Radical Age Kicks Off Fall with 2 Events

Members Only Salon - Wed, 9/13

Members Only Salon

Wed, Sep. 13, 5:30 PM- 7:30 PM
1 East 53 Street, lobby, NYC

The Radical Age Movement will hold its quarterly members only salon in our beautiful lobby at 1 East 53rd Street.  This will be a delightful, after-summer opportunity for members to get together over wine and light refreshments and meet new friends who share your concerns about older persons in our society. New members can join at the event or online.

Register for Members Only Salon

Why Ageism Needs a MovementWhy Ageism Needs a Movement

Thu, Sep. 14, 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Special Event at Senior Planet
127 W 25 Street (6th – 7th), NYC

The Radical Age Movement and Senior Planet are co-hosting an evening with Ashton Applewhite.  Why Ageism Needs a Movement will be held at Senior Planet, 127 West 25 St, NYC.  We’ll view Ashton’s widely successful TED talk, followed by Q & A and discussion.

Register for Why Ageism Needs a Movement

Not Yet a Member? Join Us! We’re building an inter-generational movement dedicated to confronting and eradicating age discrimination and its impact on older adults in all areas of cultural, professional and community life. Become a member today and receive a copy of of Ashton Applewhite’s acclaimed book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism.

More exciting fall events are coming – watch for details!

RAM Stays Busy During Summer Months

It may be summertime, but the RadicalAgeMovement continues to represent our members:

At Senior Resource Fair

At Senior Resource FairAlice Fisher, Founder of the RadicalAgeMovement, was honored to share the stage with Caryn Resnick, Deputy Commissioner of NYC Department for the Aging, and spoke at a ‘Town Hall’ as part of a senior resource fair sponsored by Brooklyn Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon.  Also attending was NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer.  Alice was thrilled to have the opportunity to speak to a new audience.  After Caryn and Alice spoke and answered questions posed by Assemblymember Simon, the audience asked questions.

Demonstrating Against Planned Medicaid and Medicare Cuts

On Thursday, July 6th, RadicalAgeMovement joined with Metro New York for healthcare reform and a number of other groups in a spirited demonstration against the TrumpCare plans to decimate health care for over 22 million Americans, including millions of older Americans on Medicaid and Medicare. The march, starting at 72nd and 5th Avenue, ended at David Koch’s apartment building on Park Avenue, where about 200 hundred protesters, many carrying tombstones, body bags and caskets, gave voice to their anger at such draconian measures. As the speakers made clear, the TrumpCare bill is dire.

At Health Care Demonstration

Both the Senate and House bills are as much about dramatically cutting taxes for very rich people and large, well-off health care corporations as they are about health care per se. Both bills propose trading away health care coverage for 22-23 million people, decimating Medicaid as we’ve known it for the past 50 years, weakening/eliminating important consumer protections (particularly for people with pre-existing medical conditions), and eliminating funding for family planning and sexual health services, all for these tax cuts for people and entities that don’t need them.

“Dark Money” campaign donors to members of both the Senate and House majorities who would greatly benefit from these tax cuts are now threatening to withhold any future financial support until Congresses passes a bill to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act as described above. Should such a bill be enacted, millions of US residents will suffer, their health will decline, and people will die.

At the “Koch Addiction is Killing Our Health Care” march, participants wore black; a significant number had canes, wheelchairs and walkers. We then solemnly marched to the apartment building nearby where David Koch has his New York City apartment. The marchers used symbolic body bags, coffins, and money bags to deposit at Koch’s doorstep. Radical Agers Alice Fisher and Steve Burghardt were proud to be a part of this spirited response to TrumpCare.

At Members Only Salon

At  6/28/17 Members Only Salon

On Wednesday evening, June 28th, the RadicalAgeMovement held its second Members Only Salon in the wonderful office building lobby at 1 East 53rd Street.  For this event, members were encouraged to bring a friend, and we’re happy to report that seven new members signed up to become Radical Agers! Enjoying a glass of wine and light snacks, attendees also heard from Steve Burghardt, a founding Steering Committee member and Director of Social Action and Community Organizing.  Steve announced a new initiative…”We’re Not Going Gentle Into That Night,” a campaign designed to feature vital older Americans as we wish to be seen. A number of Radical Agers signed up. Each will be featured in a two-minute clip that combines their favored style of dress (from t-shirts to classy business attire) and a short, central story on how they are continuing to live vital, engaged lives.  (If you’re interested, please email Steve and he’ll arrange to see you too!)

Mark Your Calendar! Our next Members-Only Networking Salon will be Wednesday, September 13th, at 5:30 PM.  More details to follow.

Not Yet a Member?  Join Us!

We’re building an inter-generational movement dedicated to confronting and eradicating age discrimination and its impact on older adults in all areas of cultural, professional and community life. Become a member today and receive a copy of of Ashton Applewhite’s acclaimed book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism.


Members Only Summer Salon – 6/28/17 Event

The Radical Age Movement invites you to join us at our Members Only Summer Salon:

Wed, June 28, 2017, 5:30 PM – 7:30 PM
One East 53rd Street, lobby

Benefits of Membership
Our Membership Drive Kickoff in April was a smashing success.  Members got to know each other a glass of wine and light refreshments.  They heard from RAM founder Alice Fisher about what’s been happening at RadicalAge and shared their suggestions about RadicalAge as we move forward.  37 new members signed up at the event.  Let’s keep the momentum going!

New members can register at the event or can join online.


What It Takes to Have a Humane and Peaceful Death – 6/8/17 Event

Is ageism standing in the way of your right to choose?

The Radical Age Movement invites you to join us as we discuss

I Support Assisted Dying;  Allow Me to Choose

What It Takes to Have a Humane and Peaceful Death

Give Me Liberty at My Death

Today, when medical advances can extend life, death can become quite complicated.
Where is the fine line between prolonging life and prolonging death?


