Wednesday, September 27, 2017

#ADAPTandRESIST #KillTheBill Don't kill Us! Disrumpting Congress with Disability Activists because #CassidyGraham is bad for our health. We #KilledtheBill! #ProtectOurCare #RESIST

Senator Graham just walked by the line of protestors. Smirked and wiggled his fingers at them as they chanted "SHAME!"
Andrew Harnik/AP

Taking a bust with disability activists.  Top photo by Jennifer Flynn, Middle by Kate P, bottom photo by Garrett Wilkinson.

Eiryn told me that the aca repeal would decimate medicate, limiting her right to life and liberty. Shes here to fight back! — with Eiryn Griest Schwartzman at Dirksen Senate Office Building

181 of us were arrested shutting down the hearings for the Cassidy Graham healthcare bill.  Its the biggest action, I've seen inside a hearing in Washington DC.  It was an honor to support the disability activists in solidarity with aids and healthcare activists.  Being arrested with them was one of the most powerful actions of my life. With a smirk, senator Lindsey Graham walked by hundreds of people in wheelchairs, whose very livelihoods would be destroyed by his bill.
The following is a story of regular people doing incredible things, demonstrating the point that people power still sometimes wins. 

Saturday, healthcare activists around New York city held a Funeral to Bury Trumpcare and  the ACA repeal.

Republican Lindsey Graham’s eyes seemed to  sparkle when he talked about repealing the bill, thus taking away healthcare for 30 million people.  He did not seem to care what this would do to regular people.  Its socialism or federalism noted Graham.

“It its socialism or federalism, the choice is easy,” noted my friend Greg.  “Socialism.”

So, a group of us planned to come to Washington to show him what this would mean. He would have to pass us, regular people, in the hallway on the way to his hearing for the bill on Monday.
We did not have money or lobbyists. But what we did have was people power.  So we would bring it.

FIGHT FOR HEALTHCARE! Sept 25, Washington, D.C.
This is it. The Graham-Cassidy bill is the *worst* of any so far: It guts protections for veterans, mental health, opioids, women’s health and seniors — and even blows the pre-existing conditions protections out of the water. Republicans are DETERMINED to pass something, anything -- and next week, we'll face what may be our toughest challenge yet.
* * * * * * * * * WE NEED YOUR HELP IN DC TO STOP IT! * * * * * * * * *
We would leave on Monday at 430 AM.

My friend Eustacia Smith, an aids activist who took part in summer’s healthcare actions, posted a note on facebook:
Health care activists have started arriving in DC for tomorrow's action to fight the deadly Cassidy-Graham bill- if you can't get to DC, get on the phone- two Republican senators have committed to voting no, but we need one more to win! Collins seems close but has not made a public commitment, and Murkowski is being offered bribes in the form of major money for her state. Call! Or if you are phone-phobic, tweet, email, fax etc
Collins: 202 224 2523
Murkowski: 202 224 6665

At 749 PM on Sunday, I got the following note from Robert Reich:

Imagine waking up just a few days from now, turning on the news, and feeling like you've been punched in the gut.
Imagine finding out that, in the dead of night, 50 Republicans (with help from Mike Pence) flipped just three Senate votes and passed the Graham-Cassidy Trumpcare bill—a bill that would take away health care from tens of millions of Americans, drive up insurance premiums, slash Medicaid funding by hundreds of billions of dollars, and eviscerate protections for pre-existing conditions.
That's a terrible thing to imagine—but could come true in just a matter of days.
Now imagine the alternative: The resistance—that includes you, Benjamin—mounts an all-hands-on-deck, 72-hour push to stop Trumpcare ... And together, we win!
Imagine tens of millions of Americans—including those actively fighting cancer or dealing with debilitating chronic conditions—celebrating getting to keep their health coverage. The resistance, once again, shows that we are powerful. Energized, we've set the stage to win a clean Dream Act, block the worst elements of Trump's "Robin Hood in reverse" tax plan, and build the groundwork and infrastructure that progressives need to take back power in 2018 and 2020, as well as setting the stage for a more proactive debate on truly expanding access to health care as a human right.
Republicans have never been this close to passing Trumpcare—to stop them, we need three Republicans to commit to voting against it, and that hasn't happened yet. Though momentum seems to be on our side, with Senator John McCain announcing his apparent opposition to the bill on Friday, this is still WAY too close for comfort. We have just days before a key procedural deadline to ensure we defeat this terrible bill, and a vote is expected as early as Wednesday.
Jay and Roona and I met at 445 AM, leaving to grab Kate in Bay Ridge. I have known Jay and Kate for the better part of two decades, working with them on AIDS and healthcare and direct action based campaigns for years now.
Leaving Brooklyn, we drove through New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and into DC, where we walked straight to the at Dirksen Senate Office Building, Senate offices. 

