top of page

Who are the Gray Panthers?

Gray Panthers of Metropolitan Washington a local chapter of National Gray Panthers, is a membership organization of people, young and old, who believe that our country can and must become a much better place for Americans of all ages, ethnic backgrounds, and personal preferences, with higher standards of economic and political justice, decent and affordable housing for all, health care accessible to all, an environment enjoyable and healthful for both people and animals, and free of chemical, industrial, and radioactive pollution, and who seek reduction of violence and crime by positive means such as full employment and aid to families.   

 

 

    " Never doubt that a concerned group of committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's         the only thing that ever has!"

                       - Margaret Mead

JOIN US NOW!

Our History

Gray Panthers of Metropolitan Washington:  44 years of Struggle

 

        In April 1973, three years after Maggie Kuhn and friends started the organization that became Gray Panthers when struggling first against mandatory retirement and other laws that disadvantaged older citizens in their prime, Janet N. Newman, with the aid of a few of her friends, organized Gray Panthers of Metropolitan Washington Network (GPMW) in this area. One of their very first accomplishments was obtaining free checking accounts for elderly people in local banks. First housed at All Souls Church, the Network later moved and shared use of space and office equipment at 2000 P Street with the Retired Professional Action Group. Meetings were held at the Friends Meeting House and the Public Citizens Visitors Center, with support from Washington Peace Center. In 1974, Calvary Baptist Church offered affordable space in the Abernethy Building at 8th & H Streets, and the Network remained a fruitful presence there for the next 20-plus years.

 

     Issues dealt with in the early years continued to need GPMW attention – health issues, housing, mass transportation, reforms in the Social Security system, court reform, corporate responsibility, and political action. Larger issues included war and peace, poverty, hunger, repression, racial inequity, and judicial and penal reform. The old and the young were the particular focus of Gray Panther attention, as they were considered to be the least powerful and the most vulnerable. Also, for many years GPMW was the sole Gray Panther presence in Washington, DC, and played an important role in representing the national Gray Panthers on Capitol Hill. GPMW has since more than fulfilled the initial expectations of this very ambitious program.

 

Early Actions

         GPMW’s very first action led to the availability of free checking accounts for older citizens at a number of area banks. Next, they tackled rent control. After the Initiative and Referendum Bill of Julius Hobson, a founder of the Statehood Party, was passed by the City Council with GPMW help, a successful Rent Control Initiative was voted in. Although the original Rent Control bill has been weakened over the years, Gray Panthers have successfully supported rent control against numerous attempts over the years to eliminate it. And, from its earliest years, GPMW was worked wholeheartedly to support Statehood for the District of Columbia. 

 

Housing

      A Housing Task Force was formed quite early, and Gray Panthers helped establish a Citywide Housing Coalition. Early Gray Panther action led to the restoration of air conditioning in public housing units without it during the intense summer heat. Gray Panthers were early supporters of the Community for Creative Non-Violence, which still maintains the nation’s largest homeless shelter. Over the years, GPMW brought public attention to deplorable conditions in public housing, especially housing for the elderly. They successfully lobbied for a Condominium Conversion Bill protecting tenants’ rights. Over the years, the Gray Panthers have developed a special relationship with Campbell Heights, and the Anti-Poverty Task Force was centered there. Gray Panthers worked with activists at Regency House, and advocated for fair election of the Resident Tenants Council, which resulted in the election of a reform slate. Gray Panthers then worked in coalition to restore the Tenants’ Assistance Program (TAP), and was concerned about the abrogation and expiration of Section 8 contracts. Replacement vouchers being offered did not necessarily cover the difference between what the tenants had been paying and the new increased rent, and were not guaranteed to be reissued.

 

Elder Issues 

         As early as 1974, the Gray Panthers urged Mayor Walter Washington to set up a Commission on Aging, which ultimately resulted in the Agency on Aging, now the Office on Aging. After testimony from Gray Panthers, the City Council agreed to add $15 to Supplemental Security Income benefits (since rescinded). At one point, Gray Panthers helped prevent a cut in Food Stamps. The Social Security Task Force was steadily active. In cooperation with the Gray Panthers of Montgomery and Prince George’s County (both offshoots of GPMW), weekly White House rallies supported Social Security and protested cuts. A symposium of the Future of Social Security was subsequently sponsored by the University of the District of Columbia and GPMW.

 

Health Care

         Health care is an important issue to the Gray Panthers, and the GPMW Health Task Force supports universal health care. One year to protest cuts in the D.C. health care budget, a “Doomsday Clock” was set up outside the District Building and was stopped only when the cuts were restored. With the Health Equal Access League (HEAL-DC), GPMW opposed the closing of Capitol Hill Hospital, and successfully fought removal of 40,000 people from the Medicaid rolls. An   important early work was development of a Medicare Assignment Guide, which for the first time provided information about Medicare assignment acceptance by local physicians. Gray Panthers, with the support of good friends and Councilmembers John Wilson and Dave Clarke, helped pass the Family and Medical Leave Act. GPMW also helped pass a bill to protect the charitable assets of non-profit hospitals taken over by for-profit groups, ensuring that poor patients continued receiving care for at least five years after the takeover.