Laurie Leonard
Executive Director
End of Life Choices NY

Thu, Jun. 8, 2017
6:30 – 8:30 PM
NY Society for Ethical Culture
New York, NY

My life.  my choice.  My right.




2017 Membership Drive Kickoff

On Wednesday evening, April 26, 2017, The Radical Age Movement (RAM) launched our new membership drive with a festive gathering in the RAM office building at One East 53rd Street, NYC.

The event took place in the lovely lobby of the building where children’s art work adorned the walls…a perfect environment for our intergenerational movement. Attendees were made up of members who already joined on-line at our new “Become a Member” page and those who signed up at the event. We signed up over 30 new members. All new members received an autographed copy of Ashton Applewhite’s book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism.

This was the first of our Members Only salons that are planned for four times per year. People can either join online at any time or sign up at the event. It’s an informal way for our members to socialize and get to know one another. New members were greeted by members of the RAM steering committee and immediately engaged in conversation over wine and scrumptious hors d’oeuvres.

It was not easy to interrupt the lively conversation taking place. Alice Fisher, Founder of RAM, formally welcomed everyone and gave them an update on RAM’s accomplishments over the past few months.

It’s been an exciting year so far. We are in talks with several organizations about starting their own chapters of RAM. Our committees are taking shape. Committees that are up and running include: social media, membership, events, intergenerational, and social action. We are also about to start a workplace committee to look into ageism in the workforce and suggest some actions we might take to address this important issue.

Our most visionary program so far is coming out of our intergenerational committee. We have created a pilot 3-session curriculum to present an anti-ageism program to middle schoolers. RAM is currently looking for a school or community center where we can run this pilot program. Several excellent suggestions came from Radical Agers who attended the membership kick-off.

Although this group did not seem to need any conversation starters, cards containing quotes from Ashton’s book were randomly distributed. Radical Agers with cards were instructed to find someone they did not know and engage in discussion about the quote. Alice also reminded us of dates we need to save: Thursday evening, June 8th, RAM will be hosting Laurie Leonard of End of Life Choices NY, who will educate and lead us in a discussion of end-of- life decisions at NY Society for Ethical Culture. Wednesday evening, June 28th, our next Members Only salon will take place at One East 53 rd Street.

RAM could not have pulled off this exciting evening without the help of Traci DeJesu, Alexa Sloan, Angela Hu and Priscilla Gallegos. Thank you! Everyone had a good time.

Why Ageism Deserves Respect

by Alice Fisher, M.S.W.
May 1, 2017

Ageism: It’s as systemic as racism. It’s as insulting as ableism. It’s as hurtful as homophobia. It’s everywhere like sexism. It marginalizes. It stereotypes. It stigmatizes. It makes older people invisible. It discounts a life of experience and wisdom. It prevents people from living a whole full life. It kills. Yet, because of a lack of awareness, ageism does not get the respect it deserves, unlike racism and antisemitism, homophobia, et. al

It has been documented by many researchers, including Becca Levy of Yale, that ageism when internalized cuts short a person’s lifespan. And, yet ageism is sometimes not even recognized by its victims. When an older adult says, “I, personally, have never encountered ageism,” my usual reply is, “You must be satisfied with the amount of your social security payment.” There is always that moment of “aha” when I say this. Yes, the amount of income we receive from social security has ageism written all over it.

When someone calls you an ageist, are you as upset as when the same person calls you a racist or a sexist? If not, ask yourself why.

  • Ageism is as systemic as racism. Both ageism and racism are built into the fabric of our society, and is expressed by individuals, institutions, and our government. Ageism and Racism have a significant impact both on the individuals who experience it and the wider community. Research shows that there are significant links between experiences of ageism and/or racism and discrimination and poor physical and mental health, reduced productivity and reduced life expectancy.

Further, it is well-recognized that ageism and/or racism presents barriers to social inclusion and economic participation.

  • Ageism is as insulting as ableism. While the country prides itself on its increasing acceptance of traditionally marginalized populations, old people and disabled people continue to be stripped of their voices, and it’s hurting everyone.

“Ableism” refers to attitudes in society that devalue and limit the potential of persons with disabilities. Not unlike ageism, ableism targets people with disabilities as being less worthy of respect and consideration, less able to contribute and participate, or of less inherent value than others. Similar to ageism, ableism may be conscious or unconscious, and may be embedded in institutions, systems or the broader culture of a society. It can limit the opportunities of persons with disabilities and reduce their inclusion in the life of their communities.

  • Ageism is as hurtful as homophobia. Homophobic bullying is behavior or language which makes a person feel unwelcome or marginalized because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. Although not referred to as “bullying”, elder abuse also makes a person feel unwelcome and marginalized as the result of ageism. In so many ways, an abused elder, is also a victim of bullying…elder bullying.

Bobbie Sackman testimony at NYC CouncilSome of the more common forms of elder abuse and homophobic bullying include: verbal bullying, indirect bullying by way of social exclusion, and physical bullying. The effects shared by bullied homosexuals and abused old people include; denial of sexual orientation and/or denial of one’s age, low self-esteem, shame, depression, defensiveness, anger and / or bitterness. All of this leads to risk-taking behaviors, including substance abuse, self-harm and/or suicidal thoughts.

