Why the Radical Age Movement Supports Black Lives Matter

by: Alice Fisher, M.A., M.S.W.
July 18, 2016

Each time I post something that supports the Black Lives Matter movement on my personal Facebook page, I receive too many responses saying all lives matter. Of course all lives matter, but that’s not the point. There is a reason why we need to support Black Lives Matter. As a white mother and grandmother, I do not worry when my children and grandchildren go out the door that they may never come back.

The first time I received that response, steam started coming out of my ears. I was irate. I called a friend who posted one of those replies and said, “Did you look in the mirror this morning? You still have white privilege, I assume. Who is targeting you? NOBODY!” It is black people who are being targeted, wounded, and killed. Saying that all lives matter completely dilutes the message and the scorching reality of what is happening in America.

As he has for many years, my old friend Michael McPhearson* responded in a different and powerful way. Michael, who taught me everything I know about race and racism, is a black man and ardent social justice activist.

Here is Michael’s take on all lives matter:

White people, many of you need to wake up to the fact that every police killing of an unarmed or clearly not dangerous black person could be you. Black Lives Matter is not only about black people. It is about all people. Why? Because when you defend and protect the freedom and safety of black people in the U.S., it strengthens the freedom and safety of all people.

When advocating for the oldest and frailest among us, how often have we asserted that when institutions and government policies work for the youngest and oldest among us, they work for everyone. By raising up the most vulnerable of us, we raise up our entire society.

The Radical Age Movement is proud to support Black Lives Matter. It is in the interest of everyone, regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, religion, or economic status. As we at Radical Age advocate for age justice, we are advocating for all categories of justice for each and every one of us.

*Michael McPhearson, Executive Director of Veterans for Peace, a native of Fayetteville, NC, was a field artillery officer of the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division during Desert Shield/Desert Storm. His military career includes 6 years of reserve service and 5 years active duty service. On the steering committee of United for Peace & Justice, Michael works as an activist and facilitator to help bring about social and economic justice. He received the 2015 Hershel Walker ‘Peace and Justice’ Award from the Missouri/Kansas Friends of the People’s World as co-chair of the Ferguson Don’t Shoot Coalition.

Intergenerational Age Cafe – 6/14/16 Event

Age Cafe 1 of 3Our June 14, 2016 Intergenerational Age Cafe was our biggest event ever! Nearly one hundred participants across the age spectrum gathered at the NY Society for Ethical Culture to interact with dynamic and engaged people, enjoy delicious refreshments, and discover new ways to recognize and confront the injustices of ageism.

Age Cafe 2 of 3Working with the World Café* model, participants broke into smaller groups for candid discussions on various aspects of aging, highlights of which were shared with the whole room. It was thrilling to encounter so many participants, including many young people, who got the message and are eager to help raise consciousness of ageism within their own communities.

We thank our co-sponsors for helping make this event so exciting: Emerging Aging, the Gray Panthers and the Transition Network.

Age Cafe 3 of 3* The Age Café is based on a model of engaging people in conversations that matter called the “World Café,” which is a powerful social technology offering an effective antidote to the fast-paced fragmentation and lack of connection in today’s world. Based on the understanding that conversation is the core process that drives personal, business, and organizational life, the World Café is more than a method, a process, or technique; it’s a way of thinking and being together sourced in a philosophy of conversational leadership.

Share Your Story – Have you experienced and/or confronted ageism recently? Come across a company that portrays older people in a positive, realistic way? Have you already formed a consciousness-raising group of your own? Please share your story with us.

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Ageism and Budget Decisions in NYC – 5/19/16 Event

The Impact of Ageism on Budget Decisions in NYC

Thu, May 19, 2016
6:30 pm – 8 p.m.

NYPH / Health Outreach
420 E 76 St.(bet York & 1st)
1st floor

Location of Our May 19 EventPresenter:
Bobbie Sackman, M.S.W., Director of Public Policy at LiveOn NY

By 2030, 1 in 5 New Yorkers will be over 60. That is a significant increase and provides an opportunity to change the way we view aging in New York!

Ageism, the discrimination and invisibility of older adults is a reality that impacts older New Yorkers every day and is embedded in politics and institutions.

The issues that are impacted by ageist attitudes during the NYC budget process, include; Access to Services, Caregiving, Cultural Competence, Disability, Economic Security, Elder Abuse, Healthcare, Housing, Hunger, Mental Health, Social Isolation, and Transportation.

To Confront Elder Abuse, We Have to Confront Ageism

How can a grandson plot to steal the last of grandma’s savings? How can a daughter leave her frail mother tied to the bed while she is at work all day? How can neighbors say and do nothing when they notice the bruises on Mrs. Schwartz’ arms? How can friends not investigate when Sally hasn’t shown up for lunch at the senior center for over a week now? It all sounds so unconscionable, and yet it happens far too frequently. What, one has to wonder, allows someone to perform these atrocious acts? After all, these are not strangers; they are family and friends.

The New York City Department for the Aging (DFTA) announced today that the agency will launch a city-wide campaign to raise awareness about elder abuse – a form of abuse that involves victimization of an older person by a loved one – and to encourage all New Yorkers to report suspected abuse to 311.  This is a great step towards confronting one of society’s greatest moral crimes. However, we cannot confront elder abuse without also confronting age discrimination.

Ageism and Elder AbuseJust as racism is the underlying systemic cause of the injustices suffered by people of color, and just as sexism is the underlying systemic cause of the injustices suffered by women (rape is a big one here), ageism is one of the main underlying causes of elder abuse. Elder abuse is made easier when we look at the old people in our society as being “other” than us. After all, if they are not us, it is easier to allow ourselves to be blind to the humanity of the oldest and most vulnerable among us.

Ageism may not be the sole cause of elder abuse, but it sure does make elder abuse easier to justify Living in an age segregated society that worships youth, it is not that difficult to make the connection between ageism and elder abuse. After all, if old people are not considered part of our world of humanity, they are dehumanized. “Why do they have to use the subway when they are so slow climbing the stairs; don’t they have any consideration for the rest of us?” “They are such a burden on society.” “Why would grandma need her money anyway? She’s only going to die soon, so we may as well put that money to use now. Why wait?

