Some Elder Politics
What Steve Jobs Reminded Me Of

Countering Elder Ignorance and Disinterest

On yesterday's post in regard to Senator Bernie Sanders' support of elders, Social Security and Medicare, Denise left this comment:

“How can we get seniors out there? I'm an insurance agent working with Medicare-related products, so I am talking to people over 65 every day. And I am amazed at how complacent most seniors are about threats to Medicare and Social Security - and how misinformed many are.

“How can we start a movement to educate, inform, and motivate seniors to take to the streets and push back against efforts to put deficit reduction on the backs of older Americans?”

I almost responded in the comments that there are, in addition to Senator Sanders' hard work that can be supported, at least two good organizations that make good effort to hold the line against those who would gut Social Security and Medicare.

The National Committee to Protect Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) has just begun a new campaign aimed at the congressional “super committee” which seems to be leaning toward cuts to those programs (although it's hard to tell since the committee has held almost all their meetings in secret).

The other organization is Strengthen Social Security supported by coalition of hundreds of progressive organizations, unions and others who understand the crucial importance of Social Security.

Any support you can give these groups is helpful.

But these don't really address Denise's question. Like her, I have often been appalled at elders' lack of knowledge and interest in threats to their well being from elected politicians. Even smart, well-educated, aware people I've known just shrug and their concern doesn't improve when I suggest that it's up to us elders, who know first hand the importance of these programs, to help preserve them not just for us, but for our children and grandchildren.

In addition, it is amazing how many elders vote for candidates who have publicly stated they would like to kill these programs. So a great deal of education and persuasion is in order.

Plus, there are still a lot of people, including elders, who believe Social Security is “broke” and that it has somehow caused the deficit which you and I know are both untrue.

However, recent polls, while simplistic, are amazingly consistent across the political spectrum in opposing cuts to Social Security and Medicare to help reduce federal spending. Here is a chart from one recent poll: (you can see a large-size images of this and other charts here [pdf])

Oppose cuts

Also across party lines, large majorities support taxing the wealthy over cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

Raise taxes

I must say that this survey question bothers me because it smacks of revenge (however sweet that might feel) rather than thoughtful, informed opinion.

Denise also mentions the need to motivate elders to take to the streets to oppose attacks on these essential programs. In thinking this over, we need to remember that in many cases it is impossible and in others very difficult for elders to get to demonstrations and to march for any length of time.

It's hard enough to get people of any age to demonstrations these days, but elders are more physically constrained than young people.

So, with all that, I'm turning this conversation over to you, dear readers. Denise's questions are important, probably crucial, to the future of Social Security and Medicare.

How do we reach and how do we educate elders who are unaware, complacent or disinterested in these issues?

What is the best way to organize ourselves and bring new activists into the fold?

Are demonstrations the only way to make a large impact? Demonstrations are mostly for the media – coverage from them gains attention from others. How else can we gain attention from media to build support?

What other ideas do you have?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Claire Jean: Superstitions


Wealth-supported politics is all about divide and conquer. The needs of seniors are not at odds with the needs of youth, the needs of the poor, the needs of the middle class, the needs of workers. Occupy Wall Street (and Occupy Together) is creating community, taking the whole protest movement in another direction.

What should seniors do? Seniors are not alone, seniors do not have to fight this battle alone.

Fear and faith are the first two words that come to my mind when I read about why seniors may seem be complacent when it comes to Social Security. I personally fear all that is going on and what will happen to not only my future benefits but my children's future. You sign all the petitions, you write all the letters, you call and leave your voice to be heard but is it? You still get more and more threats to your way of life, to what you need to exist and barely exist at that. And then there is the faith part. Maybe not my generation but my parents had faith in people, faith that even politian's, will do the right thing and protect the people that put them in office. That these individuals will have some amount of consciousness that they will actually do the right thing by them. But we, the generation of 60 somethings, know better. I just keep reading and doing what I think needs to be done to try and keep the people who "rule" us aware that we are going to do our best to keep Social Security for all generations to come. We have to fight and do this for not only my generation but the generation that has worked so hard and needs to keep what they have and not be threatened as if all they worked for was to now live in fear of not being able to make it to the end of the month.

