As older people we should be only too aware of the importance of history. Our current fight for equality and recognition for older people parallels previous fights by women, by coloured people and by the disabled. We should be able to look at what they did and which parts of their fights were the most successful. Unfortunately the subsequent telling of their history didn’t always include the bits we need to know. All of them had an identifiable enemy such as men, white people and able bodied people. Many of these purported to be on the side of the fighters but to what extent were they actually involved in an attempt to maintain the status quo because it was in their interests?
These thoughts arose last week when I watched a discussion about ageing which involved our Age Discrimination Commissioner. She shared the platform with a youngster (i.e. under 65) and the chair was also a ‘youngster’. The latter was a senior figure in an organisation which gets a huge government grant to support the interests of older people but doesn’t seem to employ many. The fellow speaker presented his research on ageing- looking at the population over 50! The vast proportion of these would not be classed as ageing if we accept the definition of ageing I used above. This lack of definition is part of the stumbling block on such research, particularly as nearly all ‘aged research’ in Australia, and in other parts of the world, does not include older people and is therefore often inaccurate with holes in it.
This brings me back to the question of whether we should infiltrate established organisations and try to work from there or start from scratch ourselves, particularly given that at this stage we have few older people, certainly not younger people, who are aware of the problem.
I am sure that in the early days of the feminist movement there were both males and females who felt that female inequality was the way it had always been and therefore should continue to be. I actually worked with someone who had to give up work when she got married and said afterwards that she knew it would happen and therefore it was OK. It was actually the war which helped to change things. When the men returned there weren’t fewer jobs because the women had taken them but actually more because women invented them.
So where does that leave us in the fight for recognition? Do we participate in opportunities opened by those who strictly control the extent to which we can speak up or do we try to go it alone? I don’t know but with our current limited resources, both in terms of people and money, maybe we have no choice but to get into bed with the enemy!