More than 70 ADAPT activists, arrested in April during a protest in Washington, D.C., against proposed cuts to Medicaid services, were sentenced May 23 — capping off a month of legal maneuvering that indicated the federal government may begin playing “hardball” with the organization.
The protesters — including actor Noah Wyle — were each sentenced to 10 days suspended jail time, six months probation and a $50 fine. In addition, during their probation, they must not be arrested again and must stay off the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, where the April demonstration took place. During the sentencing, Kansas ADAPT organizer Mike Oxford read a statement on behalf of the group. “People felt they had no option because the proposed Medicaid cuts are so extreme,” he said.
The proposal, by House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan, R-Wis., would cut Medicaid funding by $800 billion. “If enacted, these cuts will leave people with disabilities without services that help them with the most basic aspects of living: getting out of bed, getting dressed, eating and going to the bathroom. For some with significant health problems, it will mean no health care. These cuts threaten our very lives.”
In a move unprecedented in ADAPT’s history of protest, federal prosecutors originally demanded that all 74 defendants — who had come to D.C. for the action from as far away as Texas, Colorado and Montana — to appear physically in court for the sentencing or face arrest warrants. After an outcry from ADAPT and other disability rights groups, the feds stepped back from the demand — even so, 14 of the defendants still had to attend in person, incurring great expense from last-minute airline tickets, hotel accommodations and attendant arrangements.
“In three decades, this is the first time we’ve ever had to appear in person for a hearing where there was jail time on the table,” Oxford says. He sees this as a sign that the government is taking a harder line not just with ADAPT, but with all groups exercising their right to protest. “There is a crackdown on our First Amendment rights going on — this is part and parcel of it.”
ADAPT has set up a link for online donations to offset the expenses of those required to appear in court. Those wishing to donate can do so at www.adapt.org/donate.