The working slogan of the Long Beach branch of the Gray Panthers, multi-generational local advocacy network in the United States which confronts ageism and many other social justice issues related to Older Adults, is “age and youth in action.”
The organization was formed by Maggie Kuhn in 1970 after she was forced to retire from the Presbyterian Church at the age of 65. She then gathered some of her friends who were also being forced to retire and formed an organization to advocate against and work towards eliminating forced retirement. They were successful and decided to engage in other Older Adult issues.
Led by Kuhn, the group received inspiration to name themselves the Gray Panthers from a TV producer, and Maggie and her sister visited the New York Black Panthers to study their community programs to see how they could apply it to elders.
Today, the Long Beach network engages with over 72 community partners on issues of racial justice, housing, Social Security, Medicare, elections, Census, consumer protections, LBGTQ issues, technology access, caregiving and any other issues that impact Older Adults.
It is important that everyone has the choice of living their life the way they choose, in health, safety, dignity and freedom. One lifestyle does not fit all. It is important for younger people to realize that they too will age. The programs that are in place now may not meet their needs as they age.
Take Social Security for example – if regular adjustments are not made to the funding of the program, the program could eventually run out of money, which would reduce retirement security for everyone, not just those receiving benefits now.
The Social Security Administration showed that in 2019, a total of 65 million Americans were receiving Social Security benefits. Of those, 48.1 million were considered to be seniors, the rest either disabled workers or survivors of deceased individuals. For seniors, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that one in four individuals over the age of 65 rely solely on Social Security for their monthly income.
Currently, the Long Beach Gray Panthers are implementing the Donna Helsley Food Fund with Partners of Parks, a nonprofit associated with Parks and Recreation and Marine. The Fund provides $50 grocery store gift cards to seniors who have difficulty making their food money last to the end of the month.
The Gray Panthers are also part of the People’s Budget, an organization that advocates for communities of color in Long Beach, and are working to get their demands implemented in next year’s city budget.
The People’s Budget is working to reallocate financial resources in the city’s budget process to provide more services to benefit the community. There are 10 points to the People’s Budget, brought forth by members of the Long Beach Rising Coalition of progressive community groups. Of those, defunding the police remains at the top of the list.
Over 40% of Long Beach’s budget funds the police department, which alone does not make the community safer. Our coalition wants more resources to go to prevention, such as youth programming and health services to keep young people engaged in healthy activities rather than hanging out unsupervised.
Black and Brown lives are presented as the key focus of our organization because of the systemic racism they have faced, particularly in police interactions. According to the Advancement Project, police stops are more likely to happen to Black and Brown community members, and they are more likely to die during a stop than a white person. This is not equitable. It creates mistrust of police and has cost the city over $31 million in lawsuit settlements in the last six years, as reported by the Signal Tribune.
We want a healthier form of policing with civilian oversight, rather than continuing to allow the police department to oversee itself. There needs to be civilian oversight that demands accountability from police officers.
The militarization of the police has to stop. Police engage in things they are not trained for, like trying to assist the mentally ill or manage homeless communities.
We need to renegotiate the job of policing to create a healthier, safer community. This is not a new problem but it is time to finally fix the problem, not offer bandaids.
Our youth and seniors deserve investment too, as do our families.
The Gray Panthers welcomes all ages, and anyone can join by sending an email to
[email protected] or attending their monthly online Zoom meetings that are held the first Saturday of the month from 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.