Part of what is hard about this is that these days we live in a media environment where we are encouraged and enabled to stay in our own comfort zones. The consequence is that, in addition to having different opinions, too often we are very attached to our own "facts." Or rather what we think are facts.

That's where such deeply held convictions as "Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11" or "Social Security is broke and responsible for the economic mess" come in. Those two fallacies are believed as fact by a great many people.

I believe that we all need to become more adept at situations in which acquaintances are thinking from within different (false) "facts". We need to listen to find out where this stuff comes from and we need to gently try to dislodge it. You don't get people to change their minds by bashing them with how wrong they are. You listen, you introduce doubt, and you keep at it. It's hard.

But that's civic activism. The elders here have a job to do among our peers.

Here is a link to some related information about things wrong with our society and our government.

Thanks for highlighting my question. Here's some more food for thought as to what we're up against:

I received an email newsletter recently from UnitedHealthcare about how the industry is pushing back. (I am an insurance agent contracted to represent United. - Sorry, don't hate me for this!!)

The United newsletter included a press release from the Health Care Leadership Council describing their plans. Here is what I wrote about it in my blog:

The biggest threat to current elders, who need Social Security for their basic living expenses, is the cost of living adjustment being negated. Nobody, even on the right, is going to take away from today's elders by other than this eating away at the value of their benefits (which is not an insignificant problem).

Otherwise, this is really a fight for the culture and a recognition that we are a whole together and what is good for one group has to be for another and where instead of looking to the short range, it must be the long range view that rules. Elders cannot be seen as hands out and demanding their money no matter what it does to others. They have to be seen as those who have lived a long life, see the value of this program and the assistance when people get old, which will as you said benefit everybody now and in the future. Social Security is one of the things that keeps an economy going when jobs aren't there. But when people see statistics of 50% of Americans getting checks from the government, they naturally wonder how the other 50% support that.

The old also are the ones who can remember the stories within the family of what it was like before SS and Medicare, some of those stories not that many years ago.

The thing is we have to as a culture pay for what we want and recognize that sacrificing some one place to benefit another is part of an organic whole.

Social Security is not the whole issue out there either as many depend on government pensions.

My thought on it is the biggest help will be finding candidates who can see our culture as a whole, those who will fight for the weak, and supporting them. There are those out there like Bernie Sanders and now Elizabeth Warren who will or are doing that. We need more. The tea party got power when they took over the House. We need to take it back if we want to protect benefits for the elderly who need the help. That means look around for those candidates who will stand up for the weak and support them through phone calls or money or whatever one can give. It doesn't just have to be in your own district either but it's getting the House back in the hands of progressives. Actually I should say ever in the hands because when Obama took office, a lot of Democrats were that in name only and actually voted Republican and what is today called 'conservative' but is anything but.

I'm not an activist. I'm not a proselytizer. Or a joiner. I don't demonstrate. Or march. Or hold up signs. I don't write letters to representatives.

But I do vote.

And that's enough for me.

I wish I had a magic wand that I could wave and make the uninformed wiser. I don't know how we counter the lies about Social Security and Medicare. I just got a forward from a Republican that stated Social Security and Medicare are broke. This page of right wing garbage had other lies and I promptly refuted every one and sent it back to the person who e-mailed me. I would like to think that blogging helps, but we are usually preaching to the Choir.

So many elders do not have computers and get all of their information from TV. If one of the organizations you linked, Ronni, had enough money to run a series of ads refuting the lies it would help educate the know nothings. Other than that, I have no solutions. Ignorance has always been a problem.

I have strongly supported the Strengthn Social Security group. And will be marching this Saturday at noon with a group of "Occupiers" in Encinitas, CA! I am 74, and though I'm slower and weaker in the body than before, I still can not just stand still and watch what's happening without doing SOMETHING to help stop it.

I suggest that each one of us talk to at least one other Elder and try to help them understand that they can't just sit around and let the younger, more active ones do the job. We need to stand up and show our strength, too!

And I work at the polls every election, SuzyR, and I can tell you from experience that of the 1,400 registered voters in my District,about
600 vote in an off-year election and about 1,100 vote in a Presidential election.

