1993 Washington – Elenor Smith

The May 1993 Wheels of Freedom Action is notable for the memorial program for ADAPT co-founder Wade Blank and his young son Lincoln, who had drowned the previous February; the meeting with Donna Shalala, Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton; and the ongoing actions and arrests for “our homes, not nursing homes.”

Memorial Program for Wade Blank

ADAPT gathered in front of the capitol to remember Wade. Before being tapped by a nursing home administrator to recruit residents for a new youth wing, Wade had been a minister, a War on Poverty organizer, and a student of the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. At the nursing home he soon realized the young people were living under extreme oppression, and his efforts to reform the system from within were fruitless. He began moving the young people back out into the community, so the nursing home fired him. But his commitment to disability rights became lifelong, and he founded the Atlantis Community and then ADAPT.

Among those speaking in his memory were Bob Kafka, Colorado Representative Pat Schroeder (who years before had brought coffee to the first ADAPT demonstrators blocking buses in Denver), Justin Dart, Laura Hershey, Evan Kemp, Stephanie Thomas and Mike Auberger. Messengers spoke from the offices of Congressmen Major Owen, Tom Harkin and President Clinton. Elaine Kolb and Johnnie Crescendo sang. The program ended with a march to the White House where ADAPT reached through the fence to plant crosses with the names of people who had died in nursing homes. For every formal tribute to Wade and his family, there were many personal ones throughout the week. I remember Carolyn laughing and crying at the same time while telling me a sweet, funny memory from her personal friendship with Lincoln.

Meeting with Secretary Donna Shalala

ADAPT leadership met with Shalala and secured promises to advance attendant services in the new national health plan being crafted by President Clinton, with much involvement from Hillary. Shalala then appeared before all of ADAPT, promising to rebalance power away from nursing homes toward support at home. She spoke of the President’s intention to unveil a health care plan for all Americans that would be available wherever and whether they worked and would not be denied for pre-existing conditions.

“Powerful interests don’t want us to do that,” she stated. Shalala also took many questions from the floor. I remember my pride in my usually quiet friend, Nancy Moulton (now deceased), as she spoke up publicly to sharply criticize the administration’s failure to confront Oregon’s system of rationing health care. Listening to many personal stories, Shalala pledged support and asked ADAPT’s help in lobbying our Congress people to support the national health plan (From the perspective of 2008, we know that Congress, the mega-industries, and their lobbyists completely defeated the health plan).

Actions and New Coverage

ADAPT demonstrated at the White House, at the nursing home lobby headquarters, and filled the halls of the Capitol, where many were arrested. The media coverage was excellent, including TV reports that correctly stated ADAPT’s intent to rebalance the federal funds so that 25% of the Medicaid money would go to home assistance instead of institutions. Beyond local stations, CNN and World News tonight covered the actions. Marca Bristo, Mike Auberger, Karen Tamley, Justin Dart, Laura Hershey, Mark Beckworth, and John Gladstone were among those giving eloquent statements to the media.

But far from the media lights, at another action, in another year, I remember John Gladstone in jail, at 4 a.m. in front of a judge. All of us arrested, questioned one by one by the judge, routinely answered, “yes” when asked if we would now stay away from the hotel where we had been arrested. All except John, who told the judge, “No. I cannot make that promise. I once lived in a nursing home, and I will go anywhere, any, time to keep other people out.”