1997 – Washington – Jeniene Burtram-Kemp

1997 was a watershed year for ADAPT and the introduction of the first version of the Community Services Act: MiCASA – The Medicaid Community Services Act. It was a year we made our presence known, in no uncertain terms, to the politicians and pundits in Washington, D.C. We were tired of broken promises and bureaucratic runarounds. The Clinton administration had promised to meet with us by March of 1997 and had not come through. In June, we arranged to come to Washington in waves and be there for 2 weeks. We also came back in September, just to make sure they knew we were serious.

At that time, we were also still locked in battle with “That Dirty Dog” Greyhound Bus Company and a Department of Transportation that refused to enforce the ADA regulations to allow us access to intrastate and interstate bus travel.

In June, there was no room at the inn for meeting space. The hotel wanted to charge $11,000 for a meeting room. Ever resourceful, ADAPT held meetings on level P-2 of the parking garage. I’d been coming to actions off and on since 1987 and those parking garage meetings were some of the best ever. There’s something about the ADAPT spirit. We take making lemonade out of lemons to expanded levels. We were at our most creative, rowdiest and outspoken in those P-2 meetings. And my-oh-my-blueberry pie, that last night’s party…did we dance the night away! That garage was rockin’ til’ the wee hours.

1997 was a year of hope and grief for me. The June actions were full of hope—I was sure MiCASA would be law within 5 years. I lived in DC then, with my late husband, Evan Kemp and we both went to the June actions. He’d been in the Bush 1 administration as Chairman of the EEOC when he “found” ADAPT in 1987. He and Wade Blank bonded over the Cleveland Browns. Evan had been in the disability rights movement since the late 1970’s but he really found his “soul” home when he went to his first ADAPT action. (I’d come of age in the ‘60’s so ADAPT felt right from ‘jump street’). By 1997, Evan had moved out of the DC “fake power” scene (we know who has the real power…the grassroots). His goal was to get arrested at an ADAPT action before he died.

We were all in the Capitol rotunda and had refused to leave without a meeting with Newt Gingrich, then Speaker of the House. The police were threatening and antsy. Evan was excited—sure he’d get arrested. Then Newt agreed to meet with ADAPT and later that year introduced MiCASA as HR 2020. Evan and I went home happy that ADAPT triumphed but he was looking forward to the next day in hopes of being arrested.

The next day we blocked the AHCA (American Health Care Association) building in downtown Washington. Traffic ground to a halt. We wanted to get the group that represented nursing homes to agree to the principle of choice and ending the institutional bias. AHCA board and leadership were out of town at a meeting so it took awhile-faxing back and forth before a letter came committing to a meeting with ADAPT. Still no arrests.

Then the White House and Department of Transportation were the targets of actions. Both agreed to ADAPT demands and there were no arrests the entire week.

The following August 12, Evan died of a massive heart attack. He never lived to get arrested. During the September action- I was a grief stricken basket case. Tom Olin, Cassie James and our troubadour, “Johnny Crescendo” almost had to carry me from one place to the next. Yet when the ADAPT family gathered ‘round and hosted a memorial service for Evan on the steps of the Capitol, I knew I would “keep on keepin’ on.” There was reason to live, work to do, and the ADAPT family to do it with

The grief is long gone and hope still springs eternal. As I write about 1997 in 2008, MiCASA has morphed into the Community Services Act and our people still are forced to live in nursing homes and other institutions.

Yet ADAPT will never give up. We’ve grown. Many more have joined us and there are youth leaders to take up the torch and FREE OUR PEOPLE.