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That’s What US Capitalism Does Right Now – Jettisons Its Elders

CounterSpin Interview With Alfredo Lopez On Radical Elders.

Janine Jackson interviewed May First’s Alfredo Lopez about Radical Elders for the March 8, 2024, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

Janine Jackson: The Winter 2024 issue of Yes! magazine focuses on elder issues, which turns out to mean every issue, really. There are profiles of older people living lives full of purpose, in counter to a societal and media narrative about the superfluousness of those outside of sponsor-desirable demographics.

But questions of healthcare, of self-reliance and political power, of media visibility and the intersectionality of concerns—those are questions for all of us who hope to live in a caring, humane society. Considering them through the prism of age can bring them into a sharp focus.

A longtime activist and founder of May First Movement Technology, Alfredo Lopez is a founder and advisor with the group Radical Elders. He joins us now by phone from Brooklyn. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Alfredo Lopez.

Alfredo Lopez: Yeah, thank you. It’s always great to speak with you, and I appreciate the conversation.

JJ: Well, thank you. You’ve been organizing and writing and teaching for economic and racial justice for a long time. I think we maybe first had you on the show in 1996, talking about censorship of labor advertising. What led you and others to create Radical Elders? What was the particular need you saw, or space that needed filling?

AL: Well, a couple of things. First and foremost, to be honest, I got old. So I became an elder, and I was a radical elder. I’ve been in our movement about—not about, 58 years is the amount of time that I’ve spent in the left of this country, very wonderful years, but starting to get old; I’m now in my seventies.

And I was looking around for something that focused on the very specific issues and the particularity of the issues that I faced as a human being in my seventies, and that many people who I knew in my age bracket were facing. And I found nothing.

I found a bunch of liberal organizations that sought to reform this and that, expand this and that, or reestablish particular programs that have been dismantled, etc. But nobody really framed the issue from the political perspective that has actually framed my life.

And a bunch of people were feeling that way that I knew. And so we got together, and we started discussing the possibility: What about creating a left-wing elders organization? Is that conceivable? Is it feasible? And what is the potential of doing that?

And part of the potential is that people over the age of 55 represent nearly 30% of the population of this country, a humongous chunk of the US population. And, for the most part, they are people who are targeted by the increasingly oppressive and restrictive human treatment that emanates from the crisis of this society.

But also, they tend to be rightward drifting, as a population, as a huge population. And we as left-wing people should be doing something about that. We should be thinking in terms of that community, because as we looked around, not only weren’t there organizations, but our entire family within the left-wing movement of this country, which does wonderful work in a bunch of areas, had no specific program for elder people.

And so we launched the organization with that intent of actually publicizing the issue, organizing elders, but also, very frankly, moving the left to a greater level of consciousness about what the major struggles and issues are within the elder community, elder population, and what the potential of that population is politically. That was what we started about three years ago. We officially launched the organization two years ago, and we’ve been functioning for the last two years.

JJ: Well, thank you. You and I know corporate, advertiser-driven news media are very happy with a divide-and-conquer vision that extends to generations. So we see news media constantly pitting young people versus older people, as though Social Security, for example, is just straight-up draining wealth from young people, to funnel it to greedy seniors. Media narratives are part of the fight here, yeah?

AL: Yes, absolutely. More than at any other moment, in my opinion, in my life, anyway, and perhaps in the entirety of history, our media mold consciousness in ways that drive people and guide people and affect the outcomes of human interaction. It’s more than ever, ever, ever before. And that is, to a large extent, media’s role.

So yeah, you do have it. And I bristle in ways that I hadn’t before, because now in this organization, I’m so much more conscious of this stuff. Commercials that make fun of older people, making fun of elders.

In fact, we have such an anti-elder consciousness that for the first time in my life, the major issue in the presidential election is, who’s older? I mean, is this guy too old?

Now, I’m not saying that Joe Biden—I’m not even going to talk about Donald Trump, Donald Trump should be disqualified for every reason on Earth, obviously, starting with the fact that he’s a fascist leader, but Joe Biden, it’s possible that he is past his prime and does not have the faculties, or the capabilities to lead.

But look at the way they frame the conversation. Is he too old? What does that mean, is he too old? Everything that we do and say about elders is the distortion of reality.

