Well before ‘ageism‘ became a modern mainstream term, there was an American lady who confronted ageist stereotypes and whose destiny was to radically change the way society views the older generations.
Fighting for the rights of mature people, Maggie Kuhn was herself a victim of ageism in 1970, forced to retire from a job she loved in the Presbyterian Church. At age 65, when many people prepare for quiet years, Maggie Kuhn the founder of The Gray Panthers, a series of multi-generational networks advocating against ageism and for social justice at the local, national, and international levels, was ready to embark on the greatest adventure and most important work of her life: inspired by demonstrations on behalf of racial and gender equality, and against the Vietnam War, she insisted it was time that the issues facing older people be included in any social reform agenda.
There were several ageist stereotypes that the Gray Panthers wanted to end. In particular, the one that older persons were “impotent, frail, disabled, demented, or dependent.” For Kuhn, ageing was not a sign of weakness or vulnerability, but a victory meant to be celebrated.
Old age is not a disease – Kuhn said- it is strength and survivorship, triumph over all kinds of vicissitudes and disappointments, trials and illnesses.
Amongst the major achievements of her movement, there were: getting Congress, in 1986, to ban mandatory retirement ages for most jobs as well as creating intergenerational alliances to promote issues that remain of pressing concern today, such as affordable housing, better access to health care, racial equality in employment, economic justice and environmental protection.
Kuhn, who continued to play a role in the Gray Panthers until her death at age 89, has changed life to many mature people and is considered by many to have started nothing less than a contemporary cultural revolution, both in terms of redefining the meaning of age and through her insistence on “young and old together.” If you think you are too old to make a change in this world, Maggie Kuhn is the proof we always have a voice who deserves to be heard.