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Disabled People Protest to Preserve Their Benefits

(Photo: National ADAPT)

Joann Cross didn’t travel from El Paso, Texas, to Washington, DC, to get arrested. In fact, she’s always believed that getting arrested was the wrong way to make a statement. But desperate times call for desperate measures. “I’m frustrated,” she said. “We’re not being heard at the local level, so it was my duty to take it up a notch.”

Cross has cerebral palsy and osteoarthritis, a joint disease caused by cartilage loss in a joint. She’s in constant pain. Cross and over 500 people with disabilities traveled from all 50 states to send a strong message to politicians and the public: Medicaid matters. End the attacks, end the cuts and stop using us as political pawns. People with disabilities refuse to sit by and watch as politicians continue to shred their social safety net. Republican Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget, which has been endorsed by Mitt Romney, calls for $800 billion in cuts to Medicaid over ten years. That is a death sentence for low-income people who rely on Medicaid.

On Monday, Cross was arrested with 77 fellow members and supporters of ADAPT, a grassroots disability rights group that organizes nonviolent direct actions to assure people with disabilities have the right to live in freedom. Many were arrested in wheelchairs (watch video of the arrests in the Cannon House Office Building rotunda).

Cross was held for 13 hours. “It was surreal,” she said. “It was hot and tiring. My feet swelled, but I would do it again. That’s how important this is.”

Monday’s action got widespread media attention because former “ER” star Noah Wyle was also arrested. Wyle’s name is in almost every headline about the action. The Los Angeles Times ran its “Noah Wyle arrested during Medicaid-cuts protest in D.C.”‘ piece in the entertainment section.

Even entertainment TV shows and web sites covered the arrests. Whatever it takes, I guess. At least people tuning in for infotainment now know that Medicaid is under attack. fans read that Wyle was with “about 100 protestors taken away in handcuffs during the protest by ADAPT to urge Congress not to cut Medicaid. Let’s hope it worked! Keep standing up, Noah!”

Bob Kafka, ADAPT organizer who traveled to DC from Austin, Texas, said it’s a sad state of affairs when people getting arrested in wheelchairs need a celebrity to get media coverage, but that’s the reality in which we’re living.

When ADAPT activists go to DC and they go yearly, they barely sleep. On Tuesday, they shut down the Health and Human Services building by blocking the front doors with their wheelchairs. They were there demanding the release of Community First Choice Option regulations that would allow people to leave nursing homes and live independently. That action got no attention (watch video) in the national media.

According to the ADAPT Action Report, Cindy Mann, the director of the Center for Medicaid and State Operations committed to pass the regulations, “representing a major step toward ending the institutional bias in America and a significant social policy victory for citizen choice and rights with regard to long term care supports.”

ADAPT(Photo: National ADAPT)

ADAPT activists also packed the halls of the House and Senate and took over the office of Senate Budget Chair Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota. Kafka says Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa is one of the few politicians who consistently fights for people with disabilities. Activists met with staffers working for Senators Conrad and Harkin, but not the senators themselves.


We should all be outraged over how people with disabilities are treated in a country with so much wealth. For many of these activists, just leaving the house is a chore. But if they don’t travel to the nation’s capitol to speak out and raise awareness, who will? They could lose their in-home supportive services; they could lose the right to stay in their homes. And that’s why, year after year, they make the trek, knowing they might be arrested and won’t get much media attention unless a celebrity joins them.

Denise McMullin-Powell of Delaware told CNN that “it’s worth getting arrested, it’s worth dying for, but they’re gonna kill us first because of the cuts. If we can’t stay in our home, if we can’t get the things we need through Medicaid, we will die in the streets.”

Spread the word about these actions and give these activists the exposure they deserve. Politicians need to be shamed for giving tax breaks to the wealthy while people in wheelchairs get arrested for demanding the right to live independently.