Disability Rights Activists Dragged From Sen. McConnell's Office Speak Out

"What they’re doing by capping the costs of Medicaid is going to endanger a lot of people’s lives."

On June 22, approximately 60 people gathered in and around Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's office at the Capitol to protest the newly released health care bill devised by Senate Republicans. Many of the protesters were in wheelchairs, and were speaking out against the bill because of what it will mean for Medicaid.

In its current form, the legislation drafted by Senate Republicans behind closed doors would, among other devastating effects, drastically slash Medicaid funding over the next decade by underfunding it over time. According to The Atlantic, states will be forced to plan for much less generous Medicaid funding down the road, which can be very difficult.

More than two-thirds of the protesters gathered in McConnell's office and in the hallway just outside of it were arrested by Capitol Police, with quite a few being lifted from their wheelchairs and hauled away. Video of Stephanie Woodward — a disability rights lawyer and activist based in Upstate New York — being removed from her wheelchair and carried away by police quickly made its way around the internet.

In the below video shared on Twitter, Woodward can be heard shouting, "No cuts to Medicaid!"

Woodward was on hand protesting with members of ADAPT, a national, grassroots disability rights organization fighting to end institutional bias. She tells us the group chose to stage a "die-in" at McConnell's office because, as the Senate majority leader, he has quite a bit of say in the health care bill. "We know he can make the decisions to make the changes that are necessary in order for this bill to not harm people with disabilities and other Medicaid recipients," Woodward told A Plus by phone. "That is why we specifically chose him." 

Though Woodward says she and other ADAPT members were prepared to be arrested, she told us McConnell had to specifically ask for the protesters in his office to be escorted out by police and booked. "The hallway is public domain that the Capitol Police have range over, however, you don't usually get arrested or removed from offices unless the legislator asks for that to happen," she explained. "Generally, the legislator's offices are the legislator's domain, so the Capitol Police don't remove people unless they're asked to."

Police are carrying #ADAPT protesters out. #ADAPTandRESIST #ThatsNotHisChair

A post shared by Stephanie Woodward (@stepfunny426) on

Still, according to Julie Farrar, an ADAPT member who crawled up the steps to the Capitol 27 years ago to push for the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Capitol Police "explained what was happening and were very professional." 

Like Woodward, Farrar was arrested and removed from her wheelchair. In fact, the officer who arrested Farrar expressed his own dismay over the Senate bill because he's currently caring for his mother who has multiple sclerosis. "He was very concerned about how this was going to impact his mother personally," Farrar told A Plus. "To hear that personal story helps empower me to realize we were doing the right thing, because this legislation will touch so many people in such a negative way. The impact will be horrible for so many people."

Added Woodward, "We were there as part of a 'die-in' to show that we will die if you cut Medicaid."

Woodward heard through sources that Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth's office was checking with the Capitol Police to make sure the protesters were unharmed, and other senators offices were doing the same. Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran, lost both of her legs in combat. "It was very nice to hear Sen. Duckworth's office was doing that, because as a disabled woman herself, it's quite a point of solidarity for us, and we appreciate that," Woodward explained.

As for a reaction from the general public? Woodward noted she and several other protesters have gotten a lot of thank-yous on Facebook and Twitter from strangers not only across the nation, but across the world. "People from other countries are thanking us for what we did," she explained. "We have people with disabilities who are thanking us, we have parents who are thanking us, and we appreciate that because we're fighting for everyone, not just the 60 of us who were there."

According to CNN, the Senate is expected to vote on the health care bill next some time after the Fourth of July, though as many as five Republicans are expected to vote against it as it is currently written. Should the bill fail, Woodward knows part of what she'd like to see in the revision.

"We need to focus on long-term services and supports for people with disabilities, so people with disabilities can have their liberty. You cannot live in the community like every other American unless you have community-based services," she argued. "The last time I checked, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness was for everybody, not just for non-disabled people who don't need healthcare and don't need assistance." 

Farrar agreed, drawing specific attention to the importance of Medicaid among disabled Americans and others. "[Congress] needs to understand Medicaid is the vehicle for so many of us to live independently in the community, to be able to work, and to be able to contribute to the economy," she explained. "Literally, our lives are at stake. What they're doing by capping the costs of Medicaid is going to endanger a lot of people's lives." 

Farrar added, "At a time when people are aging into needing Medicaid, they want to cap it as the population and the needs are growing. It just doesn't make any sense at all."

Though the GOP's aversion to Medicaid is nothing new, Woodward has a strong message for Republicans in the wake of the deep Medicaid cuts in the Senate bill, and has wishes for Congress as they continue working on a comprehensive health care plan. "I wish Congress would understand that our health care is not something that can just be cut on a whim. We will fight for it," she said. "Our health care helps determine the rest of the factors in our life. If we have health care that keeps us alive and healthy and in the community, we can be active participants in our community, we can work, we can raise children, we can do everything every other American wants to do. It's part of the American dream, and disabled Americans are a part of that, that needs to be recognized."

Both Woodward and Farrar were in agreement with former President Barack Obama, who denounced the Senate health care bill with a strongly-worded Facebook post on June 22. Woodward concluded, "There are many organizations and many people saying this bill is terrible, and I hope the Senate listens because a collective voice is saying 'don't go forward.' It's time to listen to the American people."

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