You’re never too old to protest against injustice


When we think of protesters we often think of teenagers such as Greta Thunberg, or maybe students in their twenties and thirties. We don’t think of retirees, grannies and granddads taking to the streets and joining protests around the world.

“There seems to be a public misconception that political activists and protesters are young, unwashed and unemployed or unemployable. Not true. Anyone can be an activist and contribute to change. Any type of action can be strong. If we get together and use our strengths, we can make change.” via KNITTING NANNAS – Senior Programs

Yet there are more and more doing just that. Some have always been involved in protest. Some are new to protest and are protesting on their own behalf. Some are protesting on behalf of their children, or grandchildren, and some are protesting on behalf of everyone. Some protests are overtly party political and some are more general.

Let me introduce you to a few of the people who are taking the advice of Maggie Kuhn, a social activist from the USA (1905 -1995):

“Old age is an excellent time for outrage. My goal is to say or do at least one outrageous thing every week.”

In 2004, while I was on holiday in the USA, I met a women in her seventies. She spent most of her time attending rallies against the then president, George W Bush. I asked her about her energetic activism. She explained that she lived on her own. Her children were grown up and independent. Nobody depended on her, so she felt it didn’t matter to anyone else if is she were jailed. She was happy taking that risk.

Frances Crowe is a 98 year old peace activist and clearly agrees with the woman I met in the US. She led a group of eight pipeline opponents in staging a mock funeral for the fossil fuel age near the site of the Kinder Morgan pipeline extension project in Sandisfield, Massachusetts. Crowe said the only way to bring change is to act, not wait for others.

“Young people are busy getting an education, getting set up in meaningful employment, and then they are busy raising their families,” she told News10. “I think it takes the older people like me to step up and put their bodies in the action.”via 98-year-old woman arrested at fossil fuel protest – CNN

Of course, some seniors are protesting about things that effect them directly.  For example, two dozen residents of King Thiel Senior Community( Newtonville, New York) and about a half-dozen other neighboring homeowners showed up at Colonie’s Zoning Board of Appeals public hearing on a special use permit by Verizon to construct the tower, designed to look like a tree, 92 feet away from the senior community on Elks Lane. via Colonie senior citizens rally against proposed cell tower

But some protest is more general and some can be seen as seniors responding to the darker history from the past that they experienced directly.

““Lest we forget” is engraved on many a war memorial. But across Europe, as far-right parties rise in one election after another, too many voters have forgotten how racist extremism led to war and the Holocaust. That is why a group of older German women are taking to the streets of Berlin in trademark hand-knitted woolly hats, with placards reading: “Omas gegen Rechts” – Grannies against the right.

“They protest regularly against the AfD – Alternative für Deutschland – the nationalist party that made alarming gains with its anti-Muslim campaign in Germany’s 2017 elections. “I was born in 1943. I remember the ruins of destroyed houses and destroyed streets,” Cordula Grafahrend tells the Daily Telegraph. “For us, it’s easy to see what we have gained in security, peace and freedom. Our children don’t know what it is to live with your life in danger. It’s our responsibility to tell them and our grandchildren.” The owner of the cafe where they meet sees all the echoes of the Nazis: “Back then it was against the Jews, now it’s against the Muslims. But they use the same language. They use words like Volk and Heimat.” via Grannies against the right: older women are rising up …

Diana Warner, 60, a retired GP, super-glued herself to a train, as part of an Extinction Rebellion protest.

“I’ve done it because, what else can I do? I want to speak up for all of our children. I also want to speak up for those who are losing their land now, and those who aren’t able to get enough food.”

Police detached Warner from the train and arrested her. When asked whether she was scared of being put in remand for a long period of time, Warner said no.

“It made it more necessary to be here. We are part of them and they are part of us. We all need to survive. Some people can see it, understand it, and feel with compassion that we need to prevent more death and catastrophe, but there are many who don’t.”via Extinction Rebellion protesters stop traffic in City of …

Knitting Nannas draws the history of knitting used as a tool for non-violent political activism. The act of knitting is not as important to the group than bearing witness to an event. The group often knits in yellow and black to identify with ‘Lock the Gate’ triangles mounted at the entrance to many properties and protest sites. via KNITTING NANNAS – Senior Programs

CBS News reported in 2018 that about two dozen gray-haired “Grannies Respond” activists travelled from New York to McAllen, Texas. They held rallies and vigils along the way to express their outrage over immigrant families separated at the US border.

In Hong Kong retirees joined students for pro-democracy rallies. a 71-year-old woman in Hong Kong’s Central district who only gave her name as Ponn, said:

“I came out for the peaceful protest in June when there was more than one million people, but the government did not listen to our demands….“I have seen so much police brutality and unlawful arrests. This is not the Hong Kong I know. I came today because I want the government to know that we are not happy with what they have done to our generation.”

She brought her own plastic stool to join a cross-generational protest. There were protesters with visors and canes, as well as young, black-clad protesters.

Not everyone  is quite as old as this. Rashida Bee and Champa Devi Shukla were in their late forties when they were awarded the 2004 Goldman Environmental Prize for their campaigning work. They led a class action suit demanding cleanup and compensation for affected individuals of the Union Carbide gas leak that killed more than 20,000 people in Bhopal, India – the world’s biggest industrial disaster. 

If you care about what is happening in the world to yourself, to those you love, to the world itself, don’t assume your too old to join the protests to make the world a better and more just place.