I was there, atop the 16th floor in the State of Illinois Building on September 11, 2007. Chants from our fellow warriors echoed far below, egging us on, declaring: “Our homes, not nursing homes!” We could see the colorful banners and protest signs unfurled throughout the marble-tiled lobby. ADAPT was in the house! The faces of Illinois’ Governor Blagojevich, Senate President Emil Jones, and Michael Madigan were mere puppets in our hands. Diane Coleman, Monica Heffner, Gail Kear and I had snuck past Illinois State Police. We looked down on the organized melee below, yearning to be downstairs amongst the rest of the crew.
Yesterday’s hit at the American Medical Association (AMA) kicked off the Fall Action 2007. We had last made a house-call to the AMA’s national headquarters in May 1992 at the same Grand Avenue location in Chicago, to demand its support of the then-MiCASA. They did not support MiCASA 15 years ago. Now, we were back, on a mission from ADAPT!
As we snaked through the crowded city streets of Chicago’s financial and theatre districts, we held up limousines, buses and sidewalks packed with tourists and business people. The morning news gave commuters updates on our progress. The Chicago Police Department grilled us on our destination as we twisted through the City. Our route took us past the fated State of Illinois Building. The cops, standing on their Segways, stood at the curb cuts, prepared to block us from going into the building. Little did they know, we had an appointment with the AMA. Doctors sign off on the paperwork that puts our folks into the nursing, intermediate care and state-operated facilities. We wanted them to support the Community Choice Act (CCA) and sign folks with disabilities into community settings.
As we approached the AMA, it became apparent that the cops had found us out. They had blocked the curb cuts with their Segways. The police surveillance truck in front of us stopped short of the next curb cut. Cassie James and I leaned our heads past its back bumper and gave a “What gives?” gesture to the head cop, high on a Segway. He nodded his head and the truck started moving forward. It cleared the curb cut. We followed and we broke onto the sidewalk. We buzzed for the accessible entrance. Despite street barricades at the doors, secured by sand bags, we had the building hermetically sealed within seconds. No one was getting out, except for emergencies or to negotiate with ADAPT.
Finally, an AMA representative came out to negotiate with us. We sent him back into his glass building, without their support for the Community Choice Act. If we could have seen into the future, we would have known, two months later, on November 13, the AMA would meet our demand and sign on as supporters of the CCA!
However, gaining entrance to the State of Illinois Building and its 16th Floor proved difficult but we had a plan. Earlier that morning, several covert ADAPTers strolled in the first floor and basement shops without wearing any ADAPT gear. I myself wore a pin striped suit while long-time ADAPT activist Diane sat pretty in a long, flowing skirt. Monica and Gail looked non-threatening in their casual wear. The Illinois State Police had check-points at the elevators in the lobby and basement levels. The four of us text-messaged each other about when to move while outside, the larger group crawled toward us like a giant tidal wave. One by one, we women approached the officers and showed them our ID’s. First, Diane and Gail went up, telling the cop they were headed to a floor other than 16. I was permitted to enter an elevator and held it as Monica rolled on. We rode uninterrupted to the 16th floor.
We heard the rest of the group splash in, the bullhorns and chants echoing. First, the downstairs group held the escalators and elevators on the lobby and basement levels. Thanks to an inexperienced security guard, we got to the glass doors of the Governor and Senate President’s office.
Negotiations stalled. The downstairs group sealed the building’s doors closed. No change on our floor. At 4:30 PM, when government officials usually leave, ADAPTers blocked the entrance to the elevated trains. Then, the Governor’s office agreed to our demands. In a public statement, in front of our activists, the State of Illinois committed to not re-open Lincoln Developmental Center as a developmental center, ADAPT would be at the table for the Money Follows the Person process and Governor Blagojevich would meet with the local ADAPT chapter before October 17.
On Wednesday, September 12, we flooded the headquarters of American Federation State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME.) We want this union to support the Community Choice Act. Despite meeting with their representatives, they refused to support the choice for people with disabilities to live in the community. 120 ADAPTers committed civil disobedience, in protest of AFSCME’s decision. The people, united, will never be defeated!
This action was my first without the presence of Stephanie Thomas and Bob Kafka, as Bob had pneumonia. We all felt the hole of their absence. But we did not mourn, we organized! Every ADAPTer worked together even harder, to make collective decisions, to lead equally, and to pick up any slack. Fall Action 2007 demonstrated ADAPT would carry on with new leaders, even when our most revered ones are not able to be with us.