    • Ageism is everywhere like sexism. You don’t have to look further than the oval office these days to know that sexism is alive and flourishing these days. And, add to that the fiasco at Fox news which seems to be a bastion of sexual harassment. This is just blatant in-your-face sexism. Yet, sexism, just like ageism, is often hidden in plain sight. Although ageism is practiced against men as well as women, for women it looks very different, and it’s found everywhere.
    • Ageism is a women’s Issue. Women are still the majority of caregivers to the elderly, and perhaps this why there is still a deficit in caregiver resources. Think about it. How would the picture change if men were the primary caregivers, both professional and personal? According to Caring Across Generations, more of us are caregivers than ever before. Nationwide, there are more than 41 million family caregivers who are doing the important work of caring for a loved one, often while juggling a full-time job.
    • Ageism is a healthcare issue. In reality, 70 percent of Americans older than age 65 will need some form of long-term care (Kane, 2013). This denial of the need for care is comprehensive public−private partnership in long-term care is to perpetuate ageism—denial of growing old is ageist. http://www.asaging.org/blog/public-policies-we-need-redress-ageism . Much of the public policy in our country smacks of ageism. When adequate resources are not allotted to senior services, when social security doesn’t reflect the cost of living, when people are on waiting lists for necessary services like meals-on-wheels or casework, ageism can be found as the root cause for so many of these issues.
    • Ageism is an economic and political issue. Like racism and sexism, ageism serves a social and economic purpose: to legitimize and sustain inequalities between groups. It’s not about how we look. It’s about how people in power assign meaning to how we look.
  • Last, but not least, ageism is an inter-generational issue. Young adults who hold ageist views are setting up discrimination against their future selves. We may not all be victims of racism, or sexism, or antisemitism, yet if we are fortunate to live a long life, we will all have the opportunity to be victims of ageism. Because of longevity, it is more a certainty that many of us will need help to sustain ourselves through our later years. Younger generations must be prepared to offer a helping hand to the oldest and most vulnerable among us. To achieve this, we need to build a co-dependent society where we all recognize ourselves in the faces of our fellow human beings.

Let’s give ageism the same respect we give to racism, sexism, homophobia and the rest. Older adults deserve our respect as do the issues that marginalize them.

2017 Membership Launch Party – 4/26/17 Event

The Radical Age Movement
invites you to our
2017 Membership Launch Party

Join us on to raise a glass as we raise our voices against ageism.

Wed, Apr. 26, 2017
5:30 PM – 7:30 PM
1 East 53rd St (lobby), NYC

Members Only

New members can join at event or Join Online

Benefits of Membership
  • FREE admission to our member programs
  • ATTEND quarterly members only networking events
  • DISCOUNTS for educational programs and leadership and organizing training workshops
  • FREE GIFT – a copy of Ashton Applewhite’s acclaimed book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism
If you have any questions, please contact Alexa Sloan at 646-630-4443 or by email.

Consciousness Raising Event – 4/5/17

Join the Radical Age Movement for good food, lively discussion and consciousness raising

…and discover the impact of ageing in your own life.

Consciousness_RaisingWed, Apr. 5, 2017
6:30 PM – 9:00 PM

NY Society for Ethical Culture
West 64th & Central Park West

Whether you’ve attended one of our past Consciousness Raising events or are attending for the first time, you will constantly be surprised by what you learn.

Movements for Cultural Change in the USA – Event

Due to adverse weather conditions, this event was postponed.
We hope to reschedule soon.

Social Movements Matter:
Creating Cultural Change in America

Q: How do you create cultural change in the U.S.A.?
A: With a movement; It’s the only way we’ve ever done it.

Today, we are watching the rise of social movements across our country. This is not a new phenomenon. Movements have been part of American history.

Join the Radical Age Movement as we look at movements past and present that have sparked cultural change in our society.

nancy-giuntaTuesday, March 14th, 2017
6:30 pm – 8:30 pm
New York Society for Ethical Culture
2 West 64th Street@ Central Park West, NYC

 Prof. Nancy Giunta, PhD, MSW
Director, Policy and Communications Core
Silberman School of Social Work

Demand That Trevor Noah Apologize

Trevor Noah’s recent remarks on the Daily Show segment America’s Xenophobic Grandpa were outrageous and demeaning to older adults everywhere (if you have limited time, start listening at 2:00 of the 8 minute clip).

In keeping with The Radical Age Movement’s mission is to confront and eliminate ageism, we have started an online petition addressed to Trevor and the Daily Show. After listening, if you agree that Trevor’s citing the President’s AGE as the cause of his actions and remarks, along with his use of NEGATIVE STEREOTYPICAL STATEMENTS about old people is disgraceful, please add your name to our petition demanding a retraction and apology for this insensitive segment.

Sign Petition

Looking for Abuela in America

by Alice Fisher, M.A., M.S.W.
January 6, 2017

My husband and I just spent a marvelous week with our friend of over 30 years, Maria Acosta Castro, and the entire Acosta family in Medellin, Colombia. It was our first time there, and we were thrilled to meet the entire Acosta family, aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers, grandchildren and great grandchildren, lots of cousins, and, most important, Abuela, Maria’s mom and matriarch of this loving and dedicated family. They are certainly dedicated to each other. Most impressive, however, is their dedication to Abuela (grandmother in Spanish).

Over Christmas weekend, we ate and danced and ate and drank and ate some more. Such a happy family who sincerely enjoy each other’s company and being together. They are not a wealthy family, and yet they are extremely rich in the most important things in life…unqualified love and support. There is no word for ageism in their vocabulary.

During a conversation with Maria’s 30-year-old nephew, Fredy Duque, I mentioned how heartwarming it was to witness everyone’s devotion to his grandmother. “My grandmother is revered,” he told me. “No matter what I am doing in my life, I visit my grandmother every week, sometimes twice, as do most of our family. Her advice is invaluable.”
Maria’s brother explained to me how most of his brothers and sisters live relatively close to Abuela. “It’s how it is here,” he added. “We are all devoted to her.”

Fredy inquired about my own 3 sons and grandchildren. When I told him we have have 4 granddaughters, he asked how often they come to see us. I told him that we see two of them, 11 and 14, once a year, occasionally twice. They live in Chicago, and we go to them…they never come to us. This was completely beyond his comprehension. The others, one in college in Wisconsin and one in high school in DC where they live, we see more often…maybe 4-5 times a year. And, even that was unacceptable to him. “No, no,” he said, shaking his head, “impossible!”

