Senior citizens from Oakland performed in front of nearly 100 people at Frank H.Ogawa Plaza on Wednesday for the city’s 8th annual Older Americans Month celebration. The site, which has become synonymous with the Occupy Oakland protests, was transformed into a concert hall where folk dancers and Baby Boomers took center stage, despite some disruptions from Occupy protesters.
This year’s theme for Older Americans Month was “Never Too Old to Play,” and the event encouraged people to celebrate aging, stay engaged in their communities and acknowledged Oakland as a great place to grow old.
“How many people were raised by their grandparents?” Tammy Siu, aging and adult service manager at the Oakland Department of Human Services, asked the audience. “I see 10…15 hands in the crowd. Without my grandmother I wouldn’t be where I am today. My grandmother gave me strength. My grandmother gave me wisdom. My grandmother took me to school. She braided my hair. My grandmother was my world— especially in a time when my parents were really to young to take care of me. That’s the reason why I am here.”
Older Americans Month has been a national holiday since April 1963, when President John F. Kennedy met with the National Council of Senior Citizens and learned about the concerns of older Americans. President Kennedy went on to designate May as Senior Citizens Month — now Older Americans Month — and encouraged the nation to acknowledge older peoples’ contributions.
Several city officials, including Mayor Jean Quan, attended the Oakland event. “The reason we have so many senior people and why we’re so diverse is because Oakland is a city that fought for affordable housing for seniors and working class people,” the mayor said before a crowd that included booing Occupy Oakland protesters.
“Occupy guys, grow up … come on!” the mayor said, as she tried to speak over them.
“San Francisco has become a place where really only wealthy people can live,” she continued. “More people that have families and young people starting out are all moving to Oakland.”
She paused. “Ladies [in the crowd], can you please request the Occupy people be more polite?”
“Yeah! Get out of here,” some crowd members replied.
“Alright. Thank you very much,” Quan said. “If you’re going represent the 99 percent, at least respect the people here.”
She returned her focus to the event attendees. “All right guys, so this is your day. This is your event,” she said.
During the event, the mayor presented an award to the city’s oldest citizen, 113-year-old Andrew Hatch, congratulating him on his longevity. “We want to honor a very special Oaklander. It’s such an honor to meet you,” she said.
The mayor wanted people to know she is a senior, too. “Now that I’m over 60, I know we as Boomers are going to be healthier and be more involved. It’s your time for playing but I know a lot of you are volunteering in the community, you’ve been a part of the library advisory and our schools.”
Quan also spoke about affordable housing and Governor Jerry Brown’s belt-tightening budget that will affect senior services in Oakland. Buried in the budget, she said, is an assumption that the state is reducing funding for affordable housing. Officials from the city of Oakland thought when the closure of redevelopment agencies was resolved, she said, that affordable housing would be saved. “We’re looking at six projects that are at risk,” she said, “so we’re going to need your help. We will try to combine services for seniors, but not reduce them.”
“The people that built this city have a right to live in this city,” she said.