By Robert (Bob) Murphy
This year’s Fourth of July may have been the hottest day on Earth in as many as 100,000 years. Scientists in several places have made the claim. I’m not old enough to question their judgment. I can only speak from personal experience.
I’m a senior citizen in Florida. During recent years, each summer has been hotter than the previous one, and the sea keeps rising. Last year, I collapsed during Saint Petersburg’s Gay Pride events, because of the excessive heat. A few weeks later, the retirement center where I live had a mandatory evacuation because of Hurricane Ian. I went to work as a volunteer at an emergency shelter.
August 3 is a day with special importance for senior citizens and their allies because it’s the birth date of Maggie Kuhn, a 20th-century prophet and founder of the Gray Panthers who anticipated the global reality now confronted by the DSA and other progressive organizations: In Japan, in much of Europe, in North America, in many other places, the human population is aging, at a time when major social, economic, and environmental problems are developing.
Maggie Kuhn was born in 1905.After graduating from college, she worked for several progressive organizations. Because retirement was mandatory at age 65, she was forced to leave her job long before she wanted to. Instead of retreating into silence, she joined with others in the fight against ageism and other forms of social oppression. The Gray Panthers were established during the 1970s.
Kuhn died in 1995, but her good influence continues. In addition to the Gray Panthers, several radical networks exist in the twenty-first century that encourage a healthy response to aging. Examples include the Radical Elders and the Raging Grannies. At the local level, study the different religions. In today’s world, the major religions are unusual, because of their community work and because of their emphasis on multigenerational cooperation.
How can DSA members best respond to the aging of the North American population? Kuhn and radical groups like the Gray Panthers provide some inspiration. Encourage multigenerational cooperation and start with some consciousness-raising.In nations dominated by late capitalism, the different age groups are divided by corporate and political forces, with young people and older people pushed into competition with each other for attention and resources.
Some seniors are privileged and protected, but, for many, aging is a terrifying experience. In the United States, elders are often isolated. Shopping for food and finding affordable housing can become increasingly difficult. Because of long-term care costs, many of the elders in the United States will be bankrupt and dependent on Medicaid at the end of their days.
In the United States, conservatives in Congress attack the Social Security program, food assistance programs, and other programs that are important for senior citizens. They argue that the COVID-19 crisis ended in May, although the World Health Organization reported 860,000 new cases of COVID with 4,500 deaths for the whole planet, for the 28-day period that ended on July 17.
Multigenerational action is needed at three levels. At the global level, the United Nations is questioning the ways in which people think, feel, and behave in response to aging. The General Assembly has declared that 2021-2030 is the Decade of Healthy Ageing. Statements by the World Health Organization and other international agencies help to explain the situation. The different nations have different programs that are involved with age-related concerns. Despite its shortcomings, the AARP (American Association for Retired People) is still a resource in the United States.
Senior citizen needs should be addressed as national policies develop for energy policy, lifelong education, public parks, and a long list of other topics. DSA groups and religious socialists can be involved with national and international programs.Stay involved, also, with grassroots organizing. At the local level, the health equity theme has special importance. “Organizing for Health Equity” is a statement endorsed at this year’s national convention for the Unitarian Universalists. It may inspire similar initiatives for other organizations.
The health equity message is very simple. People want to have more control over their bodies. All age groups can understand the message, although it has special importance for seniors. As people grow older, many are increasingly manipulated and managed.The concern is as ancient as humanity. Jesus of Nazareth said to Saint Peter: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, when thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shalt gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.” (John 21:18. KJV.)
In Saint Petersburg, Florida, multigenerational cooperation is developing in several ways. Because of pandemics, extreme weather, and other problems, mutual aid programs have appeared in the different neighborhoods. The DSA’s Mutual Aid Working Group is a helpful resource. There are many possibilities for mutual aid. Young adults can teach computer skills to older adults. They can make wellness checks. Mutual aid groups can support voter registration and get-out-the-vote campaigns. In Saint Petersburg, community gardening is probably the best-known and most popular of the mutual aid efforts. Vegetable gardening is possible in every season in Florida.
“Everybody should look forward to aging,” is a meme presented by the Gray Panthers. Aging is not a problem that needs to be solved. The problem is predatory capitalism. When people are no longer wanted as workers and as consumers, capitalism kicks them aside and then grinds them into the dirt.
We need a multigenerational strategy in order to create a better way of living. The different age groups can help each other. Moving forward starts with consciousness-raising. Organizations like the DSA can provide leadership.
Robert (Bob) Murphy, a Unitarian Universalist community minister, is a religious socialist in the U.S. South. He is a DSA member and an advocate for mutual aid work and for multigenerational organizing.
Image credit: Wikipedia commons