From the editors of Grey Panther
I am officially elderly, considered ‘at risk’ of dying of Covid 19 and in need of sheltering and isolation. Up until March this year I have been a sociable and active person. Previously, I never thought of myself as ‘old’ or ‘vulnerable’ – more like a rather decrepit and arthritic teenager. OK, my cranky joints and prosthetic knee and hip prevent my roaring about on motorbikes or going on long bicycle rides, but dancing, walking and swimming are still enjoyable. Even the menopause didn’t really affect my feeling of ageing – just a great relief to no longer be tormented by hormonal moods, monthly bleeding and all the paraphernalia that went with it.
On the other hand, my pension is adequate to keep me, I have a pleasant and secure home and my daughter is more or less independent – so no real material problems. Mustn’t moan.
Three months of self-isolation has changed my perception of all that. I retired ten years ago after a lifetime of activism and workplace organisation in unions and as a feminist. The last ten years have been no less active with voluntary and political activism.
This reassessment has not only been about coming to terms with ageing in a general sense, but about my whole relationship with the world. Joints and limbs malfunctioning, teeth falling out, problems with stairs and standing, arthritic pain: all annoying, but don’t really affect my life and optimism fundamentally. The knowledge that I belong to the group “not to be resuscitated” – I.e. subject to the cull – is deeply shocking. The knowledge that my social and physical relationships will be regulated and limited for the indefinitely foreseeable future, is deeply depressing – that all my cultural, musical, intellectual and social contact will be remote. Am I ready for the nunnery? I have to admit to feeling fear that, should I fall ill, the continuation of my life – or the decision to attempt to cure or alleviate any condition I might have – will depend on a political decision made by arrogant, callous, hateful, upper-class, wealthy bastards – rather than on my medical need.
Will my contacts with friends and comrades be limited to endless zoom and Skype meetings? Whilst, in some respects, they have been a saving grace and a challenging new way to communicate and keep in touch, these methods of communication can be frustrating and inadequate – like eating a toffee with the wrapper on – and serve to emphasise the isolation. Will I lose the ability to talk and chat normally? Will my memory deteriorate further, through lack of use?
I have had to finally acknowledge that it is not useful or appropriate for me to carry on as a union activist, and that younger members must take on the work. This will leave a big hole in my life, but also hopefully enable some younger workers to be more active. Hopefully a new and more direct style of trade union activism will develop with all the “old guard” locked down.
Every day, the things that are going on in the world (outside my bubble) cause me to rant and rave and gnash (what’s left of) my teeth, knowing that its all happening remotely, with no opportunity for me to participate in protest or vent my rage. Then again, how important is it to participate in protest? Does my attendance at demonstrations / actions achieve anything other than make me feel a bit better, have a chance to meet all my pals and distribute some papers?
Really, the question I want to ask is: what will the new forms of protest and activism be like for us old comrades? Given that we are likely to be sheltering for quite some time. What useful role can we play?
Online training for workplace activists? Anarchist book club? Online discussion groups? (on economics, violence, food production, ecology, history, anti-racism, feminism, housing struggles etc). Must we become proficient in tech stuff, and get used to distant exchanges? rather than the warmth and subtlety of direct conversation? Will we need to develop new skills? – poster design and making? writing? Guerrilla gardening?
I write this really because I am looking for suggestions, but would also like to know how other Grey Panthers feel. I’m not much of a theorist / intellectual and find study quite heavy going, but would nonetheless like to feel there is a role for us in this time of isolation