Can I turn this timely skill into a project or even a job?
April 8, 2019 10:58 AM   Subscribe

This post has inspired some personal curiosity. I've been running a little personal project on counter-radicalizing older adults of privilege. I didn't think many other people cared, but it looks like this problem is having a moment in the spotlight. Those of you who have been involved in causes and advocacy: how do I make something bigger out of this?

I work at a large retirement facility in Seattle. For the past six years, I've been working on a kind of passion project activity at work called History Club. In the beginning, I'd research some quirky local history, print out some pictures and articles, and gather four or five residents around to share. Over time, History Club became what it is now: a weekly, hour-long lecture on history which I research, compose, and present to about 50 residents. Picture Crash Course History for Seniors and you've got the vibe. Our topics have gone global, and as my audience grew, I became more interested in teaching to understand historical forces, so we've focused a lot on themes of historiography and intersectional models of historical patterns.

My audience is almost entirely white, wealthy, elderly, Christian, and cishet. They have very much been programmed by Fox News and Facebook; in their world, hard work gave their generation great opportunities, and those who did or do not enjoy the same opportunities are either lazy or malicious. I'm a young, working class, queer, Jewish guy who is pretty socialist in my understanding of the world. Though I've refrained from overt political messaging, I've worked hard to present narrative history from minority perspectives. We circle back through old topics as we learn new perspectives; for example, we're doing labor history again, after a long series on the development of economic thought.

My mostly Republican-to-neo-liberal audience has changed their understanding of the world through these lectures. Though I've been unable to conduct a poll or survey on political position changes, I can report that questions, comments and concerns that come to me during and after lectures are much more considerate of different perspectives than they used to be. Anecdotally, I've been told by residents that their political choices have changed after what they've learned and explored through this forum. We've even done live demonstrations of Facebook bubbles and tracked the lifecycle of fake news to recognize warning signs. I've considered this little overgrown hobby to be a kind of de-programming, as I gently present hugely privileged individuals with new ways of understanding the world.

I'm moving to Detroit in two weeks. I don't have a job there yet, and I want to take this big move as an opportunity to spend more of my time in social justice education and advocacy. It never occurred to me that many other progressive young voices would be interested in dealing with seniors in politics, but I may have been wrong about that.

If you were moving to a new city and had a particular skill that fit the times, what would you do to make it bigger? I'm not trying to figure out how to monetize this; I'm more interested in how to go out and do something in activism when no organization is already dedicated to the issue. Should I try to approach existing organizations? Teach for the SEIU or the AARP? Volunteer and stealthily de-program Trump Country senior centers? Something else? I have skills, knowledge, and experience, but I feel like I'm missing a path forward. Thanks for reading and advising!
posted by skookumsaurus rex to Work & Money (6 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm a total amateur when it comes to engaging older adults, but I've been leading a science outreach program that includes similar populations for a couple of years and have learned from a few mistakes. My first suggestion is to target libraries. Half the seniors in your community will strongly resist ever setting foot in a "senior center," but they'll happily attend an older adults event at the local library. The local librarians already know hundreds of older adults and will easily fill a room if you can convince them that you're doing something worthwhile and interesting. They also know the cool librarians on the other side of town. My second suggestion is to focus on individual stories, rather than statistics, when making presentations. (Which isn't bad advice in general, when talking to non-experts about detailed stuff.)

My knee-jerk assumption is that the SEIU is already on your side and the AARP will never be. Local senior centers, both the live-in kind and the day-visit kind, are worth a try. Showing up in person, with advanced notice, is way more effective than an email or a phone call.

Treating your audience with respect is also pretty important. You're probably already doing that.
posted by eotvos at 12:01 PM on April 8, 2019 [5 favorites]

Note that you will probably want to focus your efforts outside the city proper. The number of elderly Trump voters in Detroit is probably, literally, less than 3 digits. But you won't have to go too far outside the city to find buckets of them.
posted by praemunire at 1:20 PM on April 8, 2019

Public librarian here: in addition to offering this in public libraries, consider creating a curriculum and sharing it freely online. I'm imagining the history equivalent of Mozilla's digital literacy curriculum.
posted by toastedcheese at 1:41 PM on April 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Note - public libraries may be less of a homogenous crowd, depending on the community. You may find yourself facilitating difficult conversations among people with divergent views. That said, adapting your project to older marginalized folks could be super empowering if done with thought and care.
posted by toastedcheese at 1:44 PM on April 8, 2019 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Someone I know is one of the founders of this and may have interesting input for you.
posted by centrifugal at 2:46 PM on April 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

>course videos or digests

This sounds perfect for a podcast, FWIW.
posted by flug at 9:09 PM on April 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

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