Now, I’m not arguing that Joe Biden should be president of the United States. As far as I’m concerned, we should restructure everything. There shouldn’t be a president of the United States, and I think that he’s demonstrated some of his problems most recently with the wholesale massacre of people in Gaza. But the framing of it as an age issue is an indication of how this propaganda has worked. And it works all the time.

And you’re right about Social Security, it’s a very, very important issue. Social Security, first of all, has never actually done what it was supposed to do. The purpose of Social Security was supposed to be, after you get finished working, you retire, you have a sustainable wage. That’s never been a sustainable wage. And right now, Social Security is a joke, because effectively, when you measure it against the cost of living in the last 20 years, we’ve lost a third of the Social Security. Literally, it has gone down by a third, given the cost of living and other cuts that you see.

I’ll give you an example of the myth of Social Security. People say, in relationship to Medicare, in relationship to medical insurance, that medical insurance is free for Social Security recipients. Nothing could be further from the truth. First of all, they take a portion of your Social Security payment to pay for the program. Second of all, if you want real health insurance, including hospitalization, all the stuff you’re going to need as you get older, you have to have a special program for that. I personally pay nearly $400 a month for my so-called free insurance. There are people who pay much, much more.

So yeah, all of this is mythological. Our position on Social Security is Social Security shouldn’t exist. What should exist is a sustainable wage, a living capability for all people, elders, over the age of whatever we choose; if it’s 65, so be it, but all these people should have sustainable life, and there should be a sustainable life program.

That’s what makes us radical. We’re not like the Association of Retired People. We’re not like all these other elder associations that call for reforms of this and that. Essentially, our reform starts at the impact of these programs, and not their nuts and bolts.

The impact of any social welfare or Social Security system, social insurance system, should be the sustainability of people’s lives. People should have a sustainable life, should be able to afford what they need, and they should have full medical health insurance, full wellness care, everything involved in the prolonging of life. We should, as a population, never be jettisoned. And that’s what US capitalism does right now. It jettisons its elders.

JJ: I want to give you an opportunity to make clear what is clear to me, which is that Radical Elders is not a backward-looking group. Being a radical elder means being interested and invested in the future.

AL: That’s correct. “We ain’t done yet” is our slogan. I just want to say, we’ve worked very hard for this. We are also an intentional organization, and for an organization in our demographic—our members are all over the age of 55, many of them are in the sixties, seventies and eighties. So these are people, many of whom were around in the 1970s, 1960s.

And we are intentional. That means that we work very hard to make sure that a high percentage—in our case, it’s more than half—of the leadership and representational bodies of our organization are people of the global majority, what’s called people of color, like myself and like a whole bunch of other people, and also more than half women.

And these are intentionality commitments that, while many of the younger revolutionaries say, “Oh, well, that’s great. We do that automatically,” for our generation, as you know, Janine, this is not automatic in any way, shape or form. Our generation is quite used to a bunch of white men screaming at each other in the room, and kind of adding us onto the leadership bodies as tokens, as gestures.

We commit ourselves to this because we understand, obviously, that these populations, I mean, you’re talking about, for the case of Social Security, there are a lot of people who don’t get Social Security, because they’ve been in professions and jobs that do not allow for contributions to the Social Security system. Most of those people are people of the global majority, are people of color, and the great majority of them are women. And to talk about Social Security, it’s not a topic of conversation, because they don’t got none. And we have members who are in that kind of a situation. So it kind of changes your conversation about all the issues.

And so we’re getting ready to converse about these things more. We do a lot of online activities as an organization. We are, to a large extent, an online organization, because we’re old, we can’t travel as much, etc., etc. And that’s where the left is going, online, in a lot of ways.

We’re having this huge activity March 16. We’re calling it a Day of Action, and we’re getting ready to put the final touches on it. It’s an amazing day, with all kinds of stuff happening all day long, and people can tune into that. And to learn more about our organization, what you do is you go to RadicalElders.net. That’s our website that has all the information you need.

JJ: All right then, well, we’ll end it, just for today. We’ve been speaking with Alfredo Lopez of May First Movement Technology and Radical Elders online at RadicalElders.net.

Alfredo Lopez, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin. Thank you.

AL: Thank you.

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