Senior Power Through Organizing

By Susan E. Bouchard
(Photographs by Susan E. Bouchard)

View of panelists seated.

Panelists from left Maureen Maigret, Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, moderator Bill Flynn, Sen. Harold Metts and Lee Ann Byrne.

Building senior power through organizing was the focus of the Senior Agenda Coalition of Rhode Island’s tenth annual conference and expo at the Crowne Plaza on Friday, Oct. 20, 2017.

Keynote speaker Jaime Estades encouraged the more than 300 gathered to learn to organize their power to create change. Estades is co-founder of the Latino Leadership Institute (LLI), a not-for-profit, nonpartisan organization affiliated with City University of New York. He has been teaching campaign management and public policy for more than 20 years.

Jaime speaking at podium.

Keynote speaker Jaime Estades.

Keynote speaker Jaime Estades.

Estades discussed how building credibility within your community is essential to be taken seriously and that through harnessing that power it is possible to influence the agenda. “We learned by doing it,” he explained. They created public policy courses on topics ranging from housing policy to health care. He said they taught anyone and everyone who was interested and they did it free of cost. “This created a movement,” he said. In closing, he encouraged attendees to learn to harness their power.

Bill Flynn, executive director of the Senior Agenda Coalition, encouraged the group, offering an example of how this same type of power had helped restore the no-fare bus passes in Rhode Island’s previous legislative session. He recalled how hundreds of concerned citizens made their voices heard and resulted in policy change at the State House.

From left Judith Fox, Yvette Harris-Evans and Sheila Cabral Sousa participate in a round-table policy discussion.

Rounding out the morning was a panel discussion about the practicality of reaching out to elected officials. Panelists Sen. Harold Metts, Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, Lee Ann

Discussion at conference table.

From left Judith Fox, Yvette Harris-Evans and Sheila Cabral Sousa participate in a round-table policy discussion.

Byrne and Maureen Maigret took questions from panel maderator Bill Flynn and the audience. Flynn reminded attendees to talk with their local representatives and share their stories about the challenges of aging. Ruggiero encouraged people to get and stay involved and to always speak from the heart. “Never forget the power of the people, the power of you,” she said. Throughout the morning attendees learned about stategies and tactics for influencing legislation. By organizing their efforts, they could determine not only what should be on the legislative agenda but how it should be prioritized. Flynn emphasized, “We can make this a pivotal year for improving seniors’ lives in Rhode Island. That’s senior power.”