A tale of three cities: advocacy and movement building among elderly women in California



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In the spring of 2007, the Women’s Foundation of California and the California Endowment created what would become the Elder Women’s Initiative, (EWI) which focuses on building a social movement for elder women and their allies with specific attention to healthcare and economic security. This study is largely descriptive and focuses on how state and non-state actors participated in the Elder Women’s Initiative. I looked at ways in which their unique roles can shape the scope of the movement and in what capacity the notion of advocacy is defined. I used feminist and social movements theory to frame my study. The data collection was multi-phased: the first was interviews with state leaders at the policy and community-based level, and the second was “Speak-Outs” or community listening sessions in three geographic areas in California. During the Speak-Outs, which recruited elder women and their allies from low-income communities in California, the women were able to testify about their experiences with the aging process. They also spoke with policymakers about how to collaborate in building the movement.
While the Elder Women’s Initiative raised more questions than it answered, participants identified several concrete recommendations were identified about how to build the movement. The current political landscape in California is fraught with tension over the recent budget crises. It is important for future researchers to examine the ways in which the EWI fits into the policy process and how women across California can experience dignified and healthy aging.