Aging, Outrage and the Occupy Movement: Gray Panthers Join in, Speak out about Putting Profits over People

Article excerpt

Maggie Kuhn was forced into retirement at 65 in 1970. Her outrage, plus a desire to continue her involvement in social action, led Kuhn to found the Gray Panthers, an intergenerational economic and social justice advocacy organization. Today's Gray Panthers still accept Kuhn's charge to "protest against anything we consider wrong" and "speak our mind, even if our voice shakes" in public and virtual protest-through email, Facebook, Twitter and on the Web.

Kuhn described ageism as "the segregation, stereotyping and stigmatizing of people on the basis of their age." Ageism perpetuates prejudices that foster negative attitudes toward aging and ingrains ageist beliefs into our collective conscience. As a result, people of all ages come to dread their future lives and deny their own aging. This is unfortunate because, as Kuhn pointed out, "the one thing we all have in common is aging."

A great deal of progress has been made since Kuhn's fight for a more enlightened view of aging, but ageism persists- in media portrayals, employment challenges, service providers' patronizing behaviors, marketing of anti-aging products to increasingly younger populations, inequitable healthcare practices and policy debates about Social Security and Medicare.

Ageism Sticking Around

A 2011 study by Luo et al. in Research on Aging found that age discrimination was the most commonly reported form of discrimination, followed by gender, race, heritage and physical qualities. And older adults were more likely to attribute perceived discrimination to their age. The study found that perceived discrimination had a negative impact on people's health and everyday discrimination had stronger effects than a major discriminatory event.

In Margaret M. Gullette's Agewise: Fighting the New Ageism in America (University of Chicago Press, 2011) the author describes such current social symptoms of age discrimination as increased job loss for older men, decreased pension values, peak earning years for women at age 45 and fears over loss of looks beginning in the late 20s.

The current political milieu, with its hyper-partisanship and concern about deficits and government spending, elevates the threat. People are openly pitting younger and older generations against one another, representing elders as draining our society of resources and threatening our economy. However, as Gullette argues, those now entering old age have the highest wage inequality of any recent generation, and those entering middle age have higher levels of poverty than any equivalent group of midlifers since the generation before 1914.

Occupy the Outrage

The Gray Panthers' mission- to "create a society that puts people over profits, responsibility over power and democracy over institutions"- resonates with the intent of the current Occupy Movement. …