We are all aging from the moment we are born, and we seem to accept this reality until we become old ourselves. Once someone is classified as old, they are no longer like us. After all, we are young; they are old. They are no longer relevant to our ever-growing and changing society. They are finished contributing to our culture; they are now living off our culture. All they do is take while the rest of us are constantly giving. But, what can an old person really give to a society, especially when they stop adding to our gross national profit? (Which they really never do as long as we understand healthcare is a commodity.)

I also suggest that as families live further and further apart, the young are not always privileged to have the first-hand experience seeing the aging process at work. When the call comes that grandpa, who lives 500 miles away, fell and broke his hip, we are surprised. Our mind’s picture of grandpa is of the strong athletic old guy who taught us how to throw a ball when we were 7 years old. We haven’t allowed ourselves to see him as he really is, no different than the ancient old man who lives upstairs from us who can’t take care of himself. We would really rather not think of OUR grandfather or father as being one of them…those old people. Once grandma and grandpa, or mom and dad for that matter, show signs of ageing, we’re outta’ there. It’s too frightening for us to identify with these old people. “I’m never going to be like that!” Yet, if we are lucky, we will all be as old as grandpa some day.

Why is it necessary to address ageism while we fight elder abuse? Here’s a story that best illustrates the answer.


Once upon a time there was a small village on the edge of a river. The people there were good and life in the village was good.

One day a villager noticed a baby floating down the river. The villager quickly swam out to save the baby from drowning. The people of the village gathered around. The cleaned and fed the baby and made him a cradle so she would be comfortable.

The next day this same villager noticed two babies in the river. He called for help, and both babies were rescued from the swift waters. Again the villagers gathered around. They cleaned and fed these 2 new babies and made them cradles so they would be warm and comfortable.

The following day four babies were seen caught in the turbulent current. And then eight, then more, and still more!

The villagers organized themselves quickly, setting up watchtowers and training teams of swimmers who could resist the swift waters and rescue babies. Rescue squads were soon working 24 hours a day. And each day the number of helpless babies floating down the river increased. The villagers organized themselves efficiently. The rescue squads were now rescuing many children each day. The villagers felt very proud of what they were doing to save the lives of all the babies floating down the river. Indeed, the village priest blessed them in their good work. And life in the village continued on that basis.

The entire village was now dedicated to saving the babies.

One day, the leader of the village suggested that perhaps they should go up river to see where the babies were coming from. “How can we do that?”, cried the villagers, for now there was not one person in the village who was not involved with rescuing and caring for the babies. “If we don’t find out why the babies are floating down the river, we will soon become unable to rescue all the babies, and some of them will surely drown.”

The villagers realized that their leader was right. And, so, they took one villager from each team of baby rescuers to organize an expedition upstream to find out where the babies were coming from.

This is what organizing and social action is about…Not only to provide hands on help to those in need, but to find out what the systemic cause of the problem is. The Radical Age Movement believes that AGEISM is a major root cause of the elder abuse that so many older adults in our communities are faced with. If we really want to ameliorate elder abuse, it is our job to go “up the river” and eliminate the excessive ageism that is endemic to our culture.

Alice Fisher, M.A., M.S.W.
April 22, 2016

Age Cafe Event Summary – 3/28/16

The Radical Age Movement Brings the Age Café to Columbia University’s School of Social Work

On Monday, March 28, 2016, The Radical Age Movement was invited to demonstrate our Inter-generational Age Café in collaboration with student members of the Aging Caucus at Columbia’s Social Work School.  Although we ran this program before, this was the first time we were assured that we would be working with a truly inter-generational group of people. Forty people participated in the demonstration, 20 young adults and 20 older adults.  The workshop was co facilitated by Alice Fisher, 70, Founder of The Radical Age Movement, and Angela Hu, 29, a second year Columbia social work student.

Alice Fisher & Angela Hu
The Age Café is based on a model of engaging people in conversations that matter called the “World Café.” The World Café is a powerful social technology offering an effective antidote to the fast-paced fragmentation and lack of connection in today’s world. Based on the understanding that conversation is the core process that drives personal, business, and organizational life, the World Café is more than a method, a process, or technique – it’s a way of thinking and being together sourced in a philosophy of conversational leadership.

The World Café methodology is a simple, effective, and flexible format for hosting large group dialogue.  The process usually begins with the first of three or more twenty minute rounds of conversation for small groups.  At the end of the twenty minutes, each member of the group moves to a different new group, while the group facilitator remains the host of the original circle, welcomes the next group and briefly fills them in on what happened in the previous round.

Our challenge was to figure out how to exercise this process, which is usually at least 3 or 4 hours long, within the 90 minute framework allotted by Columbia.  Although an extremely short amount of time, we could not pass up the opportunity to bring the different generations together.

Because of the time restrictions we formulated only 2 questions to be addressed during this workshop.  #1 was “When you think of ageing, what feelings do these thoughts provoke, and what are your fears?”  #2 was “What can we do as a society to ameliorate the rise in age discrimination?”  Participants were given two rounds to discuss question #1 and one round to discuss question #2.  Members of Radical Age’s steering committee served as group facilitators.

What is the significance of holding inter-generational programs like this?  

Scene at the Age CafeMany of the younger and older participants were separated by two generations.  The concerns of many of the students who are about to enter the world to pursue their careers are very different from those of us who were in the same position 50 years ago.  Meanwhile, those of us who are entering our older years are also experiencing a different environment than our parents did when they made the decision to retire and enjoy their “golden years.”  What this tells us is that there is no longer a blueprint to guide either cohort on their life’s journey.  It is up to all of us, young and old, to create a new blueprint for the generations to follow.  Each group cannot do this alone.  Only together can they travel this unexplored territory and  learn from each other along the way.

One fact that was evident is that both cohorts are greatly affected by the current economic climate.  Younger participants expressed their worry about finding a job and leading an independent life, while realizing that they may have go back to the nest and live with mom and dad until they can accomplish what was for us olders a given.  The jobs were waiting for us.  We were exceeding our parents’ accomplishments without much concern that this would not happen.  We also did not enter the adult world bogged down with the outrageous school loans that these students are chained to.

