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis has awakened the whole world to the horrors of police violence and racism in the United States.  This killing has outraged thousands, igniting a national fire, prompting demands to end long-standing injustices and inequities in every essential arena of US society.


Our elections this fall could be further fuel for this fire.  Besides interference from multiple directions in our access to voting, we could have a crisis in the legitimacy of the vote. It is possible that the President, with his strategic appointees and Senate behind him, could declare the election fraudulent. That would fuel a dry-timber forest fire in this extremely divided country — and provide a perfect rationale for those in power to call forth the military.  Since 9/11, we have watched police be provided new military weaponry and we have seen the Patriot Act make Cointelpro look minimal. What surveillance might we see now? These times require that we clearly assess both historic precedents and current conditions to know how to prepare.


If ever there were a time that thoughtful people need to come together, and with collective brilliance and generosity of spirit, determine what direction to take, this growing crisis is that time. Our spirits are grounded in purposefulness, enlarged by connections to each other and the earth.  As elders, we do not seek to point the way or lead this movement, but believe it is a duty placed upon us by age and experience to name the dangers and opportunities we see at this moment. For this reason, we invite you and other younger activists and leaders to a series of virtual meetings where we might be strengthened by unity as we confront the challenges ahead.  We believe that together we can envision and strategize a path through the current political threats — and beyond to a new world.