Almost all of the voters are over 50 years of age. The young people came out for Obama but I haven't seen them since.

I certainly didn't see them last November when their absence helped turn the U.S,House of Representatives over to Eric Cantor and John Boehner,both of whom are sworn enemies of Social Security and Medicare.

We must try harder to appeal to the young voters. We need them in our fight to preserve these programs for THEM in their later years.

The are just too young to understand this yet! Let's all talk to as many young people as we can so they will come out and vote.

The bar graphs in your post and Denise's observations are important to understand.

If politicians in office now cared what the public thought, they wouldn't be threatening safety-net programs.

If the health-care industrial complex wants more "cost-sharing," it will probably get it because they write very large checks to politicians.

So bashing our heads against the wall seems increasingly futile. Elders have been around long enough to realize this.

But I say, stand with the Occupiers and get out the vote.

One tactic the GOPS have used for a long time is to canvass elders and offer to help them fill out absentee ballots in their homes so they won't have to bother going to the polls. Guess how they help educate them? Elders could similarly mobilize but perhaps offer a different take than the GOPsters when talking to their peers, who might want to discuss the issues before and while filling out absentee ballots.

When I lived in San Francisco, the land of extremely long and complicated ballots, I had a group of friends who got together prior to elections to discuss each item up for the vote, then mark our private, individual sample ballots so that when we went to the polls, we wouldn't have to make spot decisions. Elders could similarly organize at senior centers, service clubs, knitting groups, hiking groups, what have you.

Yes, we need young voters. But elders consistently vote more frequently. Organizing and educating is key. We can swing elections. And our power is only growing.

Here's another good man and cause to support! "Defend Social Security Caucus" - sponsored by Bernie Sanders, US Senator from Vermont. If we had more people in Congress like him, we might not have so many problems today. I wish I lived in Vermont so I could vote for him. But we have good Senators from California, too ... and the climate is so much better for these old bones.

Keep up the good work, Ronni. We need a whole lot more people like you and your readers around.

How about a "viral" email campaign? I often get emails from friends exhorting me to send it to 10 others. If someone could compose a brief, factual, clever, somewhat alarming piece I would send it on to friends and family and hope they spread the word through their contacts. Links to resources would be included.

I am a recent newcomer to your blog, and greatly appreciate your post today. As a direct result, I've checked out both referenced organizations and another that one of those led me to.

Sometimes our ignorance is born of too many years' acceptance of the status quo; and then not knowing what/whom to believe once that acceptance has been shaken. I like the suggestion for a "viral" campaign and would also be a willing participant in such a movement.

A grass roots campaign titled, I Still Count! I Voted You In, I Can Vote You Out!" With the feeling of empowerment many older folks will get their mojo working and take steps to understand and to be heard. The "no one listens to me" attitude has to be deleted. Basically, we have to light a fire under everyone's butt.

I turned 65 today and could not be happier. I now have medical insurance. Tommorow I am having surgery to repair a brain aneurysm. I have had to wait 7 months because by insurance through work did not cover it. I have been living with a time bomb in my head. Don't tell me Medicare should be cut!! People are going to have to listen to me... I am not going to be quiet. I was asked by a woman in her thirties if I felt bad becoming 65. My answer to her and everybody is, "you are looking at the face of 65 years but the eyes looking at you are of a woman of indefinable years. my spirit and soul are of all ages since the beginning of time". I am good.

Dear Jeanne,

The very best of luck to you in your surgery tomorrow.

Please let us know how you made out when you recover.

We will be waiting....

I follow politics very closely, and I don't know anyone including Michele Bachman who wants to "gut" SS and Medicare. The discussions I have read are about essentially leaving it entact for todays elders and fixing for future generations. I for one want SS to be around when the children of today are ready for it. As for Medicare, I don't know "the" answer, and neither does anyone else apparently. A panel or committe will have to decide which parts can be modified to contain costs. That's the facts.

The country cannot sustain the course it has followed the past few years. If we kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, the goose will not lay any eggs for anyone.

As for demonstrating in the streets, it would not make any difference anyway. Everyone is in the streets these days it seems and no one knows what anyone wants, mobs being a confused lot.

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