Our older conversants were also concerned about the economy.  Many feel that they will not have the financial resources to care for themselves.  Age discrimination has forced many out of the job market.  Longevity and advances in medical technology has created a new and vital cohort along the life span; and, yet, this cohort (people between 60 and 80) remains for the most part invisible.

Scene at the Age CafeConversations about our youth obsessed culture were plentiful, as were conversations about education, healthcare, and the workplace.

It is with great appreciation that we thank the students from Columbia’s Social Work School’s Aging Caucus for inviting and helping us introduce the Inter-generational Age Café.  We also thank the students and Radical Agers who participated in the process

Encouraged by the positive feedback from everyone involved, we are going to do it again!  We are now planning a full Inter-generational Age Café for June.  We will be sharing the sponsorship of the event with The Transition Network and other interested organizations.  We are excited about the opportunity to share this enlightening experience with you.  If you are on our mailing list, you will receive save-the-dates and fliers about the event.  If you are not on our mailing list, please contact us to join.

Alice Fisher, M.A., M.S.W., April 14, 2016



This Chair Rocks – 3/15/16 Event

This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism
by Ashton Applewhite

Ashton Applewhite - for Mailchimp The Radical Age Movement is proud to celebrate the publication date of our steering committee member Ashton Applewhite’s This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism—a call to mobilize against discrimination on the
basis of age.

Members of The Radical Age Movement’s steering committee will be reading with commentary by Ashton. We will then hold one of our signature consciousness raising sessions as we delve deeper into the personal and political implications of these passages from This Chair Rocks.

This Chair RocksTues, March 15, 2016

6:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

New York Ethical Culture Society

2 West 64 Street
@ Central Park West

Refreshments will be served

“I want to live in a world were ageism is just a memory, and This Chair Rocks Illuminates the path.”

Dr. Bill Thomas, founder of Changing Aging

“Wow. This book totally rocks…this book has empowered me.”
Anne Lamott, New York Times best-selling author

“A knowledgeable, straight-talking, and witty book that briskly explains to anyone how-wrong-we-are-about-aging.”
Margaret Morganroth Gulette, author of Agewise

Signed copies will be available for sale.
A percentage of proceeds will go to the Radical Age Movement
Radical Age Movement header

Work Group Meeting – 3/2/16

The Radical Age Movement has been growing in interest and activity over the last year.  People have asked about creating RA chapters in Albany, Philadelphia and even New Zealand!  Our Facebook web page gets more and more traffic, and we hope to build a solid social action campaign over the next couple of months. We also have received multiple requests across NYC on how to hold a consciousness raising group.

We can and will grow—but only with the help of people like you.  By committing to two or three hours a week, you could make a vital difference in the growth of our movement. You know your areas of expertise and interest.

To turn your commitment into RA action, we led a work group meeting at 11 am on Wed, Mar. 2, 2016 at Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders, ‪360 Lexington Avenue (bet. 40th & 41st St.), 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10017‬‬.

We are holding this meeting mid-day as so many of us are already booked in the evenings. We will provide a conference call-in number if you are busy working elsewhere but can take an hour to hear from our committee leaders on what we plan on doing over the next few months. We also want to hear from you and your ideas on how we can build our group and our movement!

Please take a minute and make a commitment to become an active member of a work group in Radical Aging.  Thank you!

The Radical Age Movement Steering Committee

Sex Over 50 - Join Us At Our Next Event

Sex Over 50 – 2/24/16 Event

Sex Over 50:
Ageism and the Making of a Quiet Epidemic

Wed, Feb. 24, 2016
6:30 PM – 8 PM
NY Ethical Culture Society
2 West 64th Street (Central Park West)
New York, NY

Did you know that sexual relationships don’t stop just because people get older?

On Wed, Feb. 24, 2016, we learned about ageism, perceptions and reality of older adults and sexuality from Tosia McCormick, MS, LMHC.

When Did I Get Old: A Conversation Between 2 Friends

by Alice Fisher, M.A., M.S.W.                                                                                           February 1, 2016

Women relaxing with coffee Source: 86489260

”Do you really want to know what’s bothering me?” “When,” asks my friend Karen, “did I become old?”

I am so taken aback that this question would come from my 70 year old creative, caring, smart, attractive, and always busy friend who always looks so stylish.

We are both 70 years old.  At first I’m not sure if this is a real question or just a rhetorical point that Karen is about to make.  I wonder if she really wants an answer.  I reply, “Well, for one thing, we are old.”  “I know that,” Karen responded. “Yet, up until recently I didn’t feel old, and now I do.”  “When did this happen?”  In the silence following Karen’s remark, I can tell that she is serious and is really looking for an answer.

“What are we talking about here, Karen?” I ask.  “I’m not sure,” she replies.  “It seems that wherever I go, I’m the old lady in the room.  If I go to the gym, everyone looks 30 to me.  When I show up for an appointment, I can just tell that they expected a younger person.  I fear every single day that I will lose my job.   And, when I’m doing something that requires the least amount of physical agility, there is always someone who wants to help me even though I’m capable of doing it myself.  The only good I can see in ageing is that I no longer have a problem getting a seat on the subway. There is always some younger person who offers me her seat.  Just the other day I asked my son to show me how to do something on my computer.  His response to me was, “Here, mom, let me do it for you.  It’s really difficult to learn these things at your age.”  “He made me so angry!”

It’s Karen’s environment that is making her feel old.  Karen, just like the rest of us, is internalizing the messages that are being projected onto her by the society we live in.  Let’s face it.  It’s the actions of others and the messages we see in the media that often make us feel old.  And, in today’s society this is not difficult to imagine.  Just the word “old” is loaded with covert meanings.  Let’s be real here. In our post modern culture, young equals good, while old equals bad.  And, yet, everyone wants to live to be very old.  “It’s a great blessing to be granted the status of being old”, I say.  “Sure,” says Karen, “as long as your hair isn’t grey.  What do you think?  Should I dye it?”

