And what an action it was! Did the crosses and Jewish stars on Sunday presage the priest on Monday? Did ADAPT’s house calls remind the AMA about days gone by, and drive home the point that we want to live in our own homes, not institutions? Without question the ADAPT Woman Warrior negotiating team struck the first blow that resulted in the AMA finally endorsing the Community Choice Act after the 2007 Chicago action. The blood we left on the cement as people dragged their bodies up the steps of the Old Executive Office Building resulted in a meeting with Vice President Al Gore, then running for President. And on the last day, we demonstrated the saying, “Think globally, act locally.”
Here’s how it all unfolded….
After some ferocious stormy weather that delayed flights, Sunday dawned with sunny skies, perfect for our Voices and Faces Rally, where real people who had escaped nursing homes and other institutions spoke out for those still incarcerated, vowing to keep fighting until everyone was free. In addition, after some remarks by then head of Medicaid, Tim Westmoreland, hundreds of us marched to the White House, accompanied by “Father Time” and a huge hour glass.
We planted white crosses and Mogan Davids (star of David) in the White House lawn in memory of all those who had died waiting for freedom, and to give the President and Vice President a visual showing just an inkling of the thousands upon thousands still incarcerated by our failed Medicaid policy that promotes institutions instead of homes.
Every now and then ADAPT will split an action into two or three targets to be hit simultaneously, and that’s exactly what we did on Monday. A small group of about a hundred of us were ferried to a lovely, tree filled neighborhood outside of D.C., where we made a house call on Andrew Cuomo, then Secretary of HUD. Cuomo had promised to meet with ADAPT, and then failed to keep his promise. I guess you could say we are like elephants…we don’t forget!
So, taking care to “stay off the grass,” we packed the front walk and steep driveway with bodies, chairs, and beautifully colored chalk drawings that said “Our Homes Not Nursing Homes!” In one of the typically bizarre occurrences that seem to attend ADAPT actions, HUD chose to send a priest to negotiate with us. Surrounded by a cadre of local police and Secret Service agents, the priest and a HUD employee who came with him heard our story, and having heard, pledged to make Sec. Cuomo keep his promise to meet with us.
While the “Cuomo 100” was winning in the burbs, hundreds more ADAPT activists made a second house call on none other than the AMA. An all-woman ADAPT Amazon negotiating team hung in there to convince the very patriarchal, hierarchal AMA that we would not be dismissed with head pats, and we would not go away until they stopped patronizing us and agreed to meet to discuss how they can support community instead of sending people to institutions with the stroke of a pen.
On Tuesday, we went to the Old Executive Office Building, the Headquarters of Vice President Gore. Gore had failed to issue official support for MiCASSA as a presidential candidate, and he and President Clinton, in the waning hours of the Clinton administration had also not supported full funding for the Office of Civil Rights enforcement of Olmstead, nor had they supported funding Olmstead implementation grants to the states.
For those looking for historical lessons to inform the future, especially during this election year, they would do well to remember Stephanie’s words from this D.C. action report in Incitement.
“Eight years of promises were coming to a close with a lot of promises not kept and a lot of dreams broken. Lip service is not attendant services. Glad-handing does not complete a bowel program. It doesn’t get you up and dressed, and it doesn’t get you into bed at the end of the day.”
And so, after gathering in Lafayette Park, we marched across the street and surrounded the building, finding all but one, tiny inaccessible gate closed up tighter than a drum. As usual, the presence of steps could not stop ADAPT’s determined warriors. About three dozen people spilled out of their chairs, and were carried, or dragged themselves down the tiny entry steps, across a huge plaza, and then up the steps of the Old Executive Office Building to block the doors.
The images from that day are seared in my memory…Maria, refusing any assistance, pulling herself by her hands regally across that checkerboard plaza, inch by inch, like a sinuous snake-queen; best friends Julie and Tammy, both with CP, struggling step by step, leaving blood in their tracks, as they dragged themselves to the top of the building’s staircase; Quinn, seated proudly on his portable stool in his white shirt in the hot sun, cane by his side, blocking one of the building’s doors; and then, looking back from the wide steps, and seeing my husband Bob and 500 of our brothers and sisters tightly lining the wrought-iron fence staring back at us, chanting and sending ADAPT energy to everyone inside what must have resembled a prison yard.
Gore’s staff finally located him on the campaign trail, and Nancy Ann Min DeParle, head of all HCFA (now CMS), personally assured that the Vice president would keep his word to meet with us. Victory came none too soon, as the day had taken its toll on Lou’s heart, and he was taken by ambulance to the hospital to recover, and others repaired to their rooms to clean and dress the wounds they sustained from crawling, dragging and climbing on cement because the building entrance was not accessible.
On Wednesday, we again hit two targets. First, supposedly on our way to the Hill to visit our congressional delegations, we took everyone by surprise as we descended on D.C. City Hall to confront D.C. Mayor, Anthony Williams. He was leading a city that has more institutionalization than almost anywhere in the country, right there in the backyard of Congress and the President.
Since they didn’t expect us, our negotiating team easily entered the building and the rest of us spread out across the front of City Hall. Mayor Williams was contacted at a meeting in Baltimore, and agreed to meet with ADAPT at 2 p.m. that day. 100 ADAPT activists remained at City Hall to be sure the Mayor kept his word, and the rest of us made our scheduled visits with our U.S. Senators and Representatives.
Mayor Williams kept his word and met with us at 2 p.m. Two hours later our negotiating team emerged from City Hall with the Mayor’s commitment to ongoing meetings with the Capitol Area ADAPT group, and his promise to apply for more federal dollars for community services to address the barriers to community that continue to keep so many people institutionalized in our nations’ capitol…especially the disgraceful lack of affordable, accessible housing.
That night, as always, we celebrated together before leaving the next day for our homes across the country, and even “across the pond.”
It’s funny, even though so much of what we do seems to take so long, so many years (Bob Kafka says it’s akin to trying to turn the Andrea Doria), every time we go to Washington, D.C. the insiders there tell us that NOTHING happens until ADAPT comes to town and forces some action.