In talking to senior citizens in southwest Virginia about the importance of protecting social security, I think it is the worried look in the eyes of these older Americans that gets me most–the furrowed brows and years of smile lines that turn to looks of serious concern–concern about the very real ramifications of losing one’s livelihood. When I see the eyes of these older folks, I see the eyes of my grandparents. I know that I want to do everything I can to help these folks maintain a decent living and continue to live with dignity in their old age. Protecting social security from benefit cuts and privatization is vital for ensuring that these folks, and folks soon to reach retirement age, continue to be able to support themselves by having the means to pay their electric bills, their medical co-pays and their groceries.
What has struck me too, is that these seniors are concerned, but they are also full of life and ready to fight for their benefits! I’ve had the privilege of interacting with Miss Mable in Dickenson County three times over the course of the internship. And at 98 years old, with 20-20 vision, she is sharp as a tack. Her husband was a coal miner for over 40 years before he passed away, and Miss Mable had 8 children–only 4 of whom are surviving. She is an amazing woman, who despite her age fills the room with energy. She’s spunky in the best possible way. She told me that if they cut social security benefits, she’d join a bus full of people and go to Washington and “cuss ’em all.” These are some strong words from a church-going woman!.
If I was a U.S. congressman or woman, or President Obama, I certainly wouldn’t want to be cussed out by an angry 98-year old Miss Mable. And I think if any of them could look into her eyes, they’d be ashamed that they’d ever considered cutting her Social Security benefits. Surely in the United States, we still value and cherish older people. We have much to learn from senior citizens, and I hope that Miss Mable doesn’t have to spend some of the precious time she has left on this earth cussing out Washington.
Julie Shepherd Powell is an intern with the Virginia Organizing Social Security summer program. This summer in the Washington County/Tri-Cities area, you can find Julie giving daily presentations on the future of Social Security. Names in this story have been changed for privacy reasons.