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Bridging the Divide: An Intergenerational and Intersectional Response to COVID-19 in the Age of Information

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash
September 8, 2020

Mayumi Sato is a 2020 Social Connectedness Fellow, working with HelpAge International to document what belonging means to older people, starting with the country of Moldova. Having lived in several countries in Asia, North America, and Europe, Mayumi is passionate about social and environmental activism, and building bridges between scholarship, community advocacy, and policymaking from the local to the global level.

In the age of new media, which has been characterized by the mass and rapid inflow-outflow of information, attention to global events and phenomena are often ephemeral and lose traction over time. Yet the overwhelming implications and enduring harm of COVID-19 has driven a sustained attention to its global footprint and hurried quests to produce a successful vaccination.

The alarming scale of its spread makes it clear why. Globally, over 19 million confirmed virus cases have devastated populations around the world, with people and governments struggling to balance a desire to maintain normalcy and calm with an essential need to curtail mobility.

Media narratives have often been charged with negative undertones, chiding older people for leaving their houses despite their vulnerable status, and attributing COVID-19 spread to a singular demographic. Yet as COVID-19 impacts become increasingly stark, its intersectional effects reflect the disproportionate burden that low-income and racialized older people carry from the virus. Older people living with disabilities, those in care homes, and older LGBTQ+ communities are particularly vulnerable, given the lack of support and attention that they are likely to receive due to societal stigma and public apathy.

While the immediate impacts of COVID-19 have been most acute on older people, others are not immune. Young people, particularly low-income and racialized youth, are projected to suffer many years of long-term unemployment and sustained debt. These revelations suggest that the virus does not only produce new physical health risks but amplifies pre-existing social ills that have afflicted disadvantaged communities for generations.

Discussions around COVID-19 have frequently bifurcated who is affected between young and old, immunocompromised and “healthy”, and wealthy versus low-income. Furthermore, negative media coverage of COVID-19, which has narrated much of 2020’s media headlines, has become the focal area of societal discussions, much to the chagrin of people who use online spaces as an escape from their daily struggles.

Yet, what the media has not captured is a burgeoning movement of solidarity that has been brewing underneath: an intergenerational effort between young and older communities to mend the devastating impacts of COVID-19 over the digital sphere.

Though these efforts have slipped mainstream recognition, COVID-19 has presented new opportunities for people to respond to local and global social inequalities. In particular, young and older people have been taking proactive measures through intergenerational cooperation by convening in online spaces.

To exemplify, a youth-focused organization, Restless Development, and an international NGO focusing on older peoples’ rights, HelpAge International, recently coordinated an intergenerational webinar with over 200 participants from civil societies, youth groups, and concerned citizens to engage in an interactive dialogue on their COVID-19 experiences. Participants from 40 countries congregated online to discuss the current pandemic and open up new conversations around other intersecting and timely issues, such as climate change and racism.

Restless Development and HelpAge’s webinar is just one of many examples at the organizational level where intergenerational cooperation is bringing new momentum to the social justice movement. Young organizers are mobilizing to provide sexual and reproductive health services for women in Brazil, while medical doctors in Benin are debunking fake news around COVID-19 by producing new social media apps and hashtags. Researchers from Palestine are leading innovative research projects on epidemiological characteristics of COVID-19 to manage its spread. From the local to global level, intergenerational efforts to address COVID-19 have connected people from disparate geographies over digital space. By doing so, younger and older communities have become more cognizant of specific health, age, and gendered needs in COVID-19 responses, and the need for an intersectional understanding of and response to the virus.

Regardless of the age-specific vulnerabilities of COVID-19, we must realize that we do not live in silos. Nor can we project assumptions about peoples’ individual needs, living arrangements, and physical and emotional safety, amongst other conditions that may necessitate a departure from the home. Just as COVID-19 revealed its multi-dimensional impacts, solutions to it must also equally be intersectional and varied.

With the emergence of collaborative efforts between younger and older communities in online spaces, we see the power of intergenerational cooperation. When we coalesce to discuss solutions and mobilize together, there are new and reimagined opportunities to wield our collective knowledge and resources to tackle COVID-19 and other systemic injustices of social exclusion and power.