By Carol Tyson
Metro DC ADAPT
I joined my fellow ADAPT activists on the US Capitol lawn. I’d seen the Twitter posts of new ADAPT friends in Senate offices, calling them out on Graham-Cassidy and trying to slash Medicaid. I knew it had already been an eventful morning. We were asked to line up, single file, then moved our way into the street. We walked/rolled in front of the Supreme Court. All the while we chanted “No Cuts to Medicaid, Save Our Liberty”, and “Free Our Parents, Free Our Siblings, Free Our People Now!” It was easy to chant loud and proud, even in the heat and the blazing sun. We were passing by the court that had ruled on the Olmstead decision, which should have led to community integration for all disabled Americans. Tourists and immigrant rights activists took our flyers that explained who we were. Many clapped and cheered, thanking us for all we were doing. We turned onto Independence, then down the steep hill. At the bottom of the hill we turned and filed quickly into the courtyard of the U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) building. I heard shouts – “Orange and blue get to the doors!” We crowded in as close as we could get – trying to get in, but blocked by police. I didn’t realize at the time that we had split up and were covering all three sets of doors.
A press release was passed around. We were there because HHS is the agency most directly responsible for ensuring disabled Americans receive the supports and services they need – like personal care attendants – in the most integrated setting. Instead of following the intent of the ADA and the Olmstead decision, HHS has been failing the disability community: allowing states to skirt their obligations through waivers; not enforcing requirements for states to develop Olmstead plans; and allowing continued shock treatment and torture of our siblings in institutions (among other things).
We stayed at the doors of the HHS building for hours, taking turns leading chants. An Under Secretary came down and spoke to ADAPT members at one of the other doors. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but I could hear the chants in response to what I assumed were not-promising remarks. When asked if he could arrange a call with the Secretary he said he didn’t know his cell phone number, and that he could pass messages along. That wasn’t enough for us. We began looking up, and calling, every number we could find for HHS on the internet, right from the front doors – and we emailed the scheduling office. We said ‘The Secretary needs to meet with ADAPT NOW!’
Anita led us in a beautiful rendition of “We who believe in freedom will not rest.” After a while those of us that couldn’t be arrested that day moved back. The mood became more serious. We chanted “Cut the Crap, Meet with ADAPT”; “Our Homes, Not Nursing Homes”; and, “I’d rather go to jail than die in a nursing home!” That chant hits closer to home for some reason – maybe because I know that if my circumstances had been different, I could have wound up living in an institution. And I know so many people that have. The people who were risking arrest took turns leading that chant, filling in what is inaccessible to many in nursing homes – “I’d rather have love, than die in a nursing home! I’d rather have freedom; I’d rather have choices; I’d rather have a lover; I’d rather be in the community …” I was filled with anger and sadness, tears started to stream down my face. I felt a little self-conscious, but then looked over and realized the person next to me was crying, too. That’s why we were there. When the police came over to arrest the orange and blue, we cheered, made heart signs and clapped. …You probably know by now that the police decided not to arrest anyone – there were too many of us.
At the debrief meeting that night we heard stories from people who had made it into the hearing room on Monday, and from everyone who’d paid visits to Senator’s offices earlier that day. The week had been a success so far – we’d killed the bill – and I was grateful and proud to have been involved. But there is still work to be done. We were reminded that there was a time when the ADA was just a dream and we thought it would never get passed. Now, we need to keep our focus on the Disability Integration Act, to ensure living in the community is considered a civil right. I know ADAPT won’t give up until it is passed and all our people are free.
By Liam Dougherty
Adapt lined up at 8am this morning. Each person got three water bottles and we hit the busy streets of rush hour in Washington DC. We marched to the senate offices once again, this time splitting into groups based on our color, and heading to several congressional offices.
The blue team went to Senator Cassidy’s office, one of the crafters of the new terrible healthcare bill. Once we were in there, we started yelling and chanting, and all telling our own individual stories about how the future of Medicaid will affect us personally, at the same time! It was very frustrating to Cassidy’s staff, who pretended to go about their business with scowls on their faces during the chaos. Later we found out that each color group hit their own key figures, almost at the same time. It is amazing how well this action is thought through and planned.
We next all came back together and went to a rally hosted by Senator Casey and featuring Senators Cory Booker, Chuck Schumer, and many others. We then took a break to eat McDonald’s hamburgers (I’m told these are called “Adapt steaks” because they are purchased at Adapt actions a lot). Then we went to the Department of Health and Human Services, where we got through the door but police stopped us from going further in. We chanted loudly outside their building, till we eventually got enough warnings from the police that they arrested us. But when we left the door to be processed they dropped the charges–they didn’t want to arrest us!
So we went back to the closed doors and taped our posters to their windows. Adapters then went to all the doors and driveways preventing anyone to come in or out of the building. Adapt leadership asked if I wanted to be arrested, and I “was a yes.” After I was sitting in the driveway for awhile, I started to doubt myself–would it be worse for me if I was arrested twice in two days? What might it affect on my record? Looking back on it now feels embarrassing, because right after that I thought about it more and realized how childish I was being. Not only would it have been fine for me, in terms of getting arrested, but I also realized how simple and selfish my worry was. Our cause–of restoring freedom, dignity, and meaning to millions of lives–is so much more important than any tiny sacrifice I could make. And our society totally disregards me and many of my people in countless ways, and it is completely justified to fight for basic civil rights. That was my biggest lesson for this trip: to not care about the rules of an evil and unfeeling government, and trust in Adapt. This fight is about life or death for millions, including myself. I must put all of myself on the line.
In the early evening we left to go back to the hotel, and we had a big meeting where we talked through all of the incredible things Adapt had done today and yesterday, and we saw the impact of those actions: the horrible Graham-Cassidy healthcare bill was not going to be put up for vote–it was finally dead.