2006 – Washington – Steve Verriden

After a long nights drive, Wisconsin ADAPTers were relaxing in the courtyard and lobby of the Holiday Inn Capitol. As we sat around waiting to get our luggage up to the rooms, my mind inevitably wandered to the coming action. The magnitude and the importance of the issues that brought us to DC from all over the country DC seemed a bit overwhelming. Who would we “Visit” in order to secure for our brothers and sisters, the same degree of freedom that I myself have long taken for granted? Alphonso Jackson from HUD? Maybe President Bush? How about some members of Congress? We would know come Monday. Might as well catch up with old friends and see what jumping.

Monday morning; cool, I got to the elevators early enough to get downstairs before the big rush. We were all in a “No More Excuses!” frame of mind so it felt like a great theme for the action. No More Excuses for the lack of community based services; No More Excuses for the lack of accessible, affordable housing and No More Excuses for the lack of choice far too many of us endure.

Day 2, Tuesday: The ritual of lining up in color groups is well under way (is it red, blue, yellow then green?) Color leaders make their way through the crowd “single file,” and “leave a path,” sounds its way across the courtyard to the front of the hotel. Finally, the first person rolls off the curb, and we were on our way to the target! Marching in single file, looking like a long snake on wheels, we march to the Grand Hyatt Washington Hotel, to visit Timothy G. Kaiser, the Director of the Public Housing Authorities Association (PHADA).

About two-thirds of the way a smaller contingent of ADAPTers separates from the main line, and goes their own way to the Hyatt. My mind races through possible scenarios: Will we get in? Do they know that we are coming? I see the open garage entrance, and silently we roll in and through a short hallway into the spacious hotel lobby. The disciplined line melts, and we spread around looking like so many tourists.

By the time the last ADAPTer rolls in we’ve become a raucous chanting crowd, “We want Kaiser, We want Kaiser!” Shortly after we begin our chant we get our meeting with Kaiser and a follow-up meeting with PHADA. One more step to “Access Across America.” By then word had filtered back to our group that the smaller ADAPT group who had hit the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities (CLPHA) was about to be arrested. The smaller group had made it to the 9th floor of the offices and packed the hallway.

The unhappy CLPHA staff refused to contact the director and let him know that ADAPT members wish to speak with him. Not to be out-smarted the group contacted a member back home who was able to get the phone number for the board president, Sandra B. Henriquez. Ms. Henriquez agreed to an October 4th meeting with ADAPT. These meetings were an important step towards freedom for many people in nursing homes, as the housing authorities have the ability to target portions of their vouchers to people moving out of institutions. After rounding up everyone at the hotel we linked up with the smaller group at the national mall to head back to the hotel.

Day 3, Wednesday: Morning line up ritual completed, we marched off to the lobby of another hotel (I really like those big hotel lobbies, chanting really echoes nice). This time we go to the Capitol Hilton where the American Associations of Health Plans (AAHP) and the Americas Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) are holding their national conference. Managed care is rapidly moving into many states – our home state, Wisconsin being one of them. For better or worse that is the reality for many people.

So, ADAPT was going to make sure that we got the jump on that aspect of service provision. Many folks in managed care states have major concerns with medical models and losing any choice they may have within the Long-Term Care System. Our goal is to make sure that collectively the managed care associations and the providers they represent commit to principles of choice and control and work with ADAPT to make the goal a reality.

ADAPTs message came through loud and clear in the form of several “cows” roaming through the crowd while we chanted “we’re not cash cows!” the amount of noise echoing through the lobby is amazing as we wait for representatives from the associations to talk to us regarding our demands. Before long, arrangements are made and approximately ten members of ADAPT meet with association representatives to talk a bit and schedule follow up meetings. Once again we have experienced victory early in the day and march back to the hotel to celebrate.

Day 4, Thursday: We line folks up and march to the towering cement fortress that is Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in what is becoming a drenching rain. Before those at the tail end of the line can assume positions at the doors a delegation of HUD representatives have already escorted Barb Toomer from Utah and a delegation of ADAPT representatives to the inner sanctum and are negotiating our demands. Foremost on our minds was a letter to the public housing authorities that Alphonso Jackson had promised to send urging PHAs to make institutionalized people a priority for receiving vouchers.

When they hear the same old “we can’t do it” they turn to walk out. Realizing what they will bring upon themselves they rapidly change their minds (at least that’s what I think). Apparently they did not want to see how we would react to the unwelcome news that Jackson could not take the time to write a letter. One of the negotiators Jose Lara said they went “no, no, wait. We can deliver the letter.” After the change of heart the deputy secretary came out to announce to the crown that the letter would be there by November 1st. After a quick lunch of ADAPT burgers we march off to our next destination.

The Republican Party Headquarters isn’t really all that big, but the trick will be to get into it. Bruce Nelson from Rochester dresses unusually for the day – no sign of ADAPT anywhere on him. He arrives at the headquarters and wanders around inside shortly before ADAPT turns the corner and heads for the building. Bruce makes sure the door is open and once again we flood into the headquarters. As it is filling we circle around to the back, making sure we control the garage and back doors.

Once again it doesn’t take long, and Thomas Hosefiak of the RNC signs a letter committing chairperson Ken Mehlman to a meeting with ADAPT. Our legislative success with Money Follows the Person could use Ken’s help as it heads towards the states, and the RNC has yet to endorse MiCASSA. Once again the speed of our victory shocks me as we line up to go back to the hotel. Knowing this will be the last action of this visit, I feel a bit deflated. But, the rain has finally stopped, I am going back to the hotel to have a drink with my long time friends, and we will live to fight another day. Do I believe all the promises that have been made will be kept? Well, let’s just say I think we will be coming back to D.C. again sometime soon.