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Why Ageism Isn’t the Only -Ism that Matters to Us

Gray Panthers was founded on and is perhaps best known for its stance on issues that combat ageism and advocates for the rights and dignity of older persons, both in the United States and worldwide. And yet, ageism is not the only -ism that matters to us. In fact, if you look at the “About Us” section of our website, you will find that there are many social justice issues we address, ageism being only one of them.


But why don’t we just stick to ageism?


For starters, at our roots, we were and continue to be about more than ageism. Founder Maggie Kuhn herself made sure the organization focused on other concerns as well as anti-war actions (at the time the organization was founded, that war being the Vietnam War).[1] While founded on the injustice of ageism, Kuhn and others saw ageism as only one of many -isms and -phobias that needed to be addressed.


If we are to see an end to injustice and discrimination and create a humane society, we need to advocate on, and continue to stand up against, all injustices—anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, racism, classism, and ableism, to name a few. Without addressing these inequalities, we will not achieve our Gray Panther goals.


Taking a stand may mean standing in solidarity with other efforts to address these -isms and -phobias, joining others in the call for legislation and actions that seek to address these injustices, and recognizing that ageism coupled with other -isms and -phobias compounds their impact on the lives of older persons, people of color, LGBTQ+, lower income, and persons with disabilities persons, often referred to as intersectionality.


At the root of all structural injustices and prejudices is the “othering” of people or groups— treating a person or group of people as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself. If we are radically different from each other, it is easy to discriminate and justify inequality. Gray Panthers rejects discriminatory othering and promotes the understanding of how inequality for one means inequality for all.

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