We practiced our soundbites in the car.  

Roona talked about her clients who would most certainly not make it if their medicaid was cut. 

Jay described living with HIV and fighting for healthcare like his life depended upon it.

Kate talked about her mother dying from lack of health insurance and her own struggles paying her co pays of $2000.00 for medications, which would only go up with Graham-Cassidy. 

The hearing for Cassidy Graham would not start for another three hours.  Yet, already activists were lined up.  Media Benjamin of Code Pink was there, as were the Housing Works and ACT UP communities, a contingent from Rise and Resist, and countless others.  The halls were filled with people in wheelchairs, who shared their stories. 

I asked one woman in a wheel chair why she was here.

"To protect Medicaid," she explained.  "It helps us to get up and be a viable part of the community, to be out of institutions.  Its a quarter of the costs for us to be in community based care, rather than institutions."  She passed me a flyer describing  an organization called ADAPT, which had brought the protesters: “You think prison is bad… try living in a nursing facility.  ‘In jail your sentence has an end, while in a nursing home, too often, the only way out in a pine box,’ Michele Steger of St Louis.  Without affordable, accessible, integrated housing options and community based services and supports, seniors and people with disabilities to expensive and abhorrent institutions.  ADAPT is working for an integrated society where all Americans including Americans with disabilities – can live in freedom.  The main goal of ADAPT is to end the institutional bias in Medicaid that forces people with disabilities from their home and families into expensive institution and nursing homes... ADAPT proposes legislation, advises decision makers and suggests constructive solutions on local, state, and national levels.  ADAPT believes in action.  Like classic civil rights struggles, we may use nonviolent civil disobedience.... Most importantly, ADAPT members have helped thousands of people with disabilities live in their own homes with their own families instead of being locked away in undesirable institutions." 

The halls were filled with disability rights advocates out in force to fight the ACA repeal. Some were giving interviews.  Others talking about football. 

Paul Davis and Charles King of Housing Works were on hand, organizing those in line to participate in the planned civil disobedience.  Some planned to go inside the hearing room to disrupt the hearing.  Others planned to lie down outside the hearing room. We knew there would be an overflow from the hearing into the hall. Everyone agreed, the people with disabilities had to get inside the hearing.  Many planned to turn off their wheelchairs and step out and onto the floor disrupting the hearing. 

A rumor went around that Graham had brought in his own staffers and supporters to fill the seats in the hearing room, preventing the inevitable civil disturbance that was coming once the hearing started. People tend not to take kindly to others taking away their health insurance.  Medicine and healthcare is just too expensive to afford on our own in this market based healthcare environment. 

"We have all of the costs and few of the benefits of the healthcare system, " noted one man, sitting in a wheelchair with a photo of his son. "My son is a great athlete.  He got a disorder that requires $150,000.00 a year in medication.  With Cassidy Graham gutting caps on costs for co-pays, i could never afford to pay this."

I ran into Michael Kink, of the Strong Economy for All Coalition. Why are you here i asked him. 

"Number one, the destruction of Medicaid would be a catastrophe of historic proportions for people with disabilities, people with HIV, the poor.  It is something that is there for them.  Taking it away would be..."  He paused, looking for the right words. "The block grants in the bill would pit high schools vs healthcare providers, higher ed vs hospitals.  It would force us to fight each other.  Its gonna look like the Lord of the Flies.  Medicaid is a program people need.  This bill would set up a chain reaction putting Americans against each other.He paused reflecting on the block grant program administered by the states.  "When Bill Clinton block granted welfare, Buffalo got a football stadium with the money."

