Mt. Airy elder-activist says you’re never to old to change the world

     Elder-activist Lynne Iser has papered a wall of her home office in Mt. Airy with mementos of the many causes she has supported. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Elder-activist Lynne Iser has papered a wall of her home office in Mt. Airy with mementos of the many causes she has supported. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Many Baby Boomers worry if their adult children and grandchildren will be financially secure after they’re gone. Lynne Iser, a Mt. Airy mother of five, has more pressing concerns.

    “My youngest daughter, at 21, is troubled by the larger problems of the world: the environment, climate change, racism and social injustice,” says Iser. “I want to leave her a legacy, not just of wealth, but of positive change.”


    Inspired by the teachings of eco-philosopher and author Joanna Macy, Ph.D., Iser created, an organization that encourages people over 50 to take local action to bring about global change.

    “Between the ages of 50 and 60, people are less constrained by what they have to do, and become passionate about making a difference,” says Iser. She coordinates monthly gatherings, including an open-forum lunch for seniors to chat about the good things that come with getting older, and a gathering she calls a study-action circle.

    Local action for global causes

    “For four years, our study-action circle has been meeting in homes in Mt. Airy, Germantown and Chestnut Hill,” says Iser. “We discuss carbon emissions, sustainability, conserving energy and natural resources. Lately, we’ve read and discussed ‘The New Jim Crow,’ a book about contemporary racism in our society.”

    But it’s not just talk. It’s action. “Everyone gets to do what they want, whether its using a clothesline instead of a dryer, recycling, composting, attending rallies in Washington, D.C., or keeping Congress on their toes by writing letters and signing petitions.”

    Iser is personally committed to minimizing her use of disposables. “I never buy drinks in plastic containers or use paper plates. I always travel with my own water bottle and coffee cup. When I’m tempted, I think about that island of plastic bottles in the Pacific that’s the size of Texas!”

    Iser is equally concerned about environmental time bombs right here in Philly.

    “They want to turn our city into a fossil-fuel energy hub,” she says. “We already have over 100 railroad cars a day — in questionable repair — carrying highly flammable, toxic fuels through Philadelphia. City Council is holding hearings on the safety of theses old fuel trains, which already resulted in a massive fire bomb in Virgina. They want to put a pipeline in the river.”

    Iser and fellow elder activists protested the creation of the energy hub during an invitation-only conference for European investors at Drexel University.

    She urges concerned citizens to join organizations that work to keep our city green, including the Delaware River Keeper Network, Penn Environment and Philadelphia Interfaith Power and Light.

    She is equally concerned about the issue of mass incarceration affecting the black community. “There are more African Americans currently in the prison system than were enslaved before the Civil War,” she says. “Many are there for non-violent offenses and many are innocent. I do not want my children to have more locks on their doors, more gates around their houses. And the solution is not to lock more people up. The solution is to have a fair and just system where opportunities exist for everyone.”

    Now is the time for Boomers to get involved

    “Being the change you wish to see” is nothing new for Iser. Following her undergraduate degree in human development and family studies and attaining a master’s in public health, Iser became the executive director of the Spiritual Eldering Institute (now Sage-ing International), an organization that provided resources for senior citizens to review their lives, value their wisdom and create legacies for future generations through workshops and trainings.

    “I never could’ve done this when my children were younger. That’s why I think it’s important for elders to get involved,” says Iser. “We are fortunate that our Baby Boomer wave contains a pool of potential activists and leaders with the experience, wisdom and time to bring about a more socially just, environmentally sustainable and spiritually fulfilling world.”

    Iser’s family is supportive, even when Mom is arrested protesting outside the White House. “My kids think I’m cool,” she says. (So do we!)

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