Gray Panthers – A Movement Based On A Struggle Against Ageism
Upon becoming a member of Gray Panthers, community members nation wide join a fifty year old tradition of standing up for the right of all people not to be subjected to discrimination because of their age. In 2016, the Gray Panthers won the 2016 Annual Maggie Kuhn Award presented at the Yale Club by Presbyterian Social Services. The spirit of Maggie Kuhn [Founder of Gray Panthers], continues to speak through the organization’s progress in ageism advocacy and organizing fifty year later. FLOBEL Advisor and Gray Panthers President Jack Kupferman, envisions a world where the old and the young have much to contribute to make our society more just and humane. The Gray Panthers set up shop anywhere from the streets of New York in protest to the meeting rooms of the United Nations enacting action and advocacy against ageism. Nectar News sat down with Jack Kupferman to learn more about the organization’s motto; “what is good for older people is good for everyone”.
NN: What advocacy efforts under your leadership in the past ten years do you believe truly exemplify the mission and the work of Gray Panthers.
JK: In terms of confronting ageism, I’m proud to say there is a host of them. At the global level there is our work with human rights for older persons at the United Nations. Gray Panthers has been part of a small group of advocates at a global level that have been effective in putting together frameworks. This work with other advocates led us to the successful inclusion of the concerns of older persons in the Global Blueprint for Sustainable Development. We seek to confront ageism by focusing on change, not service. Our society doesn’t currently have effective solutions for ageism and is struggling to find the answers. Through our advocacy and research, we hope to work in conjunction with many other entities looking at the issues of ageism and finding solutions and opportunities to improve.
NN: What is Gray Panthers working on nationally, or on the state level?
JK: On the statewide level we wrote a letter to the comptroller of the state of New York that sparked an audit of the effectiveness of nursing home penalties and fines. We’ve also been partnering with the U.S. Department of Labor to do a number of roundtables on issues including paid family leave and paid care giving. In partnership with Social Security Works’ national advocacy to protect social security, Medicare and Medicaid, we are putting together an intergenerational Medicare and social security advocacy project. At the local level, we show up at protests regularly. In the wake of the current administration’s goal of destroying the safety net and the lives of hundred of millions of Americans, we are trying to make sure our voices are heard. With our limited resources we are doing what we can.
NN: Advocating against ageism certainly includes issues of mobility in a bustling city like New York. Can you discuss some of work that you’ve done around mobility in New York City?
JK: We have been testifying in regards to transportation specifically in regards to bike lanes. In short, we are measuring the concerns of older people against the safety of the lanes. What we have concluded is that it is better to have the bike lanes than to do without them. The little island created for the new bike lanes gives people with mobility impairments an opportunity to rest, and they have a shorter distance to get to the other side of the road. In addition, during Sandy there were a number of concerns raised about how to rebuild the city of New York’s infrastructure after the devastation. Although we didn’t have the manpower to do a lot, we spoke with organizations about considering the mobility concerns of older people and we advocated for universal design elements like bigger curb cuts. Universal design helps not just the older person, but other community members like people with baby strollers and the disabled. What we found during our first few meetings around building infrastructure is that most of the people who are involved in these efforts are younger people. It’s not that they were resistant to the concerns we were raising, it’s just they had not thought about those things because it is not part of their lives.
NN: Tell us more about how you incorporate intergenerational work into your mission?
JK: One of the things that we’ve been doing on an annual basis is our internship program. We get some of the brightest kids from all over the country working for Gray Panthers as their summer internship experience. The focus of their program is to look at ageism, how pervasive it is, and where it needs to be addressed. Ageism is one of the most unrecognized -isms, and it’s certainly not because people hate older adults. I believe most people just see them as a drain of some sort. Even if you have your grandmother and grandfather, you are still not them. Young people have never been old and they can’t identify with the concerns.
NN: What challenges are you facing in maintaining your advocacy against ageism and what are you in need of to scale?
JK: After I assumed the responsibility of Gray Panthers in New York about ten years ago, the challenge has been establishing a solid organizational infrastructure. That includes building membership, raising funds and narrowing the focus of the concerns that are going to be addressed by Gray Panthers, thereby building back the effectiveness of the organization. We want communities to understand why this is so important.
NN: If Gray Panthers and other likeminded organizations are not able to advocate against ageism, what are the consequences for the greater society?
JK: Failure to address ageism means a loss of an enormous reservoir of talent and loss of an enormous opportunity to improve life for every New Yorker. More importantly, the burdens developed by the failure to properly access the talents of older persons will mean there is going to be more reliance on public and private resources. The question is, how do we best use the power of aging for the benefit of everyone?
To learn more about Gray Panthers or to become a member visit their website at http://www.graypanthersnyc.org
Challenges that you’ve faced in this ten year span. Looking for more visibility around the mission of the colaition but what were some of the challenges around starting the model and challenges around the five year