It is a new year and I’d like to propose a new American tradition: making Birth Year legacy gifts to lift our country’s future. Many Americans born in the same year – say from 1924 to 1944 – could form a unique affinity group to conceive and fund endowed institutions that improve our country’s “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
For example, there are over two million Americans who are 76 years old, born in 1939. They hail from many different interests, backgrounds, and income levels, from billionaires to those barely making it. It is not too far a stretch to believe that many would like to do something to benefit their descendants – Americans who will inherit our country.
These legacies can take the form of significant self-renewing, nonprofit, civic institutions either at the national or regional level. No hidden agendas, no obscure profit motives, no self-aggrandizement; just extending the torch of wisdom, foresight, and imagining brighter futures.
Benefactors could come up with their own ideas. Here are some of mine:
1. Organize after school clubs for youngsters that advance civic skills and civic experience in local communities;
2. Develop and share project ideas to make it easier to strengthen more self-reliant communities;
3. Start a movement to simplify our laws, red tape, overly complex forms, and the omnipresent fine-print contracts;
4. Establish an annual national “Showing Up For Citizen Engagement Day” to rediscover best practices for a better America;
5. Organize for affordable and open access to justice forums for all Americans;
6. Award moral courage awards in all 3007 counties in the U.S. so as to recognize and support courageous people who stand tall;
7. Create facilities for participatory neighborhood sports – both organized and unorganized;
8. Build 2000 community civic centers, as Mr. Andrew Carnegie did when he funded the establishment of over 2000 free libraries a century ago;
9. Create arboretums in communities nationwide to increase understanding and enjoyment of nature;
10. Institute broad prison reform and rehabilitation for adults and juveniles – this is already receiving Left-Right support;
11. Enact public financing of public elections and other electoral reforms to give voters more voices and choices;
12. Promote faster conversion to solar energy and energy efficiency;
13. Endow Departments of Civic Practice in universities and colleges so students can learn how to practice democracy, civil rights, and civil liberties;
14. Advance full Medicare for all, with greater efficiency and free choice of doctors and hospitals;
15. Organize scientists/technologists to consider the consequences of their work in society;
16. Organize congressional accountability watchdog groups in all congressional districts for long-overdue reforms such as fair taxation, corporate law enforcement, reduced corporate welfare, and judicious allocation of public budgets for the necessities of the people.
By now, you may be thinking of your own proposals and wondering how you can launch these Birth Year legacy gifts. Well, out of each birth year can come those who have the means, the time, the imagination and the skills to jumpstart the process. Each birth year can have its own unique approach to establishing future betterments that can be operated in perpetuity.
There are many trillions of dollars of wealth possessed or controlled by people with birth years from 1924 to 1945. Most of this is dead money – money markets and other investments that do little to initiate needed changes. At the same time, many Americans think our country is moving in the wrong direction.
Mr. Carnegie could have left all his fortune to his descendants or to charities. Instead, besides endowing scientific institutions, his legacy is the millions of people who used and continue to use libraries that otherwise would not have been built in their communities to educate, enlighten, and inspire the citizenry. Shrewdly, this Scottish immigrant required towns and cities to provide the land before he paid to build the libraries as a way of signifying a public commitment to maintain them.
Perhaps the first step for the Birth Year initiative is to hold gatherings around the country simply to discuss the idea of legacy gifts by birth year.
Developing the kind of elan or spirit within birth years that we see in some universities and college alumni classes could be transformational for our nation and its relations to the rest of the world. For it wouldn’t just turn money into action for the common good; it would also arouse what now are too many discouraged people to engage in purposeful, exciting, elderly living with new friends and stimulations.
Activating older generations of Americans to share their knowledge and experience with the young certainly expands the latent potential of the human journey.
For help getting started on your own Birth Year project, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to P.O. Box 19367, Washington, D.C. 20036, for preliminary advice.
Ralph Nader’s latest book is: Unstoppable: the Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State.