Marching against ageism

The Age March takes place on December 4 on Union Street in San Francisco.

The third Age March takes place on December 4 on Union Street in San Francisco.

FIRST PERSON | BARBARA ROSE BROOKER

My idea for an Age March began with a dream.

I dreamed there was an end to age discrimination and segregation — and that men and women of all races and sexual orientations marched to celebrate their ages. I led the marchers along with several other people, holding a giant red banner emblazoned with the words “Age March.” Accompanied by jazz musicians, we marched a mile as we chanted, “Celebrate your age! Don’t lie about it!”

And then I woke up.

At the time, I was tired of applying for jobs, being invited for an interview, then told when I arrived that the job was already filled. It was ageism at work.

In our current anti-aging society, we’re all supposed to retire around 65 and play Bingo, not pursue new dreams. But I’ve always felt that aging well is not about Botox or looking younger. It’s about spirit, empowerment and attitude. I was tired of age rage, age segregation and the fear of aging.

I came by the fatigue honestly.

In my 20s and 30s, I was divorced and a single mother of two daughters. When they were teenagers, I went back to college. I was 40 years old. Many people then suggested that it was too late for college and career, that I should get a real estate license and a new husband.

At age 50, I got an MFA in creative writing and published two novels. Since 1990, I have been teaching creative writing at San Francisco State University Extension and in private seminars, but was subtly informed I was too old to get tenure.

Barbara Rose Brooker

Age March founder Barbara Rose Brooker

At 60, the only jobs I could get were freelance. I wrote a “Suddenly Sixty” column about aging and received letters from men and women describing their ageism experiences.

At 73, I wrote The Viagra Diaries, a novel about a 70-year-old protagonist, Anny Applebaum, who breaks the rules by forging a new career, looking for love online and having sex. Two years later, I tried to sell it.

“Seventy is a hard sell,” mainstream publishers said. “No one wants to know about aging.” So I self-published The Viagra Diaries. And almost immediately, men and women from all over the country sent emails and letters explaining how they identified with my 70-year-old protagonist and her struggles. HBO bought the rights to the novel for a television series. Simon & Schuster then bought the book and published it. Dreams come true.

And I came to the realization that age never really limited my life. So I began to envision that an Age March could be the beginning of a new revolution where age is not shamed or feared, but celebrated.

After a year of planning, I produced the first Age March, held in San Francisco in August 2010. More than 300 men and women of all ages, most holding signs, celebrated their age and protested age discrimination. Just as in my dream, we marched to music, with the crowd chanting: “Celebrate your age! Don’t lie about it!” I marched in the front with other committee members, holding a red “Age March” banner. The Bay Area newspapers and television stations also showed up to cover the march, helping spread the word.

The second Age March was in Los Angeles, where ageism is rampant. Many celebrities who loved the concept of the Age March were afraid to join in, fearing they would lose their industry jobs. But the hundred or so who did attend were enthusiastic and intent.

The third Age March will be held  in San Francisco on Sunday, December 4, on Union Street. I’m already dreaming of the festive celebration, which is free to all. People and pets of all ages are welcome.

Participants will meet at Gough and Union Streets, then march west on Union to Fillmore Street — about five blocks. Signs with numbers on them will be provided, so everyone can wear their ages proudly. Music and entertainment will also be provided along the route. Dress casually. Wear something celebratory — a crown, a balloon, whatever you wish.

Join us. You can register here.

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