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Disabled Protesters Just Showed Senate Democrats How It’s Done

Where was the Democratic “Resistance” when disabled protesters were being dragged out of their wheelchairs?

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In a moment that profoundly encapsulated what the Trumpcare is all about, more than 40 people, including disabled protesters, were dragged from a Senate office hallway in Washington, DC on Thursday, leaving streaks of blood on the hallway floor. The scene was deeply disturbing, but it’s one we should all feel compelled to confront, because it is the truth of what 24 million people could be up against, as of next week.

The protest was organized by ADAPT, a group focused on the direct-action efforts of disabled people. The group noted in its press release that the action was staged on the 18th anniversary of Olmstead v. L.C., a Supreme Court decision that affirmed the right of disabled people to live in the community. As the die-in commenced, outside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office, participants chanted, “I’d rather go to jail than die without Medicaid.”

Forty-three people were arrested, shortly after the GOP finally released the text of a bill that predictably outlined provisions that would destroy or end the lives of a great many people. The hallway strewn with empty wheelchairs, after disabled protesters were dragged from the premises, stood as a gut-wrenching reminder of what’s at stake over the next week. The courage of those who were removed from that hallway on Thursday was a reminder of what this moment demands of us.

But here’s the thing: The majority of those making sacrifices, and taking chances, are those who can least afford to do so: disenfranchised people, disabled people and those living on a fixed income. Have we chosen to be a society where, across the board, those most impacted by the issues we claim to care about are solely responsible for their own survival? Have we become so consumed by the American cult of self-oriented politics that we’re incapable of fighting for each other’s lives? If so, we have rendered ourselves incapable of forming any front wide or strong enough to save anyone.

So, as we make demands of the senators who have a voice in what happens next, let’s remember to demand that they also answer these tough questions, both in words and in action. After watching those disabled individuals being dragged from their wheelchairs, chanting as they were hauled from their legislative halls of decision, the question screaming in my mind was both rageful and clear: Where are the Democratic senators who have proudly dubbed themselves “The Resistance”?

Last year, Democratic Congress members sat in on the House floor in an effort to bring a law about gun control to a vote, in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting. The bill at issue would have had no significant impact on gun violence in the US, but the gesture was nonetheless applauded as having signified that our elected representatives were “doing something.”

It’s time to make clear that the broad category of “something” is not enough.

Stating one’s position in opposition to Trumpcare is not enough.

Symbolically holding the Senate floor on Monday was not enough.

Voting against the bill is not enough.

These senators have the opportunity to throw themselves in the path of what’s coming, and they should be held to a standard of resistance that is commensurate with the harm with which we are all being threatened.

As I reflect on the chanting and singing of House Democrats, who mocked their Republican opponents as Trumpcare passed the House, I am reminded of the reality of US politics: Those in power think it’s a game, and they think it’s a joke. If they thought otherwise, they would be throwing down as hard as disabled people did in the Senate hallways on Thursday.

We all have roles to play, and some of us have numerous roles to play. We can make phone calls and apply pressure through direct action, rallies, vigils and more. We can make ourselves heard in any number of venues, if our voices are forceful. But when we call Democratic senators, what is our demand? It can’t be limited to their votes. If they want a place in history that removes them from this crime against marginalized people, they must engage in genuine resistance. They have much less to lose by doing so than many of us. They would be handled much more gently by police for sitting in, blocking traffic, or nearly any other stunt or action they might pull, and they have been duly elected by the people to protect our interests.

I don’t believe in this system, and I expect very little from politicians, but expectations cannot govern demands if we have any hope of seeing justice in this world. There is no moral position, in the face of this legislation, but resistance and obstruction — and after what happened Thursday, any senator that doesn’t embrace resistance and obstruction should be ashamed. No one should be allowed to say they are acting in solidarity with the marginalized while enjoying a secure position of comfort and safety. There is simply no excuse for that level of submission to “the order of things.”

I don’t say this with any lack of awareness about the vast distinctions between Democrats. Some have expressed a strong belief in health care as a human right. Some have even taken to the streets, at some point in their lives. But what I am saying to you right now, is that even you admire those people, it must be made clear to them that, in this moment, talk is cheap. There was blood streaked across the floor outside their offices on Thursday — the blood of disabled people — and that calls for more than a verbalization of solidarity. It is a challenge being leveled by those living in the margins. It is a bar that’s been set, and we have every right to demand that they follow the lead of those brave individuals.

And while we are on the subject of bravery, I want to speak to what that word means, in a time when people sometimes conflate a statement of belief with concrete action.

There is a reason we refer to brave people as having the courage of their convictions, rather than the courage of their beliefs. There is nothing inherently courageous about our beliefs or positions. Our beliefs can be tucked away, to afford us safety, or bandied about in settings where they prove more fashionable. Your belief in my right to survive is unimpressive unless your actions back up that belief.

Your political perspective, by itself, is about as relevant as what I had for breakfast — which, by the way, was nothing.

Our actions in the world define us, and until our convictions are tested, our words are purely theoretical, and establish nothing about who we are in the world. So, when you call your Democratic senators, remind them of that. Remind them that their obligations are not limited to obstructive parliamentary maneuvers — which we should all encourage — but also encompass the demands of a higher law, one that defines our view of humanity. That higher law, grounded in fundamental human rights, should inform any notion of why government exists. Because regardless of rules of procedure, power that cannot justify itself should be upended and undone, and if those in power will not defend our lives with every tool at their disposal, then there should be hell to pay.

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