Activists from the Colorado-based grassroots disability rights organization, ADAPT, were violently removed from the United States Capitol building in June while staging a protest against the Senate healthcare bill. They particularly opposed proposed Medicare cuts that would impact their communities.
Protesters in wheelchairs shouted, “No cuts to Medicare!” as they were dragged away by police officers.
The inability of Senate Republicans to line up the necessary votes for passage appears to have killed the American Healthcare Act (AHCA). Additionally, the Republicans’ plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) without replacing it immediately with new legislation are in disarray too.
Direct action by protesters in organizations like ADAPT played a key role in creating a climate that made it abundantly clear to U.S. senators how supporting the AHCA was abominable.
In Columbus, Ohio, where ADAPT protesters pressured Republican Senator Rob Portman into promising not to support the bill, 35-year-old Alissa Grisham, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, had her wheelchair intentionally overturned by a police officer, leaving her to fall in the ground.
Columbus police defended their actions. During a press conference, Lt. Dan Hargus said, in part, “If the police ask you to leave, you’re blocking the path for fire and medic. If we have to push you out of your wheelchair, then that’s what we’ll have to do.”
David Lynch, a 39-year-old attorney from Cincinnati, Ohio, told Shadowproof that he was one of about 50 people who initially entered the Scripps building, where Portman’s Cincinnati office is located.
Inspired by ADAPT’s sit-ins across the country, they planned their own action. “We saw how little media coverage these actions were getting and answered the call to action presented by an incredible coalition of organizations that came together in a short period of time.”
Protesters gathered near Senator Portman’s office in the rain. On the steps of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, they “made signs, distributed chant sheets, rehearsed a few, went over” their roles, and their plan.
“We followed our action leader around the corner and into the lobby of the building, entering at 4:00 p.m., and sat down in a circle at her direction,” Lynch said.
As they livestreamed the action, protesters alternated between sharing their demand—that Senator Portman reject any healthcare bill that hurts Ohioans—and chanting and singing together.
The police arrived and ordered protesters to leave or face arrest. After these threats were made, 12 stayed behind. After some time, those that remained decided to take the elevator to the 34th floor to Portman’s office. After doing so, they sat in the hall outside his office for a few minutes in what Lynch described as being “another tense standoff with building security.”
“After a short time, one of the folks with us rang the buzzer at his door and we were buzzed in,” Lynch said. Once that happened, they didn’t leave until around 2:00 PM the next day.
Lynch calls himself lucky for having spent time with other protesters, and despite only knowing a few of those there, and in spite of how impassioned such an action can be, he “can’t wait to do it again. I know that, unfortunately, Portman will give us plenty of reasons to.”
The healthcare debate dominating the United States has been contentious but necessary. Lynch and those organizing similar sit-ins saw a change in attitude among Americans, a possible sign of things to come.
The possibility of a universal healthcare proposal, while more far-fetched an idea five or so years ago, has become a hastening demand for many, according to a recent Pew Research Poll. “Sixty percent of Americans say the federal government is responsible for ensuring health care coverage for all Americans”.
With a more aggressive action plan from grassroots organisers and their allies, single payer healthcare has become a genuine possibility.
Lynch describes the nationwide sit-ins as well planned and articulated. Not only did groups come together to promote this action, they created training materials, presented webinars, and connected organizers, “setting a great example for all of us. This is how we win.”
Compared to organizing efforts of the past few years, this was one of the most successful translations in terms of distributed planning, training, and organizing into real-world action.
Lynch and others displayed a willingness to put themselves on the frontline against not only politicians but also an entire for-profit healthcare industrial complex responsible for immense suffering.
“Lives are at risk,” Lynch concluded, “which is why we are willing to put our bodies and our liberties on the line. Simple protests and rallies are not enough.”