You’re Never Too Old to Be an Activist

When I launched this website, my stated goal was to encourage people to consider living donation. By sharing my story of donating a kidney to my son, plus information and resources, I was hoping to make a difference and ultimately save lives of people with chronic kidney disease. Not being very tech savvy (I can hear my husband chuckling as he reads this understatement), I had to learn to speak a new “language” as a 70-year-old.

But I think now that subconsciously, I also had another goal: to inspire other people, particularly those of retirement age–and especially women–to get outside their comfort zones for what they believe in: whether it’s by dipping a toe into social media, phone banking, talking to community groups, meeting with members of Congress, or donating a kidney. (In my case, I did the last one first. The decision was easier.)

My Q & A with Maggie Kuhn was published in Retirement Living Magazine, December 1972. At only 67, as you can see, she embraced the “little old lady” look, declaring “I say we should admit we’re old and take pride in it.”

I made this discovery just a few weeks ago when I came across a New York Times article about a truly inspiring woman I interviewed for a magazine article when I was in my twenties. Maggie Kuhn, younger then than I am now, had been a social worker in Philadelphia. She had to take mandatory retirement (very common back then) at 65, when she still had so much more to offer. Maggie continued to be an activist, notably against injustices experienced by older people (she hated the term senior citizens), but also as a fighter for social justice in general.

She founded a movement called the Gray Panthers, admonishing her fellow retirees to get involved in social justice: “we have nothing to lose,” she pointed out–no fear of jeopardizing career advancement, for example. Maggie also famously said, to all of us: “speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.”

The New York Times article about her and the movement prompted my epiphany–and this blog post. It may be hubris, but I like to think that Maggie would be proud of me now for actively joining forces with other advocates and activists of all ages and continuing to try to make a difference.

Maggie, dear lady, you were a helluva role model. Thank you (by the way, my daughter is a social worker, fighting the good fight every day. You’d like her.).