Age discrimination can be dangerous.  Every day our youth-centric culture bombards us with messages that tell us we can look ‘better’, which is covert language for ‘younger’. Do we really believe these ad headlines:  “How Science Can Make 60 Feel Like 40” or “Wrinkles Amazingly Disappear Overnight”?  Somebody does because these ads run over and over again, and the manufacturers and distributors are laughing all the way to the bank.  What is at stake here are feelings of irrelevancy and marginalization.  No wonder so many people, both women and men, are buying into cosmetic surgery.  This is not vanity.  It is an attempt to stay relevant.

We are segregated.  We are marginalized.  We are oppressed.  And all this can easily become internalized as feelings of worthlessness.  Becca Levy, Ph.D., a psychologist and doctor at Yale University, has done quite a bit of research in this area.  Her results demonstrate that older people who are subject to negative stereotypes of ‘old’ are not only mentally but also physically less resilient than those who see ‘old’ as a positive stage of life.  Older people who internalize the negative stereotypes are more likely to shorten their life span.

This is an ongoing conversation between me and Karen.  I’m interested in asking my friend what ‘old’ feels like to her.  As Ashton Applewhite writes in her new book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, “the question is not how old we feel but how we feel about ‘old’ –or about not just being young anymore.”

Stay tuned for Part II.





Ageism in Medicine – 1/20/16 Event

Ageism in Medicine

Wed, Jan. 20, 2016
6:30 pm – 8 pm
Senior Planet Exploration Center
127 W 25 St (bet. 6th & 7th Ave)
New York, NY
Did you know that…

Ageism in Medicine 1-20-16Older people are often treated with less urgency than younger patients?  This “ageist” attitude is being recognized as a form of discrimination similar to sexism and racism.

On Jan. 20, 2016, we learned about Ageism in Medicine from Dr. Ronald Adelman, Medical Director, Irving Wright Center for Aging and Co-Chief of the Division of Geriatrics Medicine and Gerontology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

This event was co-sponsored by the Radical Age Movement and Senior Planet.

Our 2016 New Year’s Resolutions


Wishing You a Happy New Year

  • Continue to confront ageism wherever we see it

  • Create language that honors longetivity

  • Increase pride in aging

  • Work toward building an interdependent society

  • Speak up against age prejudice in our workplace, healthcare, the media, and among our friends and family

Hold the date!  Our next event will be Wed, Jan. 20, 2016.  Details to come shortly.


How Ageism Robs Us Of Our Dignity – 12/14/15 Event

The Dance of Marginality
How Ageism Robs Us Of Our Dignity

Mon, Dec. 14, 2015
6:45 PM – 7:45 PM

Activist and esteemed speaker Alice Fisher led a wonderful talk about ways to challenge and defeat ageism in and out of our communities.

Alice Fisher, MSW, is the founder of the Radical Age Movement, dedicated to confronting and eradicating age discrimination and its impact on older adults.

SAGE logo
Event location:
SAGE Center Midtown
305 Seventh Avenue (near W 27 St.)
15th Floor
Great Room A
New York, NY 10001


At the End of Life So Many Questions


At the End of Life: So Many Questions
by Alice Fisher, M.A., M.S.W
November 1, 2015

A couple of weeks ago, the front page story in the Sunday NY Times was about George Bell who was found dead in his apartment after the many days that he lay there alone. He was a hoarder and was found decomposing among his many possessions and in filth.

The horror of the situation is experienced from a distance for most of us. Surely that could never happen to anyone in MY family. And, yet, it did.

My 92 year old mother-in-law had been living independently in Florida, and for the past couple of years her advancing frailty became increasingly noticeable to us. The last time we visited we implored her to think about moving up to New York where most of her family is located. Met with her usual fierce resistance, we let it go one more time.

A couple of weeks ago we received a call from mom. She had fallen in her own home and lay on the floor for hours before anyone found her. Ironically, she was found by a messenger delivering a walker she had ordered. As a result of the fall, she had ripped the very thin layer of skin that covered her legs. There was a lot of blood, and in his wisdom the messenger called for an ambulance. When the hospital finished checking her out and bandaged her legs, they told her she could go home. She asked them to call her neighbor who picked her up and brought her home. Having had no response when this neighbor asked her to phone us in the past, this time her neighbor insisted that mom call us in her presence.

Mom had no advocate at the hospital, which I assume is the reason they took no tests and no notice of her deteriorating condition…not even a call to her doctor. There was no follow up and no instructions about how to care for her wounds, which I subsequently discovered had to be redressed daily. There were no arrangements made for a visiting nurse to attend to this, although it had to be obvious that this was not something she could do on her own.

I was soon to find out that this was just one of many times she had fallen in the past months. Each time her neighbor implored her to call her children, and each time mom promised she would. When she would see her neighbor, mom would assure her that she had phoned her sons. She never called us. And when we called her, she told us that everything was good. Between her children, grandchildren, and great grand children, she received calls almost daily. None of us suspected that anything was wrong. She never asked for help.

This day, however, her astute neighbor gave her no choice but to make that call. As mom began relating the story, still insisting that she was okay, we noticed instantly that her speech was slurred. On arrival at her home the next evening, the front door was unlocked, which was completely out of character, and I was instantly assaulted by the odor of urine and feces the moment I stepped into the entryway.

To my complete shock, I found a wasted away 85 pound person sitting in filth in a filthy house. She bore only a slight resemblance to the woman I’ve known for over 50 years. Under normal circumstances, she would have been mortified to be found in this condition. She was coherent but foggy, and she could not remember much of how she got this way. She just wanted to be left alone to sleep.

Of all the possible scenarios the family talked about before I left, this was not one we expected to find. I knew instantly that I had to get her back to New York with me. I told her that my mission was to take her home to her family. Her immediate response was, “No you’re not!” She could no longer walk unaided; and even with the walker it was most difficult. There was not enough strength in her arms to enable her to pull herself up to use the walker. She could no longer bathe or toilet herself. Wearing pull up diapers, the effort to get to the bathroom was too much for her, so she just sat in the same diaper all day.