I described our ageist American culture to him, explaining how Ageism is as endemic to our society as is racism, sexism, and all the rest. “Americans worship youth,” I said. “They do not value elders as contributors to our society”, I added; “some even see us as a burden. Many older and elder adults are resigned to the margins of society”. He tried to control the look of anguish on his face. He couldn’t understand. Who can? The Radical Age Movement was just not describable. I was in another world.

I then expressed my concern over our own needs in our old age and if there would be anyone to help us at the end of our lives when we can no longer care for each other or ourselves. “Incredible!” was his response. “That you need to worry about this in your later years is so bad.” I attempted to put this in perspective, explaining how we would survive while many old people who are homeless with no social support systems cannot survive old age with any quality of life, self-worth, or dignity.

Now, as I am flying home to New York City, I can’t help but feel a bit jealous of the respect and reverence that this extraordinary older woman receives, and how those high opinions contribute to her marvelous sense of well-being. I can’t help wondering where we, as a society and as individuals, went wrong. I ask myself what happened to Abuela in our American culture? Where is she?

For sure, you can find her here among the immigrant community that has not yet internalized the negative images of the old that we are bombarded with every day. Will they, I wonder, also succumb to the power of our society’s disregard for the oldest among us?

Two incidents come to mind:

  1. My parents spent the last couple of years of their lives at a wonderful facility, The Hebrew Home at Riverdale in New York. When we were arranging their accommodations, one of the staff said to us, “You would not believe how many people drop off their parents or other older members of their family, never to be seen again.”

2. I was asked to make a presentation on empowerment to a new women’s group that had been formed at an assistant living facility. I met with a lovely and intelligent group of older women. One issue most of them seemed to have in common was their relationships with their grandchildren. One woman told the group that she hardly knows her grandchildren and how the grandchildren really don’t know her. This sentiment was echoed by the majority of women in the room.

How sad is that!

We have to confront ageism wherever we see it. We will not only be helping ourselves; we will be helping make a better society.

Alice Fisher is Founder and President of the Radical Age Movement

How to Fight the War vs. Old People

by Alice Fisher
January 3, 2017

“Movements are engaged in ‘meaning-work’…the struggle over the production of ideas of meaning…The failure of mass mobilization when structural conditions seem otherwise ripe may be accounted for by the absence of a resonant master frame.”

Reframing Aging: Seeing What You’re Up Against and Finding a Way Forward, Frameworks Institute, April 1, 2015

elderly-peopleOld people have been getting a bad rap for a very long time. And, in case you haven’t noticed, since we have a new president-elect, there is now an out-and-out war against older adults.

I’m not proposing that age prejudice is more devastating than any other prejudice. What I am doing is calling attention to ageism, which is pernicious in our society and yet rarely included when other “isms” are mentioned. Age prejudice is the most widespread prejudice endemic to our culture as it affects every other group-whether a person of color, a woman, or LGBTQ. Why aren’t more people interested in this devastating cultural development? Ageism is a prejudice that is not bound by gender, race, ethnicity, religion, or economic status. If we are lucky to get old, it is a prejudice that everyone will have to confront. There is a saying in the field of aging: “If you are an ageist, you are setting up a prejudice against your own future self.”

As the Radical Age Movement and other organizations are confronting aspects of ageism which include invisibility, marginalization, isolation, and loneliness, we recognize that age prejudice is a poison dart shot into the self-esteem of so many older adults. It is internalized, turned into depression, and leads to an earlier decline. We must work to stop such damage—from others and done to ourselves, for we are now again threatened with Medicare and Social Security insecurity. Those who seek to destroy our benefits are counting on us to withdraw, stay depressed, remain quiet. This cannot happen!

growth-of-older-populationOne of the tools we already have at our disposal is language and how we use it. When, ask yourself, did reverence, respect, and honor disappear from the lexicon of aging? Why do elders around the world express the irrelevance to society they now feel after years of engagement with and contributions to the communities that they live in? When did older adults become geezers, biddies, codgers, and crones, old goats and old bags? Ask yourself why we see these words on birthday cards that are assumed to be funny yet target older adults with insulting humor. Why is the growth of an older population called a “tsunami” instead of a “wave of wisdom and experience”?

Think about how recent movements have resulted in language change; the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement, the LGBTQ Movement, among others. Regarding Ageism, The Frameworks Institute describes ageism as being an important concern among professionals that is otherwise absent from thinking among the general public:

“While aging experts are attuned to the myriad ways that older Americans face discrimination in our society, the public is largely not attuned to this factor or to the need to address it via legal and other systemic means.”

Gauging Aging: Mapping the Gaps between Expert and Public Understandings of Aging in America Frameworks Institute, 2015

We need to turn to language to create a society that is attuned to the ways that older Americans face discrimination. If we look at language as a symbolic system through which people communicate and through which culture is transmitted, it is not difficult to see how the words mentioned above like geezers, biddies, codgers, and crones, old goats and old bags should not be acceptable to anyone who believes that everyone should be valued throughout the lifespan regardless of age. How can we take the presently pejorative meaning of the word “old” and make it a future positive?

That’s an easy one. What about, however, the word “senior”? As “senior” today is imbued with all of these negative images conferred on older people through our culture, many older adults, particularly leading edge boomers, refuse to be categorized in this way.

In a report on language change by the National Science Foundation, we are told that:

“Languages change for a variety of reasons. Large-scale shifts often occur in response to social, economic and political pressures. History records many examples of language change fueled by invasions, colonization and migration. Even without these kinds of influences, a language can change dramatically if enough users alter the way they speak it.”

