2002 – Washington – Tim Wheat

I was one of the thoroughly drenched activists blocking the street in front of the Office of Management Budget who didn’t realize how big our success was at that action. Five years later, when everyone was saying the things ADAPT was yelling in the street that day it was clear how essential our voices are.

It seems in retrospect to be a coincidence, or some mystical ADAPT mojo when we end up at the right place at the right time. The truth is that ADAPT is an action group and makes the opportunities, but on May 13, 2002 when Mitchell Daniels had refused to meet with ADAPT and it began to rain, it was beginning to look like an awful mess.

We had blocked the front door to the large office building, which was hassle for some, but most of the people inside saw our takeover as a passing inconvenience. ADAPT had also blocked the two main intersections outside the OMB which was a major irritation to motorists, and to the Capitol Police who were redirecting traffic and preparing to arrest hundreds of us.

The police held off making arrests. The afternoon rain shower obviously caused the authorities to feel that the rain would help cool things off. The rain shower, however, had the opposite effect. ADAPT activists all pulled out an assortment of brightly colored rain ponchos and were reinvigorated by the spring drizzle.

The intersections were wrapped in yellow caution-tape similar to what police use to designate a “crime scene.” The ADAPT yellow tape however said “community first” and had the ADAPT logo. At the four corners of each intersection, activists stretched the tape around the sign poles. Then, they made a May Pole effect by bringing the tape to the center of the intersection. The police didn’t seem to like our appropriating their yellow symbol; they pulled much of it down from the intersection, but many ADAPT activists were partially wrapped in tape into the wet afternoon.

The festive atmosphere outside resulted in the pressure rising inside the OMB. The staff inside who were mildly curious hours ago, were now intently curious if they would be able to get out to go home. Mitchell Daniels sent an assistant out to negotiate with ADAPT.

By that strange ADAPT twist of fate it was Mark McClellan who came out to parley with ADAPT in the rain. We had no way of knowing at the time at Mark McClellan would become the Administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the central federal agency developing long-term Medicaid Policy. And it is no surprise that the exact words ADAPT was yelling in the street, would become the language of law in the “Money Follows the Person” Legislation.

In the street that day, I also remember seeing Joe Shapiro the author of “No Pity: People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement.” He was walking around with a microphone interviewing activists, police and bureaucrats. I didn’t get a chance to talk to him that day, but I recall wondering just what his angle was; I wondered what perspective he would give to the demonstration.

About four years later I would learn what Joe Shapiro’s slant was on the ADAPT protest. After “Money Follows the Person” became law in February of 2006, Reporting for National Public Radio, Joe Shapiro told the story of how the legislation came about and is currently helping to get literally thousands of people out of institutions. You can still listen to his piece on NPR.org and hear some of the voices and chants he recorded.

“McClellan recently announced his resignation,” Joseph Shapiro reports in his NPR article: Disabled Activists Win Battle for Independent Care. “Though he’ll be most remembered for setting up the new Medicare drug benefit, he says one of his proudest accomplishments was his work with ADAPT.”

I love being a part of that accomplishment. ADAPT also visited the White House, Congress and we attempted to get support from Unions that week in May. Some people might think that the route to get “Money Follows the Person” sounds more like “luck” than achievement. Well I can’t deny that ADAPT has some bizarre indescribable luck, but the critical factor that made the difference that day, and the following years getting the legislation passed was that ADAPT took action. Without direct action, “Money Follows the Person” might still be just an idea lost in the noise of Medicaid policy.