How can this have happened? She could not have found herself in this condition overnight. Where were her neighbors? Where were her friends? (Her closest friend said to me, “I’ve suggested many times that she get a walker, and your mother-in-law’s response was ‘Don’t EVER say that word to me again!’”) Where was her doctor who she had seen only a week earlier? (He told her that her feet and hands were swollen because she probably had too much salt in her diet and to go home and rest with her feet up.) What about the hospital where she was taken after this last fall?* They took no tests and would not consider admitting her? The biggest question is “Why didn’t she ask for help?”

She was certainly complicit in her own demise, having ignored the advice of friends and neighbors, never asking her family for help, not eating, and accepting diagnoses from incompetent doctors and hospital staff without question. Was her denial so deep, or did she stop eating and not ask for help purposely? I don’t think we will ever know.

What if she never called us? What if the man delivering the walker hadn’t found her? She was so precipitously hanging on to life I have no doubt that if we hadn’t received the phone call and acted so quickly, she would have been found in the same condition as Mr. Bell…D.O.A.

One lesson from this tragic story is that a phone call is not a good enough way to check on an elderly person, particularly when that person is frail.

What about the bigger picture? Why didn’t she ask for help? Why didn’t her friends or neighbors contact us? We are a society that has moved so far toward valuing independence and individuality, we forget or don’t want to admit that nobody gets through life successfully without any help. Add to this the fear of being politically incorrect if we infringe on an individual’s privacy and independence by sending for help, even if it means protecting a life.

Whether help comes from mentors or teachers, from parents, friends, family, or neighbors, or from the government in the form of “entitlements”, everyone needs help at one time or another. And it is not only those who are ill, dying, or living in poverty who need help. Everyone needs help to survive in our society. We cannot all pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We seem to have collective amnesia when it comes to community caring.

The experience of bathing and diapering a frail elderly person, as I had to do for mom, sends a very clear message that a frail elderly person can require no less help than a newborn baby. We accept the premise that newborns need help coming into this world, while we often don’t acknowledge the help many of us need as we near our time to leave this world. I have to question the role of ageism in this distorted view of independence. Why don’t we have any system of national long term care?

Words in our lexicon that have taken on dubious meaning, include; interdependence, help, individuality, interference, old, frail, weak, and even tired. Asking for help needs to be considered a strength, not a weakness. Making it to one’s eighth or ninth decade needs to be considered an achievement, not a failure.

We need to confront age discrimination in all its forms; by the healthcare system, by our legislators, by the work force, by the media, by our own families, as well as the internalized ageism adopted by the elderly members of our society. All of these forms of ageism came into play for my mother-in-law.

Mom is now in New York with her family nearby. After a lengthy hospital stay, she is now in a long term care facility where she is receiving the 24/7 care she needs as she nears the end of her life. The family expects no miracles, we are just happy that she can leave the world with the dignity she deserves.

*Upon my arrival in Florida and with the help of extended family, I did take her back to the same hospital where she was taken when she fell a couple of days earlier. Interestingly, the medical staff now took all kinds of tests, showed us how to re-dress her wounded legs with instructions to perform this task daily. We did not have to ask for the tests or medical attention. They did what they should have done when she was brought in two days earlier. This time mom was not alone. We were there as her advocates and witnesses. I did ask them to admit her…pleaded is a more accurate description. The hospital refused. In New York, not only was she admitted to the hospital, she was found to have a major infection that was spreading throughout her body. It would seem that none of the medical personnel in Florida, not her doctor, nor the hospital staff, deemed this test necessary.


What is The Radical Age Movement?

Multi-ethnic multi-generation group of people from young children to 95 years old.

People are living longer, and yet we as a society don’t know how to make the best use of these extra years.  And, because of our fears and negative stereotypes about ageing, we’re not just ignoring the potential value–we’re often making things worse.

We need new social visions that will inspire and support people to grow and participate actively throughout their entire lives.  No age-segregation or pitting generation against generation–we want a society that works for us all.  We can’t leave it to ‘experts’ to tell us how to age ‘well’ or ‘successfully’ or to an ageing industrial complex that sees older adults as a dependent group or growing market of consumers.

It’s up to us.  It’s time for a Radical Age Movement, a grassroots nationwide effort that challenges traditional notions of ageing and introduces new ideas for building co-creative and interdependent communities.

Working together, we can:

  • Challenge ageism – in ourselves, social practices, policies, and institutions;
  • Create new language and models that embrace the full life journey;
  • Create new paradigms in society so that adults can participate fully consistent with their capabilities and ambitions at all stages of life;
  • Celebrate the contributions of older adults toward innovating, changing and repairing the world;
  • Create a more compassionate and interdependent society that supports the well-being of people of all ages;
  • Inspire and help develop cross-generational communities where people of all ages enjoy the gifts and capacities they have to offer;
  • Bring dying and death out of the closet.

Through conversation, consciousness raising, mainstream and social media, presentations, and social action, The Radical Age Movement seeks to build a movement dedicated to confronting ageism in all its forms whether it be discrimination in the work place or marginalization of older or younger people in decision making and purposeful participation in all aspects of civic and community life.


Consciousness Raising: Its Time Has Come Again

by Alice Fisher. M.S.W.

Like many women my age, I participated in the feminist consciousness raising movement of the sixties. It was a powerful vehicle for exploring our innermost feelings about being women, mothers, daughters, wives, and our role in society. For many of us it was the first time we confronted the issue of misogyny (or even knew what it meant) and, not the least, got to touch our own misogynist inclinations having grown up in a male dominant society.

Here I am over 40 years later doing the same thing. Only this time, the topic that my consciousness raising group is exploring is ageism and what it means to grow old. A main difference between our aging consciousness raising group and the feminist groups of the past is that the group is made up of both men and women. Aging makes no gender distinction, and we all grew up in this virulent youth culture that says young equals good and old equals…well, let’s say, not so good. We are a 10-person group, aged 60 to 85. We meet every week for 1-1/2 hours. In order to make it easier for the group, we meet in person every other week. On the weeks in between, we connect virtually through our computers. To our surprise, this has proved to work remarkably well. Our hope is that as we confront our own ageist attitudes we will be able to change the way we perceive aging ourselves and hopefully change society’s ageist attitude towards the old and elderly.