At the Radical Age Movement, we believe that longevity and the opening up of a new stage of life along the life-span has fueled the call for language that enhances the concept of ageing to replace the demeaning language that has grown up in the 20th and 21st centuries.

In her book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, Ashton Applewhite suggests that we substitute “olders” and “elders” to replace the homogenized term “seniors” which lumps all people over 65 into one category. Nobody knows what to call those of us born during and after WWII; we are referred to as “young seniors” or “leading edge boomers” for lack of any other appropriate term that is acceptable to those being described.

So, what can we do to change the language of the current ageing narrative? Again, from the National Science Foundation, “before a language can change, speakers must adopt new words…, spread them through the community, and transmit them to the next generation. In order to do this, we all need to develop critical language awareness.

Here are some questions we could ask ourselves, from The Power of Talk: How Words Change Our Lives, by Briscoe, Arriaza, and Henze:

  • What social relations or social process does this language reflect, reinforce, or reproduce?
  • If I want to change these relations or process, what else besides language needs to change?
  • How can I link language change with broader social change? Or the reverse—How can I link broader social change with ground level changes that might be reflected in language?

We cannot ask others to change their language until we look into our own ageist tendencies and work on changing our own language; and, by doing so, we develop a powerful weapon to fight this war on old people. When you read, hear, or use language that in some way perpetuates or reinforces ageism, cultivate the habit of imagining alternatives. Ask yourself “How could I have said this in another way?”

Today I am inviting all of you to create space for yourselves and others to imagine what a new alternative language of ageing would look like. All suggestions accepted, staring with “I’m proud to be old!”

Alice Fisher is Founder and President of the Radical Age Movement.

The Grace Period: Meeting Myself in Ballet Class

by Susan Reimer-Torn
December 16, 2016

Here I am, at the age of 65, back at the ballet barre, doubting my stamina, my balance, even my capacity to focus on the sequences. At this age, everyone assumes I will be a dance spectator, possibly a critic, but not a participant. More than any other performing art, ballet assumes a youthful body, with nary a weakness or wrinkle or extra weight. Its aesthetic principles depend on the limitless energy and effortless perfection of youth.

In my twenties, I was a dance class regular, a non-professional devotee who, for a decade, found her greatest joy in classical movement. It feels self-indulgent to attempt this now. I am twenty pounds heavier than I was four decades ago and way too pressured by health and financial concerns to detour into gossamer dreams. I cannot imagine that I will access the ballet high again. But since the class is available at my workout hour at my local gym, I overcome skepticism and join in.

ballet-class-postI immediately notice the inclusive age range: from young girls with turn-out and high extensions to gray-haired folks in orthopedic sneakers. There are men of a certain age who are retired from a dance career and women who have never danced before. Our teacher, a woman in her mid-fifties called Audrey, has
created Ballet Moves™ a technique for all levels of adult dancers. The emphasis is on moving attentively to classical and modern music and on maintaining body and musical awareness. There are plenty of options – no one has to jump or turn, we do work on balance but a good portion of the class is warm-up on the mat, derived from the method known as barre au sol. It is clear that Audrey has a room full of loyal followers, most of whom, like me, are part of the gym’s Silver Sneaker program. But we are all out there on the floor, conscious of moving in space, with no ageist hierarchy.

I assume a first position with my feet forming a modified V and stretch out a rounded right arm. Immediately, my agitation quiets. Ballet’s precise organization of time and space settles a chaotic world into mannered civility. I breathe easier. The steady 4/4 piano accompaniment, the outward spiraling of my hips and
verticality of my spine align me with a sense of possibility. Finding a plumb line from my head down to my second toe, I’m putting a stake in the ground.

We practice tendues and degagés. These exercises teach us to shift from two feet to one, then back to two, then repeat the patterns, persistently and patiently. It is only later, once we have acquired ease with these shifts, that we attempt maintaining balance on one foot, first supported and then on our own. I find in this a metaphor for the inevitable shift in my life as my husband copes with the recent diagnosis of a chronic disease and slows way down, leaving me to assume many responsibilities for the first time. Perhaps I can practice this – from two feet to one, then back again until I find the strength to balance on my own.

I’m most distressed by my difficulty in focusing. Soon I realize why this is. Ballet practice takes place in the gap between the possible and the perfect. The younger dancer has hopes of shrinking that gap, but at this age, it is only going to widen. I’m tuning out to avoid that reality. I practice remaining in the present moment for 30 seconds, then a full minute, next time, a few minutes more. When I stay in the now, the reward is greater freedom of movement. Eventually, my mind wanders less and I benefit from stronger centering during class and even enhanced clarity throughout the day.

The mind-body practice of this modified ballet class sparks long dormant muscle memory. This triggers a lively internal dialogue between me and my younger self. She seems pleased that by choosing this class I am allowing her sensibility to find expression.

She reminds me that dance was always a go-to place for courage in challenging times. When she struck out for the world of aspiring dancers, she escaped the drab parameters of a strictly religious family. It took her a while to stand on her own two feet. When trying to find my balance in the center of the room these early autumn days, I remember how she gradually got grounded in a world that was new to her. Her long-ago courage infuses my own.

One morning, while in an expansive side-stretch to a lilting Tchaikovsky melody, my younger self points out that these classes are my grace period. Ballet is all about seemingly effortless transitions. I have time to find my footing, make shifts, let personal strength and confidence build. In ballet we push a little past our presumed edge, but not before we fully prepare.

During this time, I catch Professor Berthold Hoecher of the University of Chicago speaking on NPR’s Academic Minute about his research into which mind-body practices most cultivate wisdom. Ballet was included only as a control group, since its practice “had no hypothesized link to wisdom.” But, in a surprise twist, it turned out that “ballet made dancers wiser,” with results resembling those of meditation, and its benefits exceeding those of other somatic techniques that make greater spiritual claims. The amazed Hoecher hypothesized that ballet made dancers “more sensitive to life,” hence more capable of making “wise decisions that lead to well-being.” I’m pleased to be a living example of his discovery as are so many others in the class who never expected to experience this much joy by simply being in their bodies, its limitation and its capacities all considered.

