1994 – Las Vegas – David Wittie

So many years, actions, and friends have passed me since ADAPT showed up for the showdown with the American Health Care Association (AHCA) in Las Vegas in October of 1994. And since it was only my fifth national action since first becoming involved with ADAPT in 1992, I was STILL very green and very much in awe of so many folks coming together with such determination.

Our Texas group arrived at the airport late Sunday afternoon and we must have waited what seemed like two hours in the parking lot (sound familiar?) for our ride to the hotel. But this turned out to be a good thing because, still being fairly new, I got to meet some “old timers” from all over who “had a clue” about what we were about to face. I had grown up in desert country and really was enjoying the beautiful sunset when I remembered why I had brought my FM radio along on the plane. A nationally syndicated disability program was broadcasting in Las Vegas and I was determined to hear it. As rare as ANY disability-related program was at the time, this particular one was especially interesting because, as it turned out, they were talking about US – ADAPT – and our issues! We hadn’t even left the airport parking lot and our message was being spread in interviews and songs! This was very, very cool!

When we reached the hotel, I just knew someone had made a mistake. We were staying at the glitziest hotel I’d ever been in. I seemed to recognize the brightly lit driveway from many movies and tourist films I had seen before. It was overwhelming my senses. You could bet it wouldn’t last, though. Soon enough, ADAPT buckled down to business.

By the next day, many of our folks were hard at work in the faces of AHCA conventioneers. And by Tuesday, all 400 of us were on the march to spread the word in our own press conference. The demand was simple – redirect 25% of Medicaid dollars currently going into nursing homes back into home and community-based attendant service. By now in my life, this was a mantra. Real people told their real-life stories of struggling with nursing homes and uncaring staff. I had personally but only briefly experienced some of the same struggle eight years earlier. It was all too real to me.

Most of the next few days have blurred together into memories of lengthy takeovers of busy intersections, the Las Vegas Convention Center, and AHCA’s hotel. I distinctly recall Reverend Willie leading prayers at the base of a large wooden cross from which a wheelchair was hung – symbolizing the many human sacrifices made to the nursing home industry. And I remember the next day, after the cross was erected again near AHCA’s convention; the police briskly came and STOLE it from us, fearing it might be used as a battering ram to bust into the secured building. They had already witnessed how Anita Cameron and some others were capable of breaking and entering past their supposedly first-class security teams.

I remember a life-size statue memorializing Elvis, huge dancing fountains, a giant shiny black pyramid in the desert, all-u-can-eat steak buffets, the glitz and glitter of Fremont Street, and the rat-mazes of the casinos. But probably the best image was of the look of disbelief on that man’s face as he tried to pass out copies of injunctions – court orders – to 400 proud protesters. We completely ignored his demands that we cease and desist our march up the Convention Center driveway. We refused (and continue to refuse) to stop protesting AHCA’s unjust gambling with the lives of our brothers and sisters just to make another buck.

“Final count – 486 arrests. It was Paradise. FREE OUR PEOPLE!”