As of 2005, the organization supported a single-payer healthcare system, as well as an increase in welfare payments, pacifism, "lifelong public education", the rights of workers, reproductive rights, abolition of the death penalty, legalization of same-sex marriage, the legalization of medical marijuana, and environmentalism through advocacy, education and action.
The organization was initially known as the Consultation of Older and Younger Adults for Social Change. The group’s main goals included changing the mandatory retirement age and seeking an end to the Vietnam War. In 1972, they were nicknamed the Gray Panthers by a New York talk show producer. The name was later officially adopted by the group. As of 2010 the group operated under a system of participatory democracy, designed to allow all of their members a say in the group’s direction.
In 1992 former national Head Start administrator Jule Sugarman accepted the position of Interim executive director of the Gray Panthers, who were by then on the brink of insolvency, to help the group reorganize its by-laws, its board of directors, and its fund-raising activities.
Although their slogan was “Age and Youth in Action,” the group was seen by many as meeting the needs of only senior citizens.
The national Gray Panthers organization was a collection of local networks. The group gained official NGO (Non-governmental Organization) status at the United Nations in 1981. Seven Gray Panthers representatives participate in various UN committees and conferences.
The Gray Panthers celebrated their 40th Anniversary "Year of Activism" in 2010.
In 1974, during a picket of two hundred nuns with wheelchairs and crutches outside the annual American Medical Association (AMA) conference, four Gray Panther members dressed as medics rushed to the conference’s main entrance to make a house call on “the sick AMA.” Another member dressed as “the sick AMA” was assisted by the “medics” from the entrance to a nearby ambulance. The medics attempted to resuscitate and examine his heart, but were distracted by pulling out wads of dollar bills.
Group members Dave Brown, Joao Cunha, and Mateus Cunha pointed to the Gray Panthers as instrumental in the effort to popularize health care reform over the past twenty years. Their goal was "to create and fund a single-payer, nonprofit and universal health care system". They also encouraged a "health consciousness" system as opposed to the current "disease orientation" with its focus on preventative care.
The organization filed several suits targeting pharmaceutical companies whom they alleged to have blocked competition over generic drug production and a class action law suit against Bristol-Myers Squibb, a pharmaceutical manufacturer, for alleged damages the company inflicted by delaying competition for BuSpar, a brand name anti-anxiety drug. The suit was the first of its kind to seek damages for the unlawful blocking of generic competition by a drug company.
The Gray Panthers also sued to change Medicare regulations. The case, Gray Panthers v. Schweiker, occurred in 1980. The group alleged that the way older patients were notified that their Medicare reimbursements were denied was an unconstitutional violation of their due process rights, arguing that the notification was laden with jargon and thus difficult to understand. While they lost the initial court case, they were successful on appeal.
The group launched "Stop Patient Abuse Now" (SPAN) in 2001. It represented over 125 national, state, and local organizations representing patient rights.
The Gray Panthers also supported other healthcare issues including the legalization of medical marijuana, a patient's bill of rights, and barriers to stem cell research to be lifted.
The Gray Panthers took a stand on the arms race during the 1970s and 80s. They asserted that the issue was closely related to health. Recently, they fought the possibility of war with Iran, encouraging its members to contact their legislators in regards to the issue.
The Gray Panthers also took action against ageism. The Gray Panthers see aging as something to be considered positively. In the past, the Gray Panthers united with Ralph Nader's Retired Professional Action Group (RPAG) in order to monitor the hearing aid industry. The groups joined in 1973, the same year that RPAG released to the public, ‘’Paying Through the Ear,"  a report documenting acts of unscrupulous sales practices in the hearing aid industry. Furthermore, a national media watch task force was established by the Gray Panthers in 1973, designed to track ageist stereotyping. Their presence persuaded the National Association of Broadcasters to create guidelines for monitoring age discrimination in the media and to encourage sensitivity of the media in the matter.
The Gray Panthers advocated house-sharing and intergenerational living and affordable adequate housing for all. In addition, they supported expanding the number of subsidized rental units available to low-income persons.
In 2003, the Gray Panthers took out full-page newspaper advertisements around the country, including The Washington Post and The Washington Times, asking federal officials to stop awarding federal contracts to MCI WorldCom. The group was outraged at the US government's reaction to MCI WorldCom's having committed one of the largest corporate frauds in American history. The ad was sparked by the announcement that the federal government had awarded the company a multimillion-dollar contract for a wireless network in Iraq. Controversy arose when it was found out that the money for the ads was raised by Issue Dynamics Inc., a consultancy firm that was acting for Verizon Communications, one of Worldcom's competitors. The group defended its actions by stating that it had “no objection to using the enemy to bring down the enemy.”
In addition to health care, the Gray Panthers supported both the environmental and anti-war movements. They opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The organization held that environmental pollution affects mostly people who are poor, women and children, racial minorities and people living in developing countries. It argued that corporations responsible for such pollution should be held accountable for cleaning up their environmental messes. The Gray Panthers advocated that the U.S. government work toward developing alternative energy sources and creating new jobs.
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