There are days when I can stand on one leg and extend the other a little higher than before. To do that, I need to find an equilibrium between the part of myself that stabilizes and the part that reaches out into the world. I may indeed one day be without my usual safety and supports, but ballet has taught me that I need not teeter over the edge.

Susan Reimer-Torn began her career as a dance historian, writer and educator, then moved to France where she lived for 22-years, writing for the International Herald Tribune while raising a family. After returning to her native New York City in 2001, she became certified as a Life Coach and hypnotherapist, specializing in women seeking increased visibility in mid-life. Susan is now an active, freelance journalist and the author of a well-received memoir, Maybe Not Such a Good Girl: Reflections on Rupture and Return (2014). She is currently at work on a book about the challenges of long-term marriage. She supports her writing habit with a new post-retirement career, joining Klara Madlin Brokerage as a licensed salesperson. 

The Moral Obligations You Have In Old Age

Dec. 9, 2016

by Michael Friedman, L.M.S.W.
Adjunct Associate Professor, Columbia University School of Social Work

Recently I took a philosophy mini-course called “Conscientious Citizenship,” which explored our moral obligations largely through the heroic image of Socrates, who accepted a death sentence as a matter of principle and loyalty to his nation.

Although several of us questioned Socrates’ presumed heroism, the course got me thinking about what the obligations of citizenship are; and, because I am an older, retired person (73 as I write this), it got me wondering what the obligations of older, retired people are and whether they are different from the obligations of younger people.

A strange question perhaps. It is commonplace to think about what society ought to do for old people. But this is the converse question, Kennedyesque in a way. Not what does a society owe to old people, but what do old people owe to their society?
I think that ageism is the reason this question is so rarely raised. There’s an assumption that old people need help. Their presumed disabilities release them from moral obligations we take for granted for younger people.

Clearly, that is the wrong presumption. Most old people are not disabled and in need of help for basic functions. Yes, most older people have chronic health conditions, and some of these limit what they are able to do. But fewer than 15 percent of people 65 and older have activity limitations that require routine help with basic activities. This increases with age, but even at 85 fewer than half have limitations that require help with basic activities of life.(1)
In fact, most old people are quite capable and can be extremely helpful to their society. And, come to think of it, even old people with disabilities who need help often can be helpful. Can’t an old person in a wheelchair write letters of protest or support, make a financial contribution, attend a rally, or even go from apartment to apartment in a building with an elevator to advocate for the political candidate of their choice?

So from the standpoint of ability, being old does not let people off the moral hook. Old people owe their societies something. But what?

One type of answer draws from heroic images. I think not of Socrates but of great moral leaders during my lifetime like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela. All not only risked their own lives in the name of social justice, they also were able to recruit followers, generally far more ordinary people — young, middle-aged, and old — who sacrificed safety and comfort or even their lives because they believed that their cause was not only just but morally and historically essential. Their souls and the souls of their societies were at stake.

These ordinary people, who followed famous leaders, were also moral heroes. Should we all seek to emulate them?

King sometimes said that the “hottest place in Hell is reserved for those people who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.” He found it unacceptable for people to remain on the sidelines while others fought the (non-violent) battles that had to be fought, risking their lives and livelihoods.

Clearly, this is a time of great moral conflict. Poverty, disparity, and lingering racism and discrimination in the United States call out for social action. Disparity between developed countries and “developing” countries is perhaps even more troubling. That a billion people or more scrub out a living of less than $1 a day is awful. So is the plight of millions of refugees fleeing their homes in the hopes that they and their children will survive and ultimately make lives for themselves. The rise in population and power of groups of religious fundamentalists prepared to slaughter others for their beliefs threatens to bring about a major moral regression in the history of humanity. And there are frightening threats to the survival of the human species — climate change, nuclear warfare, depleted water supply, and more.

I think of these issues and know that, except for clever conversation, I and most people I know are effectively on the sidelines. Am I, are we all, headed, as King would have it, to the hottest place in Hell? Or are we forgiven moral lassitude and preference for a restful retirement because we are old and have “paid our dues”?

I confess that I don’t forgive myself, and lately I have made harsh and angry self-judgments while watching the horrors of human life on TV. I am loathe to make the same harsh judgement of others who, like me, have chosen comfortable retirements instead of active social advocacy, although maybe I should.

But wait a minute. Even if there are moral obligations in old age — and I believe there are — not all of our obligations are to society. There are also, as there are throughout our lives, obligations to our families and to ourselves. Think of the older people who are consumed taking care of their own parents. Think about grandparents who are providing care for their grandchildren ranging from occasional babysitting to substitute parenting, some joyously, some at great costs to themselves. Think of older people who volunteer some of their time for a cause they care about. Think of older people who have returned to school or become artists of one kind or another—people who are working to better themselves. They may never be among the world’s moral leaders or important scholars, writers, painters, or musicians, but they are fulfilling obligations I think we all have to cultivate our abilities.

Alexander Hamilton aside, it is not possible to do it all. Heroic social action, taking responsibility for one’s family, and cultivating personal excellence cannot each be fully done. We must choose among and balance fulfilling our various obligations. Isn’t it morally permissible to be a devoted grandparent or a serious student or an aspiring artist while sitting on the sidelines of the great moral issues of our time?

