Roxborough: Older Residents Stay Active with Protest Organization

The phrase “staying active” has taken on a new meaning for residents of the Cathedral Village Retirement Community in Roxborough and it’s political. The retirees formed the activists group Indivisible Village in January 2017 for residents there who wanted to engage in politics and fight for change.

Indivisible Village is a local chapter of the national Indivisible movement, which is the head organization for thousands of grassroots activist groups across the country.

The national movement was formed in response to the election of President Donald Trump, with the mission of having volunteer-led groups throughout the country, focusing on specific issues as a whole.  The Rev. Richard Fernandez, a lifelong activist and the chair of Indivisible Village, finds the approach to be impactful.

“The genius of the people in Washington is that they want to have timely, effective pressure,” Fernandez said. “We are determined to join thousands of other Indivisible groups around the country in opposition to the present administration on any and all issues that we determine are not in the best interest of the nation.”

Fernandez founded the Cathedral Village chapter with his wife, Elouise Chevrier, who serves as group treasurer. Chevrier, who was in charge of generating interest in the group, was stunned by the response.

“When we sent out the letter to have a meeting and explain what Indivisible was about, over 80 people came and responded out of maybe 200 that live here,” Chevrier said.

However an online search for Indivisible Village won’t yield many results. The group is listed on the Indivisible website, but clicking on the link only gives an email address for founding member Tom Sauerman, a Lutheran minister and activist, who passed away last year.

“He [Tom] became a huge advocate for gay and lesbian issues prompted by his son coming out,” Fernandez said. “We talked to Tom about starting an activist group and he couldn’t wait.”

The group’s lack of internet presence fits with the group’s low-tech approach. Because the chapter is only comprised of residents from Cathedral Village, and not everyone has a computer, core members print and distribute material to each individual member’s mailbox in the retirement home. 

Internet use, including social media, seems almost essential to social and political activist movements today. Groups like Black Lives Matter and the Parkland students who organized the March for Our Lives both used social media heavily in their approach. According to a 2018 study done by Pew Research, 88 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 use some form of social media. Americans aged 65 and older are the only group that does not have a majority on social media.

The lack of social media presence has not stopped the group from gaining the attention of Pennsylvania State Rep. Pam Delissio, who held her April town hall meeting at Cathedral Village.

“I have been representing the residents since December of 2014,” Delissio said. “I’ve always been impressed with the experience, expertise, energy and wisdom that folks who live in these retirement communities can offer.”

The group held its own rally for the March for Our Lives, a national movement organized by the student-survivors of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. The national march was held in Washington, with  846 sister demonstrations globally. Indivisible Village’s protest took place at the intersection of Ridge Avenue and Cathedral Road and was met with honks of approval and a few shouts of dissent from those passing by, including one accusation of communism, organizers said.

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The demonstration was not only a first for Cathedral Village, but also a first for some participants.

“For some of these people, things passed them by,” Fernandez said. “They weren’t involved in the civil rights movement or politically active before. But I’m a great believer that people act their way into new thinking.”

The event proved to be more successful than Fernandez and Chevrier ever imagined.

“I thought if 50 people showed up we would feel good,” Fernandez said. “Elouise told me that we had almost 50 people just helping to get ready for it. We were very pleased with the 126 people who showed up. About 95 of them were our people. It was good that they’ll interrupt their lives and travel down the hill with walkers and everything else.”

The option to be politically active without having to travel too far is a vital part of the experience for many members of Indivisible Village. For Indivisible Village member John Weston, that was an essential part of planning for the event.

“Many of the people here have some difficulties with mobility,” Weston said. “The idea of going into the city or to Washington was just not realistic.”

The close proximity helped these retirees get out there and support what they believe in. The group hopes to have more events in the future and to continue to grow as an organization.

“We decided to do it ourselves and capitalize on our age,” Weston said, “rather than let it make us irrelevant.”

— Text, photos and video by William Brown.

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