It’s not been a good summer for healthcare in America.
That’s because on Monday, June 22, senators from the GOP released their new health care bill that would leave millions of Americans uninsured, decimate Medicaid, and endanger the independence of people with disabilities nationwide.
Luckily, since then, activists have been pushing back. People nationwide have been flooding the phone lines of senators and congresspeople, signing petitions, writing letters, giving interviews, protesting in the streets, and raising their voices as loudly as possible, wherever possible. Some, like the direct-action disability rights group ADAPT, are no longer protesting in the streets: they are protesting right in the halls of Congress, staging sit-ins at senators’ offices and even getting arrested (some pulled out of their wheelchairs in the Capitol building) as a sign of resistance. These classic advocacy tools are definitely making a difference, as Senate leadership chose to move the vote past the July 4 weekend amid growing outrage nationwide.
The message of ADAPT and other protesters is clear: “we will do whatever it takes to save our healthcare. And until this bill disappears, we are not going away.”
As soon as the proposed Senate bill was released, a group of activists planted themselves outside the offices of influential GOP senators to make themselves heard. Police arrested nearly 40 activists at Capitol Hill, violently dragging them out of their wheelchairs as the disability advocates refused to leave — which made for some powerful images that were spread through the media, further helping our cause. Almost a dozen activists from the group ADAPT were still sitting in the lobby of Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner’s office at the beginning of the holiday weekend, pushing the influential Republican senator to oppose the health care bill.
Sen. Gardner has said that he is supporting the bill because of its “pro-life” stances around birth control, abortions and Planned Parenthood. But the activists are asking: “If you claim to be pro-life, how can you destroy the healthcare that keeps so many Americans alive? People with disabilities are here, now, in your office — and if you truly care about our lives, you will vote against this bill.”
Advocates from ADAPT and other organizations have spread their protests outside of Washington, D.C., to local congressional offices. Some are risking arrest, injury, or both — such as the people forced out of Sen. Gardner’s office last week, and the people arrested yesterday evening in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, protesting Sen. Toomey. Some are even asking to be arrested to make a point, which is what happened at a local GOP meeting in New York recently. It is a way to raise our profile, raise awareness, and tell Washington that they can’t take our healthcare away.
Leaders in Congress seems so determined to roll back our healthcare that we will need to fight for every bit of it well into the future — and stay alert for whatever comes our way. This will take every type of protest, from petitions to phone calls to letters to marching for justice. And for better or worse, us disability activists also have a unique way to make our voice heard.
The “direct action” like we are seeing from ADAPT is a classic disability tool. We’ve used it to fight for things like the 504 regulations, where activists did a sit-in for equal rights that lasted months (an amazing protest that has gotten lost in most equal-rights stories). ADAPT, which is protesting today, was originally “Americans Disabled for Accessible Public Transit,” and in its early years, ADAPT members would park in front of city buses until transit operators installed lifts. It was incredibly successful as the number of accessible buses grew, showing again how powerful direct action can be (and then ADAPT just got rid of the longer name, now fighting for all things disability rights). It’s a shame that we need to use these actions to make real progress — or in this case, prevent things from moving backward — but they can make a difference when we do. And they are still making a difference today.
Fight this Awful Healthcare Bill
We already know how awful this bill is — and in many ways it’s worse than the catastrophic House bill — but it’s still worth pointing out the details. There will be massive cuts to Medicaid and other government services, including programs that support independent living outside of institutions, such as Home and Community-Based Services across the nation. Over 22 million people will lose their health care by 2026, coverage of certain vital items will disappear, and the quality of care in general will drop dramatically. Meanwhile, premiums and other healthcare costs are expected to go up. This all is dangerous for America as a whole — and it’s especially harmful for people with disabilities.
Our community needs quality healthcare to stay alive; many of us are on Medicaid and cuts will affect us more than others; and we need stable government programs to live in our communities, instead of nursing homes and other institutions. This revised plan threatens our independence, our health, and even our lives. So here’s to the protesters across the United States who are fighting for that health and independence, and against the bill that’s on the table.