Charles King introduced me to a few activists he'd met. 

We planned a role for ourselves in the action and continued talking.  

"This has never been about cost savings.  Its been about politics," said Sarah Groh. "... at the cost of people's lives.  If we had a real CBO score we'd know the full extent of the costs for the bill.  "But because we don't have that we have stories."   

 Crosby, another activist with ADAPT, told me. "The repeal bill is close.  So me and my disabled friends are here to let the senate know  that repeal is a bad idea.  My friend is on medicaid.  If this bill passed, she'd lose it and end up in a nursing home."

Pilgrim, also in a wheel chair, showed me the receipts for her prescriptions for a month.  "Its $2253.29 for a month, $963.00 for one prescription, $500.00 for another.  If I lost medicaid, I'd pay out of pocket.  I get $800.00 a month.  I would have to live in an institution."  
A young woman named Eiryn wearing a t shirt with a picture of a person in wheel chair breaking chains told me why she came. "I'm here to protect the constitutional right to life and liberty.  Those would be violated by cutting Medicaid.  It is one of the main sources for funding for community based care, home healthcare.  That allows me to contribute to the world.  Without it, I'd be out of school with little options for work.  I'd have to live in an institution."

I walked about some more, talking with Kate, who'd been standing for an hour and a half at this point.  "This is a crazy thing, they are making people with disabilities stand all day," she kvetched. "I am here because i have a serious  illness  requiring infusions of expensive medication.  Without the ACA, I wouldn't be able to pay, to work, to take out the trash, to contribute, or help the kids who need my help."

Pamela Taggart smiled me.  She told me the Senate can kiss her fucking ass. If the ACA repeal passes, a lot of us are going to be nursing homes.   If we can't pay our premiums for our meds, we are probably going to die!

"I'm terrified there is always more money for war," said Medea Benjamin, of Code Pink.  "We say we are a moral society.  But we can't pay for basic needs?

 Charles King was standing by Kate. 

"We are here to shut this hearing down," he told me.  "This is an illegal process.  The bill is raced through so no one can see it. But this legislation will kill millions of people.  And we have to stop it." 

"The fact that they can talk through this crowd of people and see this and still want the bill is inhumane," noted Eustacia, gesturing at everyone in wheel chairs, whose care is paid for by medicare. "I'm here to stop this bill," she continued.  "Its a horrible bill that will kill some of the people in this room.  I'm here to defend services for seniors, for them to have home health aids and even housing paid for in part by medicaid.  To help them have someone to help them change their depends, to live their lives."       

Walking around, Jennifer Flynn is excited and anxious.   "This bill puts medicaid sponsored housing at risk," she lamented. But we knew the hearing was going to be a spectacle. 

"We are going to make it impossible for them to escape without seeing us," noted Paul. 

Lindsey Graham and Orin Hatch walked into the hearing.  

"Shame.  Kill the bill!" we screamed.  

As the hearings were about to begin, Roxanne Perez waited in her wheelchair. I talked with her about the struggle for the Americans with Disabilities Act.  To gain support for that bill, people with disabilities climbed to the capital and crawled down the steps without their crutches, to demonstrate the need for services.  "Disability rights are human rights," she explained. "If they take medicaid, we are as good as dead...We want our homes, not nursing homes," she concluded.  

"End of the line," the police, who seemed to have lost their sense of humor, pulled Paul. "Go to the end of the line." 

"You are good at touching me," Paul continued to the obviously irritated police, now lining the hall, in a theater of domination designed to intimidate.

"Do you feel protected?" I asked Roxanne.

Senator Cassidy walked by, looked at the crowd and seemed to chuckle.

"Cassidy is pure evil," noted Eustacia. "How do you walk by a line of people dependent on wheelchairs, feeding and breathing tubes - people who despite that have been lined up since 5:30am to tell you how your policy is going to kill them - and then mockingly laugh at those people. The man should have his medical license revoked."