Ageism is an interesting prejudice. Aging is the common denominator for everyone who is born. If fortunate, we are all going to get old. We are all going to die. So being judgmental about people just because of their age, or their wrinkles, or their slower pace, is sowing the seeds for our own internalized ageism.

As we progress in our own consciousness raising initiative, we are creating a manual detailing how to start an aging consciousness raising group so that others can benefit from the work we are doing and to guide them in starting their own groups. Our experience is sometimes smooth flowing and other times bumpy. It is our intention to smooth out all the bumps before we pass the information along to others who have an interest in doing this work.

So, what do we talk about in these sessions? Sometimes we have a topic prepared so that members can reflect on it before we meet. Other times the issue that we begin talking about arises organically out of conversation…many times it is a question that someone asks or a situation in which they find themselves and feel that age or ageism is part of the problem. Recently, we spent two entire sessions on the topic of “help”…how we ask for help, how we offer help. Which is better…being independent or interdependent? Most of us were raised to value autonomy. The message was that we should be able to do everything by ourselves. To ask for help was a sign of weakness. As we age, do we still feel that way? What makes it easier for us to accept help? Many of us have experienced push back from our own parents when we determined that they could no longer function on their own.

We talk about the elders with whom we have had relationships and how those relationships shaped our thinking about aging. We share stories. We share our innermost feelings about our own aging. And, we talk about the advantages of being old and the contribution that older adults give to society. Sometimes we are exploring new territory, and sometimes we are looking at relics that are outdated. We have noted the conflation of the aged and the disabled. Does someone’s physical abilities make them either old or young? What about the older adult who has an expansive mind, always curious, always learning? Is she defined by her wrinkles or her mind? We are all guilty of ageism at one time or another.

I’ll end this with a personal story. My husband and I had the opportunity to be with old friends that we had not seen for a very long time. On the way home, our conversation started something like this; “Did you see Kathy? Doesn’t she look great!” “Yeah, but did you see Susan; she is not aging well at all?” “I can’t believe Joe uses a walker to get around. He was such a great athlete.” “But then there’s Dan who looks so young for his age.” In mid-sentence I stopped myself. “Can you believe where we are going with this conversation?” I asked. “What ageists we are”. The first thing we noticed was how young or how old everyone looked. No mention of who accomplished what or overcame obstacles in their lives.

We immediately went for the jugular because we are both in the same consciousness raising group.  We were able to catch ourselves and reflect on how automatically we were equating the way our friends looked with how old they are. Why does Dan have to look good for his age? Can’t he just look good! How do we know that Susan is not aging well? Just because she has more wrinkles on the outside has nothing to do with how she feels or who she is on the inside. We just automatically went into our own ageist rant.

Would we have recognized the ageist language we were using if we weren’t part of an ageing consciousness raising group? I doubt it. Finally, from another group member who had previously told us how she detested anyone who offered her a seat on the subway because it made her feel old. After only a couple of sessions, she said, “I actually accepted the offer of a seat on the train today,and I felt quite good about it. I don’t think I would have been so gracious if we had not been discussing these issues.”


Ageism and The Dance of Marginality

by Alice Fisher, M.A., M.S.W.

“I know I’m going to get older. I can handle that.  I even know that I am going to die.  What bothers me the most, though, is the thought of becoming irrelevant.”  This statement was made by a 69 year old man who is a member of my consciousness raising group.

Old people are becoming less and less a minority in our country.  Quite to the contrary; today, approximately 18 per cent of people living in the United States are 60 years old and older. By 2050, people over 60 will make up over 25 per cent of the population…hardly a small minority.  When we marginalize a group of people, we are pushing them to the edge of humanity and according them lesser importance.  Their needs and desires are then ignored.  When ageism is in action, this is exactly what happens.  Ageist language and media portrayals of old people encourage this marginalization.

Ageism can be very subtle, or as one of my colleagues describes it, “slow-drip” oppression.  It creeps up on us, sometimes without our ever knowing we are being oppressed until we find ourselves in the outer margins of society.

Nobody wants to be pushed to the edge of society.  Yet, older adults teeter on this edge…always dancing on the line between inclusion and exclusion.  In today’s society pride in age is hard to find.  It’s no wonder that older people often hide their true age.  Stop for a moment, and ask yourself, “why?”  Many of us tend to think of this practice as vanity, but consider that the true answer may be fear…fear of becoming irrelevant.  So, what do we do?  We drink the “Kool-Aid” dispersed by the media and the anti-aging industry; the message is, If you don’t look young enough, you too will be marginalized.  Not only is the advertising deceptive, it is detrimental to our overall health.

Not wanting to be relegated to the outer margins, we support the anti-ageing industrial complex, spending hard-earned money on anti-aging products, medical and non-medical procedures, and cosmetic or plastic surgery.  When we do this, are we just satisfying our own vanity or are we hoping to buy a few more years of relevancy?  The dance of marginality seems to start younger and younger these days, with people in their forties and some even in their thirties seeking out a magic bullet that will make them seem to appear younger than their true age.  For those of us who are older, however, one day you are a vital contributing member of society and only a few wrinkles later, you are dancing on the margins again, trying to figure out how to get back to the other side before you are turned into a trivial appendage, maybe even a burden, to the current social order.

Ageism in itself can cause a more rapid decline of our physical and mental health as we edge  closer to the end of our lives.  Researchers have proven that older people who are constantly subjected to negative stereotypes of their age cohort often internalize these messages.  As a result of this internalized ageism, their own self esteem is affected; and this leads to both physical and mental health issues.  In addition, recent research has shown that those who accept their age and feel the wonderful combination of beauty and wisdom in their own selves are mentally and physically healthier than those who feel the pressure of having to conceal their true age.  Many of us just keep on dancing.