A few years ago I was at a political fundraiser sitting across a table from a black man who asked me, a white Jew, what I did during the civil rights movement of the 1960s when I was in college and graduate school. I did not realize until later that his question was akin to the sotto voce question I ask Germans now in their 80s about where they were during the Holocaust. So I answered truthfully that I had not gone on the freedom rides to the South or been otherwise particularly active in the civil rights movement, though I supported it (on the sidelines I’m sure he thought). Instead, I had followed another common path of the time, the cultural path, by studying and teaching philosophy and hanging out with friends who were aspiring writers, artists, and musicians attempting to create new ideas and new forms of art and music, forms that broke with the past and were revolutionary in a metaphorical rather than in a literal, political sense.

I am embarrassed that I didn’t realize that his question was a prelude to an indictment, but it strikes me as both a perfectly adequate answer and a morally adequate life choice.

In retirement, I have made a similar life choice. After a career as a social worker largely devoted to social advocacy to help people with mental illness, I have mostly withdrawn from the pursuit of social causes. Instead, I work at music, photography, and writing. I teach. I travel. And I enjoy my family — most of the time.

So I ask again, am I headed to the hottest place in Hell? Well, I don’t believe there’s an afterlife, but thinking about conscientious citizenship and King’s condemnation of those who sit on the sidelines has made me question my choice to retire, to leave social advocacy behind, and not to actively commit myself to any of the social causes that I say that I care about. I am on the sidelines, and it troubles me to be, like Candide, cultivating myself rather than working to repair a world very much in need of repair.
Does being old let me off the hook?

I don’t think so. But I also think that being morally heroic is not the only way to meet the obligations of citizenship as an old person or, for that matter, as a younger person.

There is a minimalist answer as well as a heroic answer to the question of what our obligations are. A minimalist answer would identify limited but important moral obligations of citizenship such as voting, contributing money to important causes and to admired political candidates, signing a petition, perhaps volunteering for a charitable or political organization, and so forth. These are things that almost all of us can do without disrupting our lives, without reducing our creature comforts. These are things that we can do even if we are caregivers for disabled family members, even if we are devoted grandparents, even if we have gone back to school, even if we have chosen to pursue an art, or even if we have chosen to lay back in old age and rest on our past achievements.

And these minimal moral activities are important. If everyone voted, gave money, and participated in a bit of advocacy, it would be a vast improvement in the American democracy.

But would this protect us from the “hottest place in Hell.” Frankly, I’m not sure.
(1) Drabek, J and Marton W. (2015) “Measuring The Need for Long-Term Services and Supports: Research Brief”. Office of the HHS Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. July 1, 2015.

Born in 1943, Michael Friedman, LSMW, came of age in the 1950s and 60s when America was undergoing a social and cultural revolutions. He studied and taught philosophy for several years, but was quickly drawn to the challenges of mental illness. He worked as a mental health practitioner, administrator, government official (Deputy Commissioner of the NYS OMH), and advocate for over 40 years before retiring in July of 2010. At that time he was Director of The Center for Policy and Advocacy of the Mental Health Association of NYC, a center that he founded in 2003. In that role he also co-founded the Geriatric Mental Health Alliance of New York and, most recently, the Veterans’ Mental Health Coalition of NYC. Over the years he has served on numerous planning and advocacy groups at the federal, state, and local level. He continues to teach health and mental health policy at Columbia University and to write frequently about mental health and about aging.

Read Michael’s writings
Michael is also a semi-professional jazz pianist and photographer

The Voice of Older Americans in an Age of Anxiety: Staying Visible

the-invisible-middle-aged-womanLast month, the Radical Age Movement launched its first social action initiative; Age Justice: Getting Our Fair Share.  Age Justice seeks a society where all people, regardless of age and social circumstance, are secure in their homes, respected in their communities and workplaces, and provided the safety, dignity and respect to live full and complete lives throughout the lifespan, from the time of birth until our final years.  In today’s state of anxiety, we need to campaign so that ALL Americans get their fair share, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or religion.

Many older adults want to make a difference in the world but, finding no role for themselves, they often feel they are treated as socially irrelevant.  It is up to us to push back against this common age prejudice, and today we are presented with a rich opportunity to do just that.

We now find ourselves positioned in a notable moment in history where we, as older Americans, need to be both seen and heard.  It is up to us to demonstrate the power we own as “caregivers, resource managers and income generators“.  It is imperative that we share “our knowledge and experience of community coping strategies, while helping to preserve cultural and social identities.” [The invisibility of older people: Being counted means being seen, Previously published for the Hauser Center by Bethany Brown, HelpAge USA Policy and Advocacy Fellow]

What we cannot do is shrink back from civic engagement.  It is both our right and our obligation.  When we shrink back, we are creating our own invisibility.  We older and elder adults all too easily accept the marginalized status quo as signs of wisdom and balance rather than the avoidable and deeply unfair compromise that it actually is.  Locked into a rhythm of society’s active rejection and our own passive acquiescence, we glide into marginality partly through our own volition. Not listened to as carefully at meetings or policy discussions, we pipe down rather step up.

This means that those of us who can show up, show up. It’s time for us to take our lifetimes of experience and knowledge and put it to valuable use…to demonstrate our relevance to all of those who would think otherwise …while making the world a better place.

Because of our years of living, we know that sometimes we have to go down to go up, backwards to go forwards.  We know that communities are the best way to face adversity.  We know that wounds can heal.  Older adults are aware of the greater good as we demand a democratic society, not only for us but for the generations that follow us.  Our battle scars show that we are tougher and wiser than we are given credit for.

Over the coming weeks and months, the Radical Age Movement will be suggesting actions that older adults can take as a group to be heard as we help heal the ailments that have afflicted our society. We invite your own suggestions as we embark on this difficult journey together.


