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Am I a Crone, Or What?

An Interview with Aroza Simpson


Aroza Simpson is a longtime grassroots activist who in recent years has worked with the San Francisco chapter of the Gray Panthers. She has been involved with Reclaiming since the early 1990s. As part of our Elders theme, RQ talked with Aroza about her political commitment, her spirituality, and the meeting-ground of the two.

So right at the top — do you consider yourself a crone or an elder?

No. Even though I'm a 3-30-29er, I'm not that wise. I'm too Aries-impetuous. I keep making the same mistakes under different disguises.

I do have bountiful experience, though. I have lived a long time and have kept my principles intact. I'm obstinate. I have lots of ideas about how to win the struggles for a society that encourages love and justice. And I have heroes, such as Amy Goodman and Judi Bari. (Amy Goodman hosts the embattled radio show, "Democracy Now." The late Judi Bari worked with Earth First! to save Headwaters Forest and other threatened ecosystems.)

So what's different about being older?

The thing I notice is that people give me their seat on the bus. And I have a lot more aches and pains than I used to. My immune system isn't as resilient as it used to be. But I consider that part of getting old, rather than being a crone.

But I am pleased with the concept of being a crone. Something that the Gray Panthers and Reclaiming have in common is that age is respected.

In one of my few remembered dreams, I was terribly distressed because of some problem. Three persons, each representing a solution, appeared. One talked about various technology solutions. One was charismatic. And the last was very logical. Still I was distressed. Onto the scene came a bent-over woman, using a walking stick. She drew a circle around all of us. I felt a sense of relief. My problem was solved.

My present question is: Can I draw a circle around the myriad aspects of my life? Can I make a real difference in the present situation? Certainly crones are needed in these difficult times.

You've been an activist most of your life. How did you get involved?

I started becoming angry at injustice and aware of the shenanigans of "big money investors" at age 16 while working at Starr's Department Store in Zanesville, Ohio. Two friends got fired for trying to start a union, and an older lady was fired as she was almost ready to collect her pension. My pay was 25 cents an hour, and I had to work extra hours at Christmas without pay, because it was "in the contract," which I didn't even know existed and certainly didn't sign.

I learned about "totalitarianism" from my first husband.

Since my first child started kindergarten in 1968, I've been, on varying levels, a social organizer for justice, liberty, and democracy. For the past 11 years, my main volunteer efforts have been with the Gray Panthers. I've been freed of working for "the man" to pay my rent for the last 8 years.

Tell us about your involvement with the Gray Panthers.

I got involved about 1991. I was looking for social activism where I could be an individual. A friend was already involved and said, "come on in." I was getting older, and I liked the idea of "age and youth in action." I didn't want to just work on "elders issues," though, but on social issues that affected the whole society.

With the Gray Panthers I've worked with people whose careers were ruined by being blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee (during the "anti-communist" crusades of the 1950s), persons who had walked the picket lines with their immigrant parents, as well as with younger persons showing valor along with technological and strategic expertise beyond my abilities.

The Gray Panther theme of "Age and Youth in Action" has put me into contact with many San Francisco groups working for peace and justice. The Panthers work in coalition on issues which affect the whole society, such as single-payer universal health care, clean money for elections, and non-privatization of social security, schools, parks, et cetera.

I appreciate that when I work with younger people, it is on a person-to-person level. It's a compliment to realize that we have a relationship as human beings, not in relation to age.

You talk about politics in a very personal way. Say more about this.

With the Gray Panthers, our most dramatic impact has been bringing people together. Our success is going to lie in developing connections with people of like mind, expanding the circle. That's really important. Recently, I've worked with groups like Peace Action, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), and American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). Each time I go to these meetings I become better acquainted with these people. There are always problems when coalitions come together. You have to learn who knows how to do what, what people's strong points are.

The human connections are important in widening the circles to people in these coalitions, and beyond. That's something we haven't figured out how to do well. We need to rephrase the material so that it relates to the needs of people who are busy just surviving.

I would guess that a lot of the lack of motivation for social activism is people's lack of confidence that they have something worthwhile to say and do, and that there is a place for their ideas to become reality.

Everyone agrees universal health care is important. But when it comes to figuring out the nitty-gritty, people feel there is no one to actually listen, so why not think about something like dinner, where they have control?

What drew you to Reclaiming?

The connection with nature and the universe, thinking about what we've gone through as far as evolution. In order to find answers to why people aren't more politically involved, you have to go deeper and find strength in ways that maybe you aren't familiar with.

From the first Reclaiming ritual, I attended, I knew it was what I needed to strengthen my social activism work. When you do the kinds of mundane things that you have to do in organizing, there needs to be some greater reason. It's an inner strength, a calming of my mind, listening to my inner self. Maybe it's my subsconscious telling me things I know — bringing a dream into reality.

Reclaiming made sense. It was attuned to nature. It was oriented towards the principles of activism for a more liveable world, using love and justice.

For quite a few years I attended rituals, but I could never find my way into a deeper personal connection with Reclaiming until I attended Elements of Magic and another class close to my home. Even though I was the oldest one in the group and the least knowledgeable about the Craft, the learning had an equal quality. Here was what I had needed: A chance to explore my deepest thoughts in an accepting atmosphere with experienced teachers and classmates to share ideas with.

How does Reclaiming look from an organizer's perspective?

When I started going to rituals in the early 1990s, I wanted to get more involved, but I couldn't find a way. The classes weren't convenient, since I don't have a car. I finally got involved when there was a class right down the street from me.

This is probably a factor for a lot of people — the meeting isn't close, or they have children to take care of. And often, if you're new, the subject matter isn't familiar. When you want to speak, the people who have been around longer don't listen.

Any final thoughts on how it all fits together?

The Reclaiming principles and my Magic classes, along with my work with the Gray Panthers and good luck in life, has given me the courage to keep my eyes, my heart, and my mind open to new strategies and adventures.

Hopefully, circles will continue to be drawn socially so the forces of young and old can bring into being the kind of life we want and deserve, from the bottom up — the kind of structure where we can listen to each other and somehow, magically, morph many voices into one.

RQ interview by George Franklin.