By Jill Gambon
Hearing Social Security and Medicare described as “entitlements” bothers Gerald Flaherty. “They’re not entitlements; you paid for them,” he said.
Even more vexing to Flaherty are voters who depend on these or other government-sponsored programs but back candidates or policies that undermine them.
“It’s a mystery why people sometimes vote against their own best interests,” he said.
Getting voters engaged in what’s at stake in this year’s state and federal elections is why Flaherty, 74, of Marion, signed on as an AARP Massachusetts advocacy volunteer. He and other advocates push to keep these programs intact, speaking at community events and attending policy meetings with state legislators on Beacon Hill in Boston.
“Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are lifelines for millions. It’s critical that people get out and vote,” said Flaherty, who is also a member of AARP Massachusetts’ Executive Council.
In addition to protecting those programs, AARP and its volunteer advocates are focused at the state level on caregiver
tax-credit legislation, age-friendly communities and financial security initiatives.
“Our members consistently say they want elected officials to take action on issues that matter. They want results,” said Jessica Costantino, advocacy director for AARP Massachusetts. “It’s imperative for people to understand where candidates stand.”
AARP has been a presence at public events—like Boston’s Pride Festival at City Hall Plaza and the Bristol County Celebration of Seniors—to build visibility and awareness among older voters, to discuss the issues and to encourage people to sign the pledge to vote. Members can also receive updates and alerts on voting issues via social media and email.
Rallying Citizens to Vote
Nationally, AARP has launched “Be The Difference. Vote,” a wide-ranging voter engagement campaign aimed at spurring the largest-ever turnout of people 50 and older in the Nov. 6 elections.
“We have to keep politicians accountable,” said Jane Ahern-DeFillippi, another AARP Massachusetts advocacy volunteer and Executive Council member.
Ahern-DeFillippi, 71, of Melrose, and other volunteers attend community events during campaign season—such as meet and greets, coffee hours, local celebrations and festivals—to get candidates to speak on the record about where they stand on the issues.
“We are asking politicians specifically, ‘What is your position?’ ” she said. And volunteer advocates are sharing the information on Facebook and Twitter.
In Boston, on Wednesday, Sept. 12, AARP Massachusetts will hold a training workshop on voter registration deadlines, polling locations and how to craft a quick pitch when communicating with family, neighbors or candidates, Costantino said.
Flaherty said the Executive Council hopes to expand volunteer roles to “super advocates” or “ambassadors,” who could mobilize groups of other volunteers.
There’s plenty of work to go around, said Ahern-DeFillippi. “You can sign the pledge to vote and tell a neighbor or a relative. That’s a great start.”
To learn more about the issues or becoming an advocacy volunteer, contact AARP Massachusetts at firstname.lastname@example.org or 866-448-3621 toll-free.
Jill Gambon is a writer living in West Newbury, MA.