A Campaign for Age Justice – 11/14/16 Event


A Campaign for Age Justice
Getting Our Fair Share

Bobbie Sackman, M.S.W.
Director of Public Policy
Live-On NY
How Ageism Affects the NYC Budget

Steve Burghardt, Ph.D.
Professor, Community Organizing
Silberman School of Social Work
CUNY Hunter College
What We Can Do About It

Monday, Nov. 14, 2016
6:30 PM – 9:00 PM

For the past 2 years, The Radical Age Movement has been working to promote awareness of the incessant ageism that permeates our society.

We believe that ageism is the root cause of NYC’s older adults not getting their fair share of the NYC budget.

At this presentation and workshop, you will have an opportunity to learn what YOU can do.

Our Campaign for Age Justice is a 5-point plan. You will be able to choose which part of the plan you want to work on and begin working with others who have the same interest.

We are counting on you to help shape actions to address this insidious age prejudice and eliminate its detrimental effects on young and old alike.

Ageism: Why It Matters – 11/3/16 Event

Yale Alumni Non Profit Alliance


Gray Panthers NYC

Present an important forum:

Ageism: Why It Matters


Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism


Becca Levy, Professor of Epidemiology at Yale University
leading scientific researcher on ageism in America


Ashton Applewhite


Becca Levy


Thu, Nov. 3, 2016
6:15 PM – 8:00 PM

St. Peter’s Church
619 Lexington Avenue
@ 54th Street, NYC

Gray Panthers

For more information, please email Jack Kupferman or call 917-535-0457

Intergenerational Age Cafe – 10/19/16 Event

On Wednesday, October 19, 2016, the Radical Age Movement facilitated an Intergenerational Age Café at CUNY Hunter’s Silberman School of Social Work. The event was part of Silberman’s Commons Time sponsored by the Student Alliance for an Aging Society (SAAS). SAAS serves to expand the experience and knowledge of students interested in the field of aging. Thirty older adults and thirty students participated in the Café.

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.

alice-fisher-at-age-cafeParticipants were welcomed by Alice Fisher, 70, founder of The Radical Age Movement and introduced to the process by Steve Burghardt, 71, founding member of the Radical Age steering committee.

I’d like to welcome our young intern….

Youth is wasted on the young…

(Overheard in H.R. Office) Well, she is a Millennial, so I wouldn’t count on her dedication to the job. They never stick around for very long….

steve-burhardt-at-age-cafeParticipants were able to revisit these statements several times as they changed seats and new groups were reconstituted. After the first round was completed, the group facilitators reported out on the conversations that these statements triggered.

During the second round, participants were asked to discuss the following:

If change in language is needed, what would some of those changes be? Is it possible for “Old” to be a good word, rather than feared? Is it possible for “young” to be attached to words like “Intern” and it not be a source of condescension?

Finally, participants were asked to speak individually and talk about what they can do personally to confront ageism. The afternoon was a great success, including the start of some new relationships between our older and younger participants.

mimi-at-age-cafeHere are some of their final statements:

  • In the agency I work at, people who are near the end of life are not treated with dignity. So, that is something that I’m going to try to change.
  • I may be more careful with my use of the word “old.”
  • This was a great forum and these were wonderful conversations. Maybe we should make it more of a practice to have older and younger adults talk with each other.
  • Before this I never really gave much thought to ageism. Now I think it’s very important for me to continue having conversations with older adults.
  • jon-fisher-at-age-cafeI’m going to commit to not shy away from having these conversations with an aging population.
  • These conversations made me want to be more interactive with older people.
  • I commit to be more mindful when having conversations with older adults.
  • I think I’m pretty aware of the problems of the old. After today, I am going to become more aware of the issues of the young.
  • To challenge people. I’ve been involved with so many social action movements but never considered the issue of ageism. I think I would like to bring together a group of people to have these discussions.
  • age-cafe-2I have to try to get a handle on what the right words and tonality are and reconfigure my brain. We’ve been educated the wrong way. We don’t have the respect for our elders which they deserve.
  • I know a lot about ageism, but what I haven’t done is integrate it into my own self.
  • I’m going to commit myself to more self-reflection.
  • My commitment is not to judge people in any age group by their age.
  • I have to learn not to treat the older adults I work with like children.
  • I need to realize that sometimes I try to help older people when they really don’t need the help. Respecting their independence.
  • I need to face that I am getting older and things will happen to my body that I don’t like and I need to accept that.
  • I need to internalize that not only is it okay but that I should be proud to be old.

Social Security and Older Adults

A statement from the Radical Age Movement about Social Security and the Short Changing of Older Adults

If you are not outraged, you should be.

Yippee! We’re finally getting a COLA (cost of living adjustment) from Social Security. And, sit down, it’s a whopping 0.03%, which will amount to less than a $5.00 increase in our monthly Social Security checks. Now, don’t get too excited. It will probably cover the Medicare increase that is coming down the pike.

When someone tells you that they’ve never been affected by ageism, ask them what they think the short-changing of older adults in America is all about. As The Radical Age Movement has been saying, systemic ageism is rampant in our society. I mean, why give money to old people…they’re going to die anyway.

A little history about Social Security that you need to know. Social Security was initiated to lift older people who were not in the workforce out of poverty and provide some security in their later years, and it worked.

Prior to Social Security, older adults were one of the largest marginalized group of people living in poverty in the United States. Old people were not considered a constituency and really had nothing in common that would politicize them and turn them into an important voting block. Until Social Security changed that, and older and elder adults became a constituency whose vote was courted by both Democrats and Republicans alike.

So, what happened? In recent years when the cost of everything, including vital services like healthcare and food security has gone up, Social Security has remained flat. Our older citizens cannot survive on Social Security alone, yet many of us do. So back into poverty we slide.

What is going on here? There have been so many reports on increased longevity as well as the growing percentage of older adults in our society now and continuing into the future. And, yet, our government has decided that 0.03% is sufficient. It’s time to ask for our FAIR SHARE.

Are you outraged now? Write or visit your legislators and demand our FAIR SHARE!