Would You Let Your Grandma Get Arrested For This?

Written by Candice Bernd

Lawrence McDonald isn’t afraid to say that he, along with much of the baby boomer generation, is responsible for the current global climate crisis. He also isn’t afraid to get arrested.

He was one of 20 arrested outside the White House last Thursday to keep up the pressure on President Barack Obama to deny the construction permit for the cross-border segment of the Keystone XL pipeline.

“Ours was the first generation to understand the nature of the threat, and we also have benefited from the post-World War Two boom,” he told Campus Progress. “A lot of us have been fortunate to travel widely, to have opportunities for education, and all of that was made possible ultimately by cheap fossil fuels.”

McDonald started up Fifty Over Fifty to educate and organize baby boomers to use civil disobedience to enact change on climate issues. The name comes from this idea:

“We believe that members of our generation (over 50 years old) have the means and the responsibility to act and that a few dozen of us in each of the 50 states (50 x 50) can tip public opinion in favor of action if we are prepared to organize at the grassroots level, speak out, risk arrest and occasionally spend some time in jail.”

With the ever-mounting struggle over the Keystone XL pipeline and the expansion of the Alberta tar sands, many among the baby boomer generation are feeling McDonald’s obligation to do something to atone for the grimmer climate future on the horizon for many Millennials.

“People in my age group … feel that many of us, unlike most younger people, we’re not busy with raising our families and working full-time, so we have the time and resources to do this kind of thing, to give our best for the planet,” said  60-years-old April Moore. She was also arrested last Thursday as a part of Fifty Over Fifty. “I feel that we owe it to the younger generation. I mean, our generation was born into a relatively healthy planet, and that’s rapidly changing.”

McDonald says he hopes the organization can articulate the goals of the civil disobedience in a way that baby boomers can feel comfortable participating. He says many among the boomer generation can feel intimidated by the more aggressive direct actions being taken by young people in anti-extraction movements, such as tree-sits and lock-downs. But his group is steadily growing in numbers, and he is finding that moral support among boomers can be a huge mobilizer in and of itself.

Because younger generations will bear the brunt of the global climate crisis in the next few decades, the climate movement is often seen through a youth lens, and rightly so. But if Fifty Over Fifty is a signal of increased boomer involvement, young organizers may need to start bridging the generational gap.

“You hear a lot about the youth climate movement working really hard, and it’s great to hear that another generation is feeling the same way that we do about these issues,” says Harvard divestment organizer Alli Welton. She’s also member of Students for a Just and Stable Future, and was arrested after sitting-in at a TransCanada office in Massachusetts.

“Their willingness to accept responsibility, and do what they can to change the problem, seems kind of new to me. I hope that their boldness in stepping out like that can really inspire other people among their generation to take these issues seriously.”

By recognizing generational inequality upfront and organizing around it, Fifty Over Fifty is creating a unique allied movement in the position of the privileged that strikes at the very heart of sustainability issues.

As the climate movement remains heavily focused on the expansion of Alberta tar sands and the Keystone XL pipeline, it’s students and young people who are taking on a rap sheet for direct actions in TransCanada offices, in the pathway of the pipeline and in front of the White House. Students continue to drive a growing movement for divestment from the top 200 fossil fuel companies that is taking root at universities, churches and cities across the nation.

They are doing all this while being saddled with increasing student loan debt, decreased job prospects after graduation, and a number of other barriers to the middle class that previous generations largely didn’t experience. They are getting arrested in between classes, unpaid internships, part-time jobs and organizing meetings.

The conversations generated by baby boomers on climate can more readily resonate across positions of political power, which skew toward older Americans. Mass civil disobedience by the boomer generation could drive home the reality of just how bad the climate crisis among their peers in high places.

“We owe it to you, we owe it to younger people to do our best to start turning things around. It’s a matter of paying it forward,” Moore said.

This post was originally published by Campus Progress.



Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson4 years ago


Eternal Gardener
Eternal G4 years ago


Scott haakon
Scott haakon4 years ago

The real question is since pipelines have been used since the 1830's why has the technology not advanced to the point of reliability?

Spirit Spider
Spirit Spider4 years ago

No pipeline!

Edgar Zuim
Edgar Z4 years ago

If we have the technological conditions for clean energy, why pollute the planet?

Joseph Belisle
Joseph Belisle4 years ago

Would I let? That's kind of agist. Would I try to convince my grandma not to? No. I've tried to get my family to march and protest with me against issues like this.
I would be so proud if any of my family was brave enough to get arrested. I would be right there to handle their bail and work the courts and justice systems.

Brian M.
Past Member 4 years ago

We've had 400 year approximately of industrialization; we've had a single century of unparalleled rise in emissions. The so-called "boomers" may be responsible for not having done more to stop this crisis, but they are hardly the cause. Corporate forces that manipulated both the government and the media duped that generation no less than every generation since. The 1% wealthy elites who own almost everything and possess more wealth than the bottom 4.7 billion people put together are responsible for this mess. Some of them are boomers, but most boomers like most people are in the 99%. It does no good to discourage potential allies. We need everyone onboard, activated, energized, mobilized, acting up, speaking out, marching, and demanding action from our corporations and from our governments to fight climate change. As no generation is immune to the climate catastrophe that is coming, then no generation should sit out the struggle. Everyone needs to do what they can to get our civilization off of dirty energy and on to clean energy as quickly as possible. The window for avoiding the worst consequence is growing smaller all the time.

Aletta Kraan
Aletta Kraan4 years ago

Noted , thanks, we do not need the pipe line and oil spills !!

Richard P. W.
Richard W4 years ago

Thank God for Lawrence and Granny! Its about time more of us stepprd UP!!

Berty Jardine
Berty Jardine4 years ago

Educate everyone and work together for a clean world!