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The Gray Panthers of Sacramento are senior citizens who meet monthly to discuss concerns about Social Security, health care and the community. They campaign for change by writing letters to elected officials, attending City Council meetings, hosting marches and protesting unjust budget cuts by the government.
“Our representatives need to know how we feel,” said Margie Metzler, head of the Gray Panthers. “If enough of us speak out, they’ll pay attention.”
The Gray Panthers were founded in 1970 by Maggie Kuhn and has since expanded across the country.
“I was forced to retire when I was 65,” Metzler said. “But I thought it was wrong because I still had lots of energy. I wanted to change the mandatory retirement age.”
She moved to Sacramento in 2004 to be a part of John Kerry’s presidential campaign and, through networking, became involved with the Gray Panthers. Metzler became an advocate for Medicare and Social Security.
“I wanted to educate people on these complicated, complex issues,” she said. “Politicians like to say Social Security is in crisis or broken, but that’s not true. It needs tweaking, and it will always need tweaking, but it’s not broken.”
Metzler is opposed to privatizing Social Security. “It’s not meant to be an investment,” she said, adding that Social Security is incorrectly accused of being part of the nation’s budget deficit. She believes in pointing out both sides of an issue because “if only one voice gets heard, they win.”
For the past month, Metzler said she and other Gray Panthers have been writing letters to elected officials urging them against privatization.
In 2006, after Joan Lee, the founder of Sacramento’s Grey Panthers, passed away, Metzler took the top position. She has since been tirelessly campaigning for senior citizens’ rights. One of the group’s more recent successes was convincing the City Council to keep from cutting the Hart Senior Center’s operating hours in half, resulting in a six-hour cut instead, which was a compromise more than a victory, however, she said.
“It’s been a horrendous, terrible couple of years,” Metzler said about the state of senior living and economic turmoil. “We reach out to the baby boomers. They have no clue what they’re in for.”
“Forty percent of budget cuts have affected seniors,” she said.
There are about 30 Gray Panthers in Sacramento. When they’re not challenging changes to Social Security, they coordinate with other community organizations to campaign against furloughs, raising college tuition and much more.
“It’s not just about us. It’s about future generations,” Metzler said.
They meet every second Tuesday at the Hart Senior Center at 915 27th Street. Metzler said attendance ranges from 10 to 30 and that all ages are invited. Once or twice a year, the Sacramento chapter meets with Gray Panthers from Berkeley and San Francisco so they can assist each other in the quest for better health care and to protect Social Security.
“The fight is worth fighting,” Metzler said.
Photos courtesy of the Gray Panthers website, used with permission.