Disability Rights Activists Arrested in Direct Action Protest Opposing GOP's Deep Medicaid Cuts

Posted June 28, 2017

MP3 Interview with Mike Oxford, executive director of the Topeka, Kansas Independent Living Resource Center and a national organizer with the disability rights group ADAPT, conducted by Scott Harris


As Senate Republicans unveiled their version of legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare on June 22, disability rights activists in wheelchairs and some on ventilators, staged what they described as a “Die-In,” outside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office. When 60 protesters from the disability rights group ADAPT blocked access to the GOP leader’s office, Capitol Hill police moved in, but encountered passive resistance, which led to some activists being subjected to rough treatment. Fifty protesters were arrested.

The bills proposed by both the House and Senate, with support from President Trump, would cap and cut Medicaid, triggering dramatic reductions in funding that would have severe repercussions for Americans with disabilities. Many people living with disabilities rely on Medicaid for their basic care and survival. Those who could no longer pay for home care would be forced to leave their independent living situations and be institutionalized.

In a statement, ADAPT said, “The nature of the Trumpcare bill calls for a nonviolent, but passionate demonstration, as our lives are at risk. We know with the proposed cuts to Medicaid, people with disabilities will die. This means we will continue to fight for our lives and continue to be arrested as the police deem necessary.”

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Mike Oxford, a national organizer with ADAPT, who was one of those arrested at the Capitol. Here, he talks about what’s at stake for disabled Americans if the GOP health plan is signed into law – and the effectiveness of his group’s tactic of employing nonviolent civil disobedience. [Rush transcript]

MIKE OXFORD: When it became clear to our group that Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell was not just kind of directing traffic and you know, in a presiding role that was in fact very much leading this effort, we decided that he would be a real prominent person that we could draw attention to what he was doing. So, a group of about 61 of us from several states around the country, just people who could get there quickly, got together and we decided to dramatize the Medicaid cuts by staging a die-in, which meant that people that use mobility devices like wheelchairs or scooters, that could (slide) out of their chairs and lay on the floor and basically occupy his office. And I think a good part of the hall up and down outside – even though I was inside the office and really couldn't see what was going on a whole lot outside. And we did our usual, we chanted, sang and clapped and so on, and wouldn't leave.

And ultimately, police were put in a position of having to carry folks out because people weren't going to leave and weren't going to get up off the floor. So they carried people out, 43 of us were arrested, were taken down to the Capitol. We were detained, we were kept under arrest at the law enforcement center for about 10 hours until everybody got processed out.

We feel in a large way, (the Republican health care bills are) a very much an assault on people with disabilities. A lot of the money does support people with disabilities of all ages, older Americans and it helps people live in the community, have a good life to live, get employed, be involved in the community and do all these things. And it just seems so short-sighted, since most of the people would be eligible for a more expensive institutional setting, and we just think it's a more short-sighted, mean, way to give a great big tax break to rich people.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Mike Oxford, dramatic cuts being proposed by both the House and Senate in terms of the Medicaid and Obamacare system in general is not just a hardship for many people with disabilities. It's potentially a life-changing, or life-ending proposition. Explain to our audience the life and death issues involved that I think not enough people understand here about what's at stake with how the Senate and House vote on these proposed health care bills.

MIKE OXFORD: Well, I'll give you a real good example. So, one of the things that happens with these Medicaid long-term service programs is it supports people that use ventilators to breathe. It pays for assistance so people can get that care they need at home, so people can work and so on. Without the funding to pay for that, people won't be able to breathe. And so people will end up hospitalized or again, put in some kind of ventilator nursing facility, which many regular nursing facilities don't even take people that use ventilators. And it really is dangerous. We're convinced that people don't live very long unless they're in the community and getting appropriate care for that sort of thing, including with their families involved.

So that's kind of one example. Other people that currently get community services and support – I don't think there's any way, I think they'd live on the street before they would go back to an institutional placement. Again, very dangerous, very life-threatening. People need to get appropriate care so you don't get skin breakdown, pressure ulcers, you take the right meds and so on. And all those sorts of supports would break down and people will try to get by the best they can, and it's just extremely dangerous when that happens.

Part of the reason that ADAPT has employed nonviolent civil disobedience is we think we are in a civil and human rights struggle. Just like the struggle right before us that we've learned from. The civil rights struggle in our country of the 40s, 50s, 60s are still going. Mohatma Gandhi, Dr. King, I mean, these are the classic things that we're trying to employ, too, to elevate our issue and our concerns.

Secondly, you know, I think it's still true, but certainly years ago, where people with disabilities were generally viewed as not powerful, as in need of supervision care, whatever, and we think that by employing our struggle this way, it does show that we are powerful actors and powerful in the world of policy and politics and so on. So we have to exercise power through our people power, and by dramatizing the kind of power that we can bring to bear.

For more information, visit ADAPT at adapt.org; and Disability Integration Act at disabilityintegrationact.org.

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