 

Human Rights

         The rights of elders, children and youth, and the mentally ill have always concerned Gray Panthers. The Kincare Coalition improved laws enabling grandparents taking care of grandchildren (but not their legal guardians) to obtain health care and other services. Through the efforts of the Coalition for Financial Accountability, Aid for Dependent Children (AFDC) benefits were increased by tying the payments to increases in the Consumer Price Index. Gray Panthers lobbied Congress to fund the Domestic Partnership Bill passed by the City Council. GPMW has also joined the DC Immigrants Coalition, working for the human rights and dignity of the immigrant community. The Stand for Children Rally in 1994 was actively supported by GPMW (where one of its youngest members, Toussaint Tingling-Clemmons, age 10, son of long-time members Michele & Rick Tingling-Clemmons gave a notable speech in support of school meals), and members helped Stand for Children and City of Hope build a playground in Anacostia.  The Stop the Violence and Save the Children campaign was also supported by GPMW. Gray Panthers temporarily turned into Green Panthers when they planed azaleas at the Sursum Corda Housing Development, and Christmas toys were collected for the children there.

 

Peace, Justice & Environment

          The GPMW Peace, Justice and Environmental Action Task Force has long been active in coalitions, and helped organize numerous demonstrations such as the 1983 Peace, Jobs, and Justice rally. Signatures were collected for Proposition 1 to abolish nuclear weapons, bring about disarmament and support economic conversion. Every year GPMW protested the Arms Bazaar held in DC. Actions against U.S. military intervention in Iraq, Nicaragua, Panama, Grenada, El Salvador and elsewhere were initiated.  

The blockade and sanctions against Cuba

were opposed. The annual Hiroshima/

Nagasaki Commemoration was initiated

by the Gray Panthers. Toys of Peace (TOP)

demonstrations took place each December

to combat war toys and toys encouraging

violence. Earth Day activities were

endorsed, and Task Force members authored a map and large data base pinpointing radiation sources in the United States and nearby waters. The death penalty, anti-racism, the criminal justice system, and human rights were other areas of GPMW activism.

 

Jobs, Justice & Dignity

        Actions supporting union organizing began early for GPMW. The Justice for Janitors Campaign started by the Service Employees International Union Local 82, and continued until its successful conclusion in the early 90s, was actively supported by Gray Panthers. The Parking Lot Attendants and Service Employees Union, Local 25, an offshoot of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union attracted the involvement of the Gray Panthers, and these actions too showed some success. The Gray Panthers joined in objecting to the use of contract employees instead of Washington Gas employees. GPMW worked to defeat the Noise Control Amendment, aimed at stifling union activity. Although the bill eventually passed, it was modified in some favorable ways. Subsequently, the Living Wage Coalition in Northern Virginia drew the support of the Gray Panthers, and GPMW joined UNITE, an Ant-Sweatshop coalition. The Strawberry Workers of the United Farm Workers (UFW) were supported by an action that drew the support of all the Magruders Grocery Stores in the Washington area. 

 

Public Utilities

         The Public Utilities Task Force members have spoken regularly as Public Service Commission hearings, generally opposing requested rate increases by PEPCO, Bell Atlantic, and Washington Gas. The generators at Benning Road were opposed, and Gray Panthers joined Metro Watch and testified before the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority against general fare increases on the subway and in favor of continuing lower fares for senior citizens. GPMW testified against the proposed merger of PEPCO and Baltimore Gas & Electric.

 

Self-Determination & Statehood

      In coalition, the Gray Panthers objected to the undemocratic imposition of the Financial Control Board and to the erosion of the rights of the citizens of the District of Columbia. The D.C. Coalition on Economic Human Rights was formed recently by GPMW and other activists after the “Freedom Riders” from Kensington Welfare Rights Organization arrived in Washington documenting human rights violations to take to the United Nations and Toussaint’s younger brother and GPMW member, Langston Tingling-Clemmons, recited Langston Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again”. The Gray Panthers have given support at rallies and in testimony for the continuing existence of the University of the District of Columbia and DC Law School, and in opposition to the draconian budget cuts. It must be mentioned that from the very beginning Gray Panthers have appeared on television, spoken on radio  shows, and even been arrested in support of  the various issues on which  they worked, and members have often  spoken at rallies and demonstrations.  Several symposia have been held on  pertinent issues, and the activities of  GPMW have been recognized by a  number of allies, both formally and  informally. 

Fun! Fun! Fun!

      All has not been drudgery! Several film

festivals were held over the years, and the DC

Chapter of Gospel Music workshop of America

gave a concert on behalf of GPMW at the New

Bethel Baptist Church. A program honoring

Bishop Desmond Tutu at the same church was

a highlight for those Gray Panthers attending.

A fundraiser was held at Herb’s honoring Maggie Kuhn, and the Market Square fundraisers at Campbell Heights have been more play than work. The GPMW 20th Anniversary Party and the “80s in the 90s” gala at the Calvary Baptist Church Hall were enjoyed by those attending. And over the years Gray Panthers have had many memorable and enjoyable quarterly membership meetings.

 

     Truly the Gray Panthers of Metropolitan Washington have been in the forefront of the movement for Peace & Justice in the Metropolitan D.C. Community and beyond. This short history only scratches the surface of forty-plus years of service. We give thanks to Green Thumb, which provided office aides in the early years, and to the National Center & Caucus or Black Aged that provided clerical help to the Gray Panthers in later years. GPMW has benefited immensely from all the young interns who have enriched our network through the years. We know this struggle is protracted and we are here for the long haul! To all friends and allies we say:

A Luta Continua – “The Struggle Continues”            June 2017

bottom of page