Senior Planet member Muriel Beach has been an activist for 70 years. She’s fought for civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, human rights, equal pay, and health care. She’s fought for protecting Medicare and Medicaid, protested the Vietnam War, and helped AIDS patients when others wouldn’t.
More recently, the 90-year-old trailblazer has devoted her time and knowledge as the Representative to the United Nations for the International Longevity Centre (ILC) Global Alliance and is Chief Elder Officer of the New York City Chapter of Aging 2.0, a global organization on a mission to accelerate innovation that will improve the lives of older adults around the world.
Muriel will be honored at a special event at OATS (Older Adults Technology Services) at their flagship Senior Planet Exploration Center in Manhattan. The event, #RaisingHell: 50 Years of Activism, will be an interactive panel discussion and reception celebrating activism then and now.
“We are thrilled to be featuring Muriel Beach on our #RaisingHell: 50 Years of Activism panel,” says Aaron Santis, Senior Planet Program Manager. “Muriel has been a driving force behind the Senior Planet community and OATS – she supported Senior Planet Founder and Executive Director Tom Kamber when he was developing the idea of Senior Planet for OATS and encouraged him to move forward with it. We’re very proud of Muriel’s contributions.”
We caught up with the gutsy, tireless activist recently, and she told us some of her awe-inspiring story.
Senior Planet: You’ve been an activist for over 70 years! How did it all begin?
Muriel Beach: “On August 22nd, 1947, I joined a picket line in Boston Commons. We wanted the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to admit that they had murdered Sacco and Vanzetti in 1927. I was very also very active in the 1948 campaign for Truman. And post-World War II, all during the civil rights movement.
Senior Planet: What made you move to New York City?
Muriel Beach: “I came to New York in 1959 and I went to work for New York Shipping Association, which was the employers association negotiating with the longshoreman. I was the first woman in a man’s industry. I replaced a man in that position, which was very unique at that time, and particularly in that industry. It was quite an interesting place to be.
Senior Planet: The event at Senior Planet is specifically marking 50 years of #RaisingHell — from 1968 to 2018. Bring us back to ‘68 for a minute.
Muriel Beach: “We thought it was one of the worst years we ever had. In ‘68, in April: the assassination of Martin Luther King. June: the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. We really lost a great man then. And then the riots in Chicago during the Democratic Convention when the police attacked all the students. A lot of us grew very active at a time when we were physically in danger by the police force.
Senior Planet: You mentioned Bobby Kennedy. Was he a role model?
Muriel Beach: “Bobby Kennedy, yes. Eleanor Roosevelt, from day one — her fights for human rights, her work at the United Nations, and her work in all forms. Frances Perkins, who was the first woman in the Cabinet and the first Secretary of Labor under FDR. Anyone who’s worked hard on climate change would be a role model for me. It’s a major crisis of the whole planet at this time.
Senior Planet: You were a very positive force during the HIV/AIDS crisis. You were on the front lines when many people were very afraid.
Muriel Beach: “I became close to many people who were ill and were dying of AIDS. I was active in the formation of GMHC [Gay Men’s Health Crisis]. I would take friends to doctors, to appointments, to chemo sessions. Sit with them. Hold their hands. It was a time when many gay men had been ousted by their family for being gay. And I thought it was very important that these dying young men had this older mother figure in their life. To sit with them, hold their hand, and be with them as they were dying. It was a very difficult time for me, too. I was also ostracized by my friends who were afraid that through my contact with them I might be a carrier, so they didn’t want anything to do with me. Because at that point, they didn’t know how AIDS was spread.
Senior Planet: How can others follow your lead?
Muriel Beach: “Have the courage to fight. Know what is at stake. Don’t polarize the age groups. There is a common denominator. By uniting the groups, you’re going to have a stronger fighting force. The younger generations are involved in their workplace more and they don’t have the free time. Seniors have time — we’re retired. We have the background and the knowledge. And we have the desire to fight for certain things and to preserve them for the next generation.
Senior Planet: What role has Senior Planet played in your life?
Muriel Beach: “It’s connected people of my generation to their grandchildren, to the world outside. As we get physically limited in the ability to go out and do things, through my Senior Planet training, and using the iPad, and computers, we stay connected. I check BBC News every morning for the news. I can’t read a newspaper. And so I feel I get a snapshot of what’s happening in the world every day through that.
Senior Planet: What’s your “proudest moment” as an activist?
Muriel Beach: “I see it as a total picture. A life work. There were different causes at different times. I look back on my life with a sense of pride. I feel not that I’ve done everything I should have done but I feel I did a lot of things that were helpful. It’s a nice feeling when you’re 90 years old that you can look back and not have regrets.
Senior Planet: What does ‘aging with attitude’ mean to you?
Muriel Beach: “Being proud of being old. Not thinking, “I’m old, I’m decrepit, or embarrassed, or ashamed about being old.” I use a walker. I’m legally blind. I’m hearing impaired. But my mental facilities are not impaired. The ‘longevity revolution’ is a gift! To be 90 years old, to be still active, to be functioning — that’s a gift! Aging with attitude is the opposite of ageism. It gives you energy. It’s a very positive reflection on aging. And it’s arrogant….in a nice way.”
On December 11th, 2018, Muriel Beach will take part in an interactive panel discussion and reception celebrating activism then and now called #RaisingHell: 50 Years of Activism. The event is hosted by OATS (Older Adults Technology Services) and will be held at their flagship Senior Planet Exploration Center at 127 W. 25th St. from 4 – 7 pm. It will feature advocates discussing the intersections and parallels of social movements over the past 50 years, including the Civil Rights Movement, the #MeToo movement, and many others. To attend, RSVP required. To RSVP, email firstname.lastname@example.org, call 646-590-0615, or RSVP here on Eventbrite.