 "Access is a human right!" the crowd began to chant. 

"No Cuts to medicaid, save our liberty!"
 The whole hall echoed with chants. 

"Kill the bill! Don't kill us!" 

Gradually, more and more energy in the room filled the hall. 

Charles King and the Housing Works crew lay down outside the hearings. 

Inside, people with disability chanted, as the hearing began. 

Several people pulled themselves out of their wheelchairs, blocking the elevators. 

The police did not know what to do with them. 

 Our group circled around the building joining the other disability activists blocking the elevator entrance. 

Hundreds and hundreds were not laying blocking the entrances to the hearing.

Wave after wave joining the action. 

Eventually, we were arrested. 

"My kid has a disability.  I totally understand what you are doing," my arresting officer told me on the elevator. "This country has gone crazy." 

As the police walked us out, we heard the hearing was shut down.

And the crowd roared.  

Over time, the police brought out all the disability activists, persons with no arms, people with cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, etc. who'd put themselves on the line. 

A woman who was blind invited her friends over for sushi after everyone got out. 

I've never been so moved to see beautiful democracy in action.     

We'd drive deep into the night, singing and chatting on the road, recalling years of war stories, not arriving home  till midnight.

The next day, the New York Times featured photos of the disability activists who disrupted the hearings to save healthcare.  

"The Capital complex looked at times like a hospital ward on Monday as patients swarmed through the corridors, pleading with the senators not to take  away their health insurance.  Some wore T-shirts that said, "I am a pre existing condition."

The times specifically referred to those disability activists who chanted, "No Cuts to Medicaid, Save our Liberty," as they interrupted the hearing.  

That afternoon, we'd hear the republicans had pulled the bill.  
People power had won this round, noted Charles King whose been there the whole time.

"Women, the disabled, people with HIV/AIDS, queer people and people of color saved healthcare &  our country," noted Jennifer Flynn Walker.  Please donate to ADAPT, she reminded supporters.
"You know that quote about never doubt that a small group of people can change the world? It's proven true. Again and again and again."

"Don't let your guard down- they will keep trying to take our health care in any way they can think of," lamented Kate.

Most of posted and forfeited, getting released immediately.

A few others were taken to a warehouse.

J.D. Melendez, of these activists, wrote
After we were cuffed at the protest, 12 of us were put into a police wagon with no a.c.or open windows. It was 90+ degrees.
We asked the Capitol police driver to turn on the a.c.and he ignored us. After 20 minutes, I couldn't breathe. I told them I was going to be sick. When the wagon finally stopped, they just left us in there. I started screaming to get them to open the door and when they finally did. I was drenched in sweat and trembling. I could barely walk. My speech was slurred and I couldn't feel my legs.
The police officers who were there to receive us became slightly panicked cause we were visibly ill. The assisted me to a chair, put fans on us and gave us cold water.
I just sat there, close to heat stroke​, shaking and thinking about how they treat folks of color who aren't activists. How long will it be before a person dies of heat stroke?
An officer told another activist "if you didn't want to go through that you shouldn't have done the crime." I told the sergeant had we been dogs, that officer would have been arrested.
Officer McGuire and the Capitol Police Department, you will be held accountable. There is a record of this having happened and if you don't fix it, I will be the FIRST person to testify for the victims family if you end up killing someone.

After the action, Jennifer Flynn credited ADAPT with making the difference. She wrote:

"I talked to a lot of people in ADAPT who were, at one time, not disabled. I heard stories of people who were runners and heads of organizations. They got injured, sick or just older. It's so obvious, but also was somewhat of a revelation for me- we are all going to become "disabled". So thanks ADAPT for making sure that there are sidewalk cutaways and some wheelchair transportation, but also for making sure there's a community of people who aren't assholes for when it happens to me."

Fresh faces in DC.

Out of jail on the way back home.

VICTORY FOR PEOPLE POWER! We won another round in the fight for affordable care!! A HUGE THANK-YOU TO EVERYONE WHO FOUGHT WITH US TO HELP SAVE #ACA! We #KilledtheBill! #ProtectOurCare #RESIST #housingworks

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