Excerpt from the NEW YORK TIMES (March 15, 2014), David Wallis reporting —
Before Boston police detained Ann A. Stewart last August, she had a clean record. But she vows not to wait long, certainly not another 89 years, to become a repeat offender.
Ms. Stewart, 89, a retired hospital employee, was arrested while chanting slogans with a few co-conspirators from inside an imitation jail cell to protest the doubling of the local paratransit fare to $4. Protest organizers erected the fake prison in the middle of the city’s busy Stuart Street to symbolize the fare increase’s effect on disabled riders on fixed incomes, and to block traffic. Ms. Stewart’s arresting officer – “a very nice young man,” she recalled – did not place her in handcuffs and let her keep her cane.
Ms. Stewart, who does not use paratransit herself, treasures the memory of her approximately two hours in custody. “It means a lot to me,” she said. “I’m very strong in my belief about certain things a senior should be able to do.”
Not long after the August protest (which was part of a longer campaign), the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority rolled back the paratransit fare by one dollar – evidence, in Ms. Stewart’s opinion, that older adults must aggressively fight for their rights.
In Europe, older protesters often make noise. In 2012, throngs of Greek pensioners marched in Athens to oppose austerity measures. Last October, a raucous crowd estimated at 10,000 rallied in front of the Irish Parliament to denounce medical benefit cuts for people over 65.
For now, the senior rights movement in America remains relatively muted. Perhaps as Tom Hayden, the 1960s activist, suggested, the “price of some success is that the voluntary activist groups can feel less needed.” Could older Americans just be complacent? Maybe demonstrating in the streets is best left to the young? Or perhaps, as one experienced activist argued, unfavorable media coverage of events like Occupy Wall Street gives protesting a bad name.
Whatever the reasons, several social scientists say deteriorating conditions for retirees and older Americans in general – intensifying fear about retirement security, age discrimination, increasing poverty among the elderly and new threats to cut programs for seniors – could be the impetus for what some are calling a “silver revolution.”
“Now would be the time for senior rights movements to mobilize once again,” Andrea Louise Campbell, author of “How Policies Make Citizens: Senior Citizen Activism and the American Welfare State,” suggested in an email. Ms. Campbell pointed to recent proposals by politicians to trim Social Security benefits and convert Medicare into a voucher program as actions meriting a response.
“If there’s a direct threat to Social Security or Medicare, that’s when you do see people mobilizing,” said Jill B. Quadagno, a professor of sociology at Florida State University who studies social gerontology. Ms. Quadagno recounted that in 1964, roughly 14,000 protesters, predominantly retirees, marched outside the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, N.J. The National Council of Senior Citizens, backed by the A.F.L.-C.I.O., staged the show of force to prod politicians to support President Lyndon B. Johnson’s proposal for Medicare, which was enacted the next year. Later that decade and in the 1970s, advocates for older adults battled to expand Social Security, winning, among other policy changes, automatic cost-of-living adjustments.
If your hair is some shade of silver, and you don’t have gold in your pockets, the ONE PERCENTERS have a target on your back. They intend to take you down, steal your Social Security fund, shred your Medicare and tear up your Senior Discounts. Although you have worked your entire life, paying into Social Security and Medicare you will be castigated as a welfare cheat and a drain on society. They will seek to turn your grandkids against you promising them tax cuts to buy support for gutting the social safety net. The goal is to render us all the nasty and brutish creatures devoted only to our narrow self interests that they themselves are.