Roughly 200 D.C. residents who are members of AARP went to the John A. Wilson Building on Monday to let their lawmakers and Mayor Muriel Bowser know they want their needs met and won’t be easily fooled by false promises.
“There are so many people here we had to go to an overflow room,” the Rev. Shawn Jegede said to the participants who sat in Room G-9 of the Wilson Building.
The D.C. AARP, the national organization’s state-level chapter for District residents, has neighborhood branches throughout the city, including in Anacostia, Bellevue and Congress Heights.
All state-level chapters of the seniors advocacy organization have days where they travel to their capital city to lobby legislators on behalf of its interests. In the District, the DC Senior Advisory Coalition took the lead on Senior Advocacy Day at the Wilson Building.
Jegede said all 13 members of the D.C. Council have agreed to hear the concerns of D.C. AARP members, a first.
“When you walk this building, be sure to wear your ‘Senior Power’ button and name tag so the council members and their staffs know who you are,” she said. “It’s about you, your voice and your city.”
The U.S. Census Bureau reported that in 2017, residents 60 and older make up 17 percent of the District’s population, or 118,275 people, and residents 50 and older made up 28 percent of the city’s population. In addition, 14 percent of residents 65 and older lived below the poverty line.
District seniors are such as powerful force in the city’s politics that a mayoral-level cabinet, the Department of Aging, came about because of pressure from D.C.’s AARP chapter.
Kendrick E. Curry, who serves as the District’s AARP state president as well as the pastor of the Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church in Southeast, said “seniors matter” and “we are a vocal, voting group.”
“We need to go into those council members offices and tell them that we have concerns,” he said. “We have to challenge council members to do something about our concerns.”
Talking points given to the participants consisted of increasing operating funds for adult day care, adding another registered dietitian nutritionist in each ward, providing home-delivered meals to those who didn’t meet previous qualifications, implementing a three percent cost-of-living increase for approved community service providers, funding a 10-year comprehensive plan to seniors, increased funding for temporary housing for abused, neglected and exploited seniors, and increased funding to support LGBTQ seniors.
While those issues did come up in meetings with council members, it seemed that many participants voiced concerns about their neighborhood and their ward outside of the AARP agenda. For example, when 32 seniors met with Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8), they said the Congress Heights Senior Center needed to be renovated and expanded but they talked mostly about violence in the ward, abandoned houses overrun by rodents and the need for recreation centers in the ward.
White responded to those concerns and said three new recreation centers are coming to the ward in Congress Heights, Anacostia and the Douglass Community Center.
Council member Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) had 31 people in a small room. Gray hardly talked about the AARP agenda because he answered questions and concerns about the high cost of housing, incentives for police officers to stay in the District while 84 percent of the Metropolitan Police force lives outside of the city, tree limbs that need pruning and rising electric and water bills.
Council member Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4), whose ward has the city’s second-highest number of seniors, and Bowser basically answered questions that dealt more with constituent services matters than the AARP agenda.
Throughout the day, participants had access to a buffet lunch and beverages and a nursing station.
The Rev. Joseph Williams, co-chair of the DC Senior Advisory Coalition and executive director of the Emmaus Services for the Aging, said the one-day event shouldn’t be forgotten.
“There are two things all of you must do,” Williams said. “You must follow through with the council members and their staffs by way of conversations, emails and telephone calls. Then you must follow up, if they don’t follow through, to make sure they respond to your concerns.”