Don’t just sit there and grumble, Mabel, have your say!

elderly woman with paperwork

Don’t stew, take action to have your voice heard. Even try some newer (and easier alternatives) for getting your point/s across. Pic: khrawlings/Flickr

Many older Australians say they are deeply unhappy about issues and changes that impact their lives or the lives of their loved ones but about which they have had little or no say. They will readily share their displeasure with friends and family but that is usually where it ends.

Yet there are a variety of traditional – and new ways – in which they can make their voices heard. In turn, that may bring about reconsideration or even revision of problematic issues, proposals, policies or products.

Here are four ways you might like to try next time something ‘really gets on your goat’:

  1. Get others talking about the matter
    If it’s appropriate, bring up the topic at your next community or club meeting (you may need to ask to get it on the agenda with some organisations) or informally whenever you get together with friends, neighbours or colleagues. Ask how others feel and what they might have already done or want done in the future. Try to more fully understand the scope of the issue and how it can or does affect other people. You may find your case strengthened by additional examples, data or anecdotes, or you may end up rethinking your own approach to the matter entirely.
    Traditional ways:
    in-person presentations/discussions with friends/club members
    Newer alternatives:
    post on your Facebook feed or a community group’s page
  2. Write a letter/note/email of complaint
    Not happy with the quality or functionality of a recent purchase? Displeased with a decision made or proposed by your local council or the state or federal government? Considering changing your regular service provider/subscription/membership because you’re unsatisfied? Then a carefully worded letter to the appropriate person or organisation – that opens by stating what you particularly valued about the former product/service/policy before stating why the change/s are/would be disappointing – is in order. Be as specific as you can, but don’t be long-winded. Ideally, keep your message to one-page or less, preferably typed, and don’t forget to include your contact details or, at least, a return address. If you know your circle of friends and acquaintances feel likewise, urge them to write too. The pressure of numbers can underscore a need for prompt attention to a matter.
    Traditional ways:
    snail mail, telephone call
    Newer alternatives:
    email, web complaints page, Facebook post
  3. Suggest/participate in a talkback radio segment
    Your regular talk radio station not discussing your particular issue/problem? Then drop your favourite program a line or even call the program’s producer (best done just after an on-air program has ended). Often producers will be casting around for fresh topics to tackle, especially if it’s a quiet news week! But these are busy people, so don’t beat around the bush. Get straight to the point and say whether you would be prepared to comment on-air or simply give a background briefing.
    Traditional ways:
    snail mail, fax, telephone call
    Newer alternatives:
    an email (address usually on station’s website), Facebook, Twitter
  4. If you believe the matter affects a large number of people, or is genuinely unique and unfair
    More recently dozens of political decisions and social injustices have been reversed or righted after thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of citizens have signed online petitions. This advance in technology has enabled petitions to be circulated far and wide at little or no cost and with a fraction of the effort that would have been the case even a decade ago. If you want to launch a petition, two of the most popular (and free) Australian web-based services are org and (which is powered by But check first if there’s already a similar petition circulating. If you do launch your own petition and your matter touches a nerve, the results can be astounding. It helps to cross-promote your petition in newsletters, mail outs, local newspapers, etc. (don’t forget to include the unique web address for your petition). Having big numbers of supporters behind your cause can ensure powerful leverage when dealing with authorities, regulators or politicians.
    Traditional ways:
    town hall/community meetings, stalls, major events, neighbourhood/mail drops
    Newer alternatives:
    online petitions

As ever, the secret to driving change is timely, effective communication, so moving early is likely to produce the greatest results. Your efforts may even attract coverage by mainstream news media. The more people communicate with those who hold the levers of power or change, the more individuals will have some say in issues that directly affect them.


FOOTNOTE: Since this piece was first written, I’ve watched in amazement just how effective social media can be in boosting a good cause. My godson’s best mate began a MyCause (online) fundraiser to help fund the escalating medical bills and prospective costs facing an amazing young man, Brendan Grimley. Brendan’s mother and I have been close friends for more than 50 years. We have journeyed through significant health concerns from when Brendan was born to well into his 20s, but nothing has prepared him or his loved ones for his current battle. You can read all about his bravery and see how the fundraising tally is going after the 40 per cent mark was reached in just 72 hours. If the story touches you, as it has done the rest of us, please add your own donation.)

Words: Trina McLellan

(Trina McLellan is an educator, researcher and web journalist who has worked as a communication consultant. She has also been an occasional volunteer adviser to Older People Speak Out).

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