By Carol Tyson
Metro DC ADAPT
My alarm went off at 3 am Monday morning, but my eyes popped open five minutes before. I was still tired, but also filled with a sense of urgency. I needed to get up and be ready to join the line outside of the hotel at 4:30 am. We had been told by organizers – they would not wait if we were late. The lobby was already full of my fellow ADAPTers when I arrived. People were chatting, eating bananas and drinking water. We all knew it would be a long day. My bag was full of PB & J sandwiches, apples and a plastic sign that read ‘Stop Trying to Kill Us!’ with a picture of a stop sign.
We began lining up. I didn’t know where we were headed, but I was excited and ready. I’m a walkie/limpy (depending on the time of day). A few of us walkies were asked if we could assist, and push a fellow ADAPTer in their manual chair. We took turns along the way because supporting each other is how we roll.
It was still dark as we marched and rolled towards the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Some had flashlights to help lead us, and people pointed out cracks and holes in the pavement to avoid. When we arrived we split up into groups so we were waiting at the different entrances. It wasn’t 6 am yet, and they wouldn’t be letting us in until 7:30. We watched the sun rise, and Congressional staffers and other activists began to arrive.
As 7:30 approached, we got ready. We would need to make it through security before we could head up to the hearing room. We rushed to get onto the elevator and when the door opened, my small group was greeted by a grinning Senator Wyden from Oregon. He had a bagel in his hand and was so happy to see us. We thanked the Senator and he was quick to say, “No, THANK YOU! For being here, and for all you are doing.” We were in a hurry to join the line, but he wanted a picture. I took the photo. The Senator said “I’m going to call this my ‘Running with the Right Team’ photo.”
We took our spots and settled in for the wait – 6 hours to go. My feet and leg were already beginning to ache – sometimes I’d sit on the ground, but inevitably a Capitol Police officer would come up and tell us that sitting down in the hallway was a form of protest. It seemed silly, because that’s why we were there – to protest the Graham-Cassidy bill. When I needed a break, I’d ask a friend to save my spot and take a walk to the front or the end of the line. I said hi to old friends, and met and talked to new ADAPT friends from other parts of the country.
I took photos and tweeted so that people would know what I was seeing and feeling. Even though I was smiling in the photos, and grateful to be meeting so many new friends – I wish it was under different circumstances. The Graham-Cassidy bill, like all the other repeal and replace bills, would limit my access to doctors, and likely have dire consequences down the line. The Graham-Cassidy bill would also make drastic cuts to Medicaid. People I know would have their access to supports and services they need to stay alive – personal attended services, home health services, even transportation – all cut. I’m filled with dread and anger whenever I think about it.
As the time of the hearing approached, word spread quickly that people were being let in. There was no way I was getting in, but my heart was with those who could. I heard that Congressional staff were bringing in more chairs to the hearing room, which would limit the number of wheelchair users who could attend. This was blatant discrimination against those who were most immediately affected by the bill. We began to chant ‘No Cuts to Medicaid, Save Our Liberty!’ We were there for what felt like hours, but I know it was less – Cough drops were handed out as our throats grew tired. Some of us were cuffed, all of us were led down by police, chanting as we moved passed the hearing – hoping to be loud enough to be heard. Outside, we waited for hours to be processed, then waited on the other side of the police line for the rest of our friends, cheering whenever someone was released, eating pizza and reflecting on the day. At around 8 we began the march back. It was dark again, but this time we would be marching down hill, reflecting on the day, and energized (if not physically, then mentally) for the next day’s actions.
By Cal Montgomery
This morning we lined up outside the hotel at 4:30. By 5 we were ready to head over to the Senate, collecting a significant number of police escorts along the way, and then we lined up early at an entrance so we could get in as soon as the doors opened. Breakfast was from McDonald’s: I got hash browns and a muffin with jelly.
When the doors opened we went through security, then up to the second floor to get in lime for the Finance Committee hearing. And there we waited alongside many other people. The police lined up against the wall in pairs and waited with us. Around two the line moved a little as the people up front got into the hearing room, and we pulled into tighter formation, and the chanting started.
“No cuts to Medicaid! Save our liberty!”
Other groups tried other chants but we stuck to ours. A police officer came to one of the other members and explained that we could avoid arrest. I turned off my wheelchair. I never heard the warnings that we were going to get arrested if we didn’t leave, but it wouldn’t have made a difference anyway. Awhile later a color leader came down the line and told me we had all been arrested. She outlined my options: I could turn on my chair and leave under my own power, or show the Capitol Police how to operate it, and get a citation, or I could refuse to cooperate, be charged with resisting arrest, and be transported for booking.
I do not speak and do not always understand what I hear. Once the police had figured out how to communicate with me, they asked me the same question. I told them I was neither resisting nor fighting back but could not in conscience cooperate. After some debate as to what I might possibly mean by that as I sat quietly, they decided I was resisting arrest, tried to figure out how to operate my wheelchair, somehow missing the bit labeled “ON,” then disengaged my brakes and pushed me out of the building.
On the sidewalk they confiscated some of my belongings, including my communication device, but not all of them. A cop saw me rocking a bit and decided I looked distressed and began to rub my back — which, given my disability, distressed me. I asked for my communication device back but they said I couldn’t have electronics … as I sat in a powerchair with a tablet on my footplate.
Another activist explained my access needs, but the cop just could not allow me near electronics. When the accessible van came we had some problems with loading. They forgot to engage the brake before raising the lift and I got run into a pole a couple of times, but no harm done. I sat there with two activists from NYC and one from Denver, talking. I did get my communication device back in the van and kept it until the end of the day. At “the garage” (which is a garage used for processing arrestees) we were processed very slowly so we hung around talking. I was on the last bus in and the only one for my arresting officer, so I was one of the last processed.
I identified myself as nonspeaking and explained how to communicate. My interviewing officer switched from complete sentences to questions like “Is … this” — pointing to a name on a form — “… friend?” I asked her to use complete sentences as it is easier to understand. She apologized — and continued to speak like that.
Out right at midnight.
By Liam Dougherty
We lined up at 4:30am this morning, when DC was still dark. We were all exhausted but determined. We marched in line for almost an hour through the dark. My friend Larry was marching behind me and is low-vision. He held onto my power chair to guide him while we were walking because there was very little sunlight.
We then arrived at a senate office building before it opened, and we waited in front to be first in line and entered at 7am. We went up to where the senate Finance Committee was meeting to discuss the financing of the Graham-Cassidy healthcare bill. The line to get into the meeting was very long as many different organizations from around the country lined up to be there in person. Adapt waited in line for 7 hours–giving interviews, talking to each other, and posting to social media.
Eventually we started yelling as loud as we could, “NO CUTS TO MEDICAID, SAVE OUR LIBERTY,” joining the chanting of other groups from around the building. We chanted for hours and more and more cops showed up, while employees were evacuated from the building. Eventually they announced that they would arrest us if we kept going. And we did.
We gave in peacefully and went outside to be processed–some Adapters were taken to jail in a van with a lift. But we were given our citations right outside. After a pizza dinner we lined up and went home, and waited in the hotel lobby to cheer when those who were arrested returned. It was a full day.