"These are the times that try men’s souls.” Thomas Paine’s words, written more than two centuries ago in the darkest hours of our country’s struggle for freedom, are certainly apropos today. As I travel the nation and conduct biweekly tele-town hall events, listening to and learning from AARP members and our cherished volunteers, I hear their anguish.
They grieve for the innocent children murdered in school shootings. They ache for the women subjected to sexual harassment and worse. They grow anxious over reports of elected officials abusing the public trust.
Each of us feels every tragedy acutely, and we often find a personal connection. My son is a high school teacher, a point of pride that now rides on a current of anxiety.
I ask myself, and our members ask me, “What should I do? How do I help make sure these horrible things don’t keep happening?”
Right now, I look to the women and children.
There’s the brave eloquence of women in the #MeToo movement, who are breaking the code of silence surrounding sexual harassment.
And there are the young students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who are raising their collective voices and serve as an inspiration to us all. They speak straight from the heart, and their courage has already had a tremendous impact.
Don’t remain on the sidelines. Whatever your beef, whatever you champion, please speak up. We need more constructive dialogue.
As my time as AARP president grows short, I urge each of you to do what I intend to do over the coming months. Research the issues. Examine the facts. Above all, search your heart and mind and resolve to make a difference.
The next steps are easy. Write a few words to your newspaper or your state or national legislators. Go to community meetings and town halls. Lend your voice to social media conversations. Show up.
Your participation is vitally important this year. Thirty-five senators and 36 governors are up for election in November, along with every member of the U.S. House of Representatives. And more than 6,000 seats in state legislatures—82 percent of the nation’s total—will be decided. I implore you to register and vote.
You can change things. Like the women’s and children’s voices, your voice has power. Do not be silent.