Seniors*often see important changes occurring in society generally or in government funding and decisionmaking that will have a significant negative effect on older adults, or the lives of other people. They may wonder "What can I do?"
There are things that people of any age can do when government policies or the media attack older adults as a group, or attack certain groups of seniors, such as low income seniors. Activism is not just for the young.
1. Become well informed
Get to know the key health, housing, and pension issues affecting seniors. Do you think that this is just a problem that you are experiencing or just in your community? In many cases, it may be a similar issue that many seniors are struggling with.
If it is a funding issue, know the arguments or reasons being used to justify budget cuts and learn and share the real facts. Be ready to counter misconceptions and untruths with facts..
For example, older adults are often blamed for rising health care costs and sometimes the growing number of seniors is portrayed as a "grey tsunami" or an impending crisis. Prominent economists and people working in the aging field are clear on this point: the fact that more and more people are becoming seniors is no more a health or other "crisis" in the province than the fact that there were more and more families raising kids in the 1950s and 1960s.
Does your government suggest there isn't enough money in the budget? Challenge them on it.
Any government will fund based on what they see as priorities; seniors and the issues affecting them may be low on that list. Government resources always depend on who they tax and how they tax.
2. Let your Premier know what you think. Call your MLA, MPP ( Ontario), or MNA (Quebec).
For example, for a full list of BC MLAs and their contact information, available on the Internet, see: http://www.leg.bc.ca/mla/3-1-1.htm
New Brunswick: http://app.infoaa.7700.gnb.ca/gnb/pub/ListMLA1.asp
Nova Scotia: http://www.gov.ns.ca/legislature/members/directory/alpha.html
3. Let the media and public know.
You can do this by writing letters to the editor, particularly to community newspapers. Some major newspapers select through the letters they receive. The more letters on an issue, the more likely some of these will be printed.
Keep up the pressure.
Develop a seniors' media watch group. Writing letters is not a one shot deal.
See something in the newspaper that characterizes older adults as "social burden" or "undeserving"? Let the editor know in no uncertain terms that is wrong. Seniors should not be the treated as scapegoats.
People with a flair for writing who already write for community papers can feature the issue. Talk about the impact on your lives and seniors throughout the province.
Having trouble thinking what to say? There is lots of information on this website that you can use to help get you started.
You are not "complaining". You can help the government better understand policy decisions that are being made now will likely have long term negative effects on your life and theirs.
4. Use the media to spread the message.
The various media like a good story, and they pick up on stories that their competitors have picked up on.
Give them good "sound bites" in your messages. By that I mean short phrases and interesting angles to use in writing.
Wherever possible, have brief facts at hand -- for example, the numbers of seniors affected. It makes their work easier.
Don't exaggerate. Do not use a "seniors are eating dog food" example. This exaggeration of reality (who can afford dog food?) can seriously undermine a valid message about policies that negative affect older adults.
Call Talk Shows
Don’t just listen to talk shows—call in. Be brief, be courteous, but be heard. Check out community access cable TV. Progressive groups can often get air time.
5. Don't let seniors become invisible. Help make them invincible.
Talk with your family and neighbours about the changes going on and your concerns. You would be amazed by the things that people assume or don't know about seniors. For example, people often assume seniors in Alberta do not pay taxes, which is not true.
Many of the issues affecting seniors are also intergenerational matters.
Families are quite often shocked when a crisis occurs to learn about the ways that systems function. When a government reduces its support for home care, for example, families are expected to "take up the slack", or an older adult is expected to pay for the services privately, whether or not that is really possible.
The changes happening in government health and income security benefit policies will have wide intergenerational impact. A society that pushes out seniors and devalues them, will also tend to treat other groups such as people with children, low income people or people who are poor, people who are unemployed or unable to work, all in a marginalized way.
6. Go graphic
Buttons, pins, quotes at the bottom of your letters or email messages, bumper stickers, T-shirts, small stickers for your envelopes that offer messages such as "No one at any age should be treated as a burden on society".
If you use email, add an anti-ageism or other poignant quote in your signature line of your emails.
All of these are quiet ways of saying “I dissent and am exploring alternatives” and telling others you aren’t afraid to make your views known. This may encourage them to speak up.
7. Don't like what's happening? Then vote for positive change.
Click here for the "So Vote" website (Ontario info, but applies some of the issues apply to other provinces. Useful posters). People over 65 are the most likely to vote.
Do you know who and what you are voting for?
Do all the candidates sound alike on the position? Challenge them on it. Ask more questions of candidates.
Do not trust "handouts" or policy changes that government make close to elections simply to win seniors' votes. Challenge them on it. Why wasn't this done before?
After the election, see that the politicians follow through on those promises.
Organizations such as poverty and seniors' coalition advocacy groups depend on voluntary contributions. Your contribution can help create resources that reach more people. Remember them in your will.
9. Expect there will be differences of opinion
Recognize and accept that some people your age and some younger people are not going to agree with you.
Seniors are a diverse group. The things that are important to an older adults who are "comfortable" or "well off" may not be the same as the things that are important to older adults who are struggling to "have ends meet".
Older adults who are healthy may not have the same concerns as those facing health problems or caring for a spouse or family member who is. Sometimes the priorities and key issues for rural seniors and urban seniors may be different.
Sometimes it is okay to "agree to disagree". Work together on the issues you agree on, and work with other groups who understand your position on the issues where opinions diverge.
3 Common Myths & Misconceptions
1. If I (or we) say anything, they'll take away other benefits that affect seniors.
The reality is if you do not fight, the decisionmakers will simply see you as an easy target, because there are no political repercussions for them. One of the best things seniors can do is SPEAK OUT.
2. Let others do it. They can do it better.
Wrong. If everyone takes that approach, no one's voice will be heard. To speak effectively, takes many, many voices. Let yours be one of those. Let the decisionmakers know.
Don't just talk about how tough it is: ACT!
And don't put if off.
Let politicians know that you have a long memory and their actions now, positive or negative, will be remembered during the next election.
3. Physically I can't do anything.
If you are a person who has limited mobility, you may think, "I can't stand out in front of the legislature for hours protesting."
There is always something that you can do.
If you can't protest, you can write or phone or help others organize (by phone). You can inform others, particularly other seniors.
Everyone has a role in fighting for justice.
Spencer, C. (August, 2000). Grey Power in Canada (Part One). GRC News, Vol. 19 No. 2.
Spencer, C. (September, 2003) Grey Power in Canada ) Part Two Will Baby Boomers Become Activists as They Age. GRC News, Vol. 22 No. 2 http://www.sfu.ca/grc/publications/grcnews/grcn_pdfs/vol22no2.pdf
* Or any other person who cares about aging friends, neighbours, parents and grandparents.
Note: Several of the ideas on this page are collected from other activism and non-violence sites.