Who is doing all this dancing?  First and foremost are the “invisibles.”  The “invisibles” are healthy people between the ages of 60 and 80 who are not ready to “retire” in the way that traditional retirement has been socially constructed.  This cohort is the most skillful at the dance of marginality; they get in a lot of rehearsal time.  They know that if they don’t enter the dance contest, they will automatically lose. And, they can lose a lot.  Mostly, they can lose their financial security and, with that, their dignity.

You may have noticed that the age of the traditional concept of old has been pushed back quite a bit, with people living 10, 15, and some even 20 years longer than previous generations. In many ways the invisibles are in the prime of their lives.  Yet, they are constantly maneuvering to remain inclusive members of society. Most catastrophic is the cold shoulder they bear from American workforce.  If they are not still in their career jobs, they find themselves traveling a road that leads them closer and closer to the margins of society.

A lovely 85 year old woman came to visit me in my office one day.  She was carrying a rather large umbrella.  “Is it raining?,” I asked.  “No,” she replied; I just refuse to be seen using a cane.”  Even at 85, she is still dancing.  To appear completely autonomous is her goal.  Afraid to admit that she may need some help, she struggles to keep up the appearance for fear that she will not be perceived as the smart woman she is.  The way our society is constructed, it takes more courage to ask for help than it does to manage on our own regardless of the consequences. It is the American way, to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and rely only on yourself to get where you’re going.   Another octogenarian told me “if I show the slightest sign of  not being able to live independently, my children will whisk me into the nearest assisted living facility.”  She knows this, and so she dare not let her age show.  She, too, keeps on dancing.

Fear seems to be the main reason why so many of us are caught up in this dance of marginality. There are other times and other places where older adults have been embraced by society.  For so many, this is no longer true.  Old people are often segregated, put aside, or discarded completely. They are often treated as if they are diseased. We need to start changing the way we view and interact with the older adults around us. Old age is not contagious.

The ageing process, including the end of life, is part of the course of the lifespan.  Ageing is not a disease to be treated; it is a gift to be accepted.  It is an accomplishment to be proud of.  Older adults should not feel as though they have to “sing for their dinner,” nor should any of us have to “dance for our dignity.”

Offering a Subway Seat

How I REALLY Feel About Growing Older

by Jane Gross, Author & Journalist

The woman on the standing-room-only bus on Madison Ave. could be 50, 75 or anywhere in between. Likely as not, she colors her hair. If she has a Medicare card it’s tucked safely in her wallet.

She is unburdened by packages, fit, healthy and not leaning on a cane. In other words, she is doing fine, thank you very much, hanging onto the pole.

Then one day, and it seems to happen overnight, other passengers are gallantly urging her to take their seats. The appropriate reaction is appreciation for an all-too-rare random act of kindness. But a large, if unscientific, poll of women of a certain age suggests otherwise.

What we want to do, it shames me to say, is deck this generous stranger. It’s a primal scream of sorts because we aren’t who we used to be and never will be again.

Soon we’ll be a year older, and then another and another on the inexorable march from young to old to dead. If we no longer have a job and want one, our business card may say “consultant,” this generation’s euphemism for unemployed. If we once had a big fancy position and people recognize our names, flattery vies with desolation. In our head, a little voice says, “Yeah, I’m proud. But that was ‘then,’ this is ‘now’ and ‘then’ was better.”

The enormity of the Baby Boom generation, accustomed to setting the agenda, makes the question of “How old is old?” salient to pollsters, marketers and just plain folks. Evidence abounds that “old” is in the eye of the beholder. A recent Marist poll shows that 45-year-olds think 60 is old, while those in their 70s and 80s think it’s young.

A report by the Pew Research Center says that few people use gray hair and retirement as benchmarks of old age, but rather the inability to live independently or drive. (In the lingua franca of gerontology, this is the divide between the young-old and the old-old, a recent distinction.)

The Minneapolis Star Tribune, in a column largely about the $4.6 trillion (cq: T as in trillion) in economic activity generated by those over 50, asks, “Do you become a senior at 50 when you qualify for AARP discounts? Or in your 60s when you begin collecting social security?” This matters to marketers, eager not to insult potential customers and leads to politically-correct language, more patronizing than the words themselves.

And not only patronizing but beside the point. Do 65-year-olds, with a lifetime of wisdom and experience, find involuntary unemployment less troubling if they are called “seniors” or if they are counted among the “gray tsunami?” More likely they fume at being told they are “over-qualified” when they really are too expensive, in salary and especially medical benefits. Where those benefits are concerned the employers are factually correct, although it likely requires fleets of $450-an-hour lawyers to keep them out of court for age discrimination.

Which brings us to how much time so many of us spend at the doctor, although we’re not sick. Cataracts? Everyone loses vision to stiffening lenses at around 60. Slight hearing loss? Yup, and with it the annoying habit of asking “What? What?” more with every passing day. We also go to lots of funerals, the expected ones as our parents die and the tragic ones of our contemporaries. Even an indifferent or secular Jew, like myself, learns to say Kaddish, the mourner’s prayer, rather than mumble through it.

Maybe we should be grateful for unemployment, since it’s hard to imagine how working people fit this in their schedules, along with other tasks like applying for a senior MetroCard (which requires a passport picture, a notary’s stamp, pages of questions and then often gets lost in the mail) or a STAR property tax discount (paper copy of last year’s tax return with all schedules and attachments, proof of age from a government document and, in cooperative apartments, the number of shares and contact information for the management company).

Then, there’s the galling if well-intended happy talk about re-inventing yourself, usually presented in listicles (yes, we know what those are). Pick a day at random and look at one of the many websites that promise to help you make the most out of life’s second half. The latest to land in my inbox includes “Three Questions to Help You Find Your Purpose” and “Five Ways to Infuse Meaning in Your Second Life.”

Is three better than five or vice versa? Maybe just a sense of humor would do the trick.

Take the ubiquitous experience of walking from one room to another, a few steps away. That’s where you left your glasses, but by the time you get there you can’t remember why you came. Standing befuddled in the doorway, you ask yourself, “What am I doing here?”

It’s an interesting way to frame the question: Both practical and existential. The existential version is laugh-out-loud funny. And while enjoying the joke, the glasses show up on the night table, their appointed place.

Originally appeared in the Huffington Post,

morphing woman

Aging While Female is not Your Worst Nightmare

I’m going to tell you a story that is so common and so troubling it is effectively split off from the emotional lives of young women, tucked away into whatever neural recesses exist for the purpose of shelving information that feels irrelevant yet distantly threatening. I wonder if young women will read this? The irony is that they probably won’t, and the silently nodding heads will be ones that are graying, like mine.

After passing out of childhood and into puberty, I, like most women, entered a three-decade phase of my life that included an adolescence and young adulthood that was peppered with the sexual harassment, sexism in the workplace, mommy wars, pay gaps, and gendered put-downs that few females escape. It was a huge chunk of time. The issues feminism took up during those years were critical, and they continue to be. I am grateful to all of the women and men who fought and continue to fight for women’s equality, reproductive rights, and freedom from violence and harassment. It is brave and necessary work.

But then something happened, and if not for the mirrors in my house, I would be very confused about what changed and why. Young women, you’ll experience this too, some day. You’ll catch your reflection and your breath at the same time and be abruptly reminded that your exterior no longer matches how you feel inside, and that it now undermines the power of your voice, the voice that took decades to build up. I was talking about this to a friend recently who is 50, one year younger than I am. She said, “Oh wow. I remember my grandmother telling me the exact same thing about being shocked by her reflection in the mirror because she still felt like a young woman inside, and she was 80.” So this probably will not end for me, nor for any of us given the gift of not dying young. It bears remembering.

Men do not catcall me anymore, and I’m happy to have aged out of that, although some of my friends are not. My daughter is grown, so the mommy wars rage on without me. I’m now happy to be self-employed—an escape hatch from workplace sexism that is not available to all women, and one that I fully appreciate. I charge what I want as a consultant and will never again stumble across information at the office that a male co-worker who is younger, less educated and less experienced than me makes more money than me simply because he belongs to the penis-owning gender. I am not free of the physical and sexual dangers all women live with, but they have receded somewhat for me at this stage of my life.

All of this liberation, however, is not entirely freeing. I have simply been transported into the next phase of sexism that comes with middle age, and it’s a dramatic change well illustrated metaphorically by the female body that is ogled and objectified transforming into the female body that is invisible. If the loudest and most heralded voices of contemporary feminism most often belong to the youngest and most sexually appealing women, is this not a hypocritical replication within feminism of what happens in our patriarchal society at large?

I’m looking at perhaps three more decades of my life that will be shaped to some degree by not only misogyny, but by the intersection of misogyny and ageism. That’s a whole bunch of years I never gave the slightest thought to when I was younger. No older woman ever demanded that I think about the fact that it would eventually happen to me. No one asked that I care about it, respond to it, and recognize the unfairness of what can sometimes feel like a one-way feminist street. I temporarily stopped the oncoming freight train of ageism right in its tracks with my indifference, like everyone else my age did. Even in my late-30’s, middle age seemed light years away. I did not read articles like this. They were not about me.

When I recall how I thought about middle-aged and older women when I was younger, I realize I bought into American stereotypes and did so mindlessly. I ascribed to older women a lack of relevance and an inability to contribute meaningfully to a world and a dialogue that was no longer “theirs,” as if ownership of culture rationally belongs to any particular age group over others. My ideas came from where? Television? Movies? Magazines? How silly.

Must this lesson only be learned woman by woman, with the passage of time, and not by the perspicacious use of ones eyes and ears? Because women like me are writing and talking. Trees in the forest are falling. I ask that young women hear. Elective deafness will not stop the train. It will keep rolling down the track, silently and dispassionately. It always arrives.

For me, aging as a woman in America is less about injustices done to me than it is about a subtle undermining of my place within this society and a not-so-subtle disrespect that pops up more with each passing year. For example, if I condemn pornography as systemically damaging to women, it is my age that provokes my labeling as a prude and a pearl-clutcher. It cannot be that I base my opinion on studies and statistics and the understanding that feminism is a movement—one that supports the liberation of all women, not to be confused with individual women who choose to reduce their identities to the sexual uses and abuses of their bodies, calling that empowerment. My age sets me up for a kind of disdain only partially experienced by younger women with the same views. The wisdom that comes with age has little value to anyone but those possessing it, because wisdom is another word for old, and old is what no one wants to be.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I can tell you what it isn’t, at least for me. It isn’t to try to look or act younger. It isn’t to write blog posts about how hot/thin/beautiful/sexy middle-aged women are. They are, but wasting my written voice on championing shallow efforts at continued conformity to what is expected of women in a patriarchal society does not feel productive. It is an insidious capitulation. It entices women my age to trade away opportunities to weigh in on important matters for a chance to be among the “seen” again. I won’t play a game I despise, and that I did not create and cannot win.

To be an aging woman in America is to be constantly bombarded by imagery and media that distance your younger feminist sisters from you, because the idea of no longer resembling those youthful images of femininity and becoming invisible terrifies them. I look like a typical 51-year-old, and it is just bizarre realizing that my appearance is something many young women dread.

Ageism is a life-altering injustice affecting women in ways that are different than the effects on men — different in age of onset and degree and personal consequence. If we continue to be erased in the second half of our lives, we will remain stuck in a perpetual cycle of conflating youth with greater social relevance in the first half of our lives, and the patriarchal axiom that women are only valuable when they are young, hot and fertile will continue unchallenged.

Let’s stick together. Let’s make a conscious effort to stop putting down older women to set oneself apart from them and from an inevitable form of bigotry that cannot presently be escaped. Whatever you think of Madonna at 56, or Jamie Lee Curtis at 56, let’s acknowledge that most of us will one day be 56, if we aren’t already, and we’ll want to define for ourselves what that means.

Surely it will involve relevance and influence, whether we are singers, actors, writers, activists, or any other identity we have chosen and loved. As feminists we are stronger together than apart—women of all races, of all gender expressions, of all sexual orientations, of all socioeconomic classes, of all religions, of all ethnicities, and yes, of all ages, too.

Lori Day is an educational psychologist, consultant, and parenting coach with Lori Day Consulting in Newburyport, MA.