by Priya Penner
This past ADAPT action led us to Little Rock, Arkansas. Because we used our normal mode of transportation, a Trailways bus, it took us about 18 hours of solid driving, with a two hour break at 10 AM, equaling 20 hours on the road. We left at around 10:30 – 11:00 PM on Friday, September 12, and arrived at the La Quinta Hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas at around 7:00 PM the following day. The six-hour bus ride to DC is usually a bit painful, but that was a walk in that park compared to the 20-hour bus ride to LR. It got to the point where my poor butt was numb!
When we arrived at the hotel, everyone was grateful to get off the bus. However, Rochester ADAPTers didn’t have their rooms set up quite yet, so we all milled around in the lobby, saying hello to all our brothers and sisters we haven’t seen in the past six months. After checking in with ADAPT and getting our colors, we had the night to spend as we will. That being said, those of us who were in theatre had to help make banners and such upstairs in a suite on the 12th floor. Luckily, it didn’t go too late and we were able to make it to bed before 1 AM.
Sunday is usually a day full of meetings and it was no different in Little Rock. There was the new persons meeting, which a few YO! members had to go to, and then the legal meeting, and then various other meetings for specialty groups such as media committee and theatre.
After all the meetings, we had a rally at the State Capitol building. In the blistering sun, many people with disabilities and parents with children who have disabilities shared their frustration in getting community services that will allow adults to live in their own homes and will allow children to live with their families in the community. They shared their personal stories with us, including telling us that some people on the waiting list, which has a sum of 2,818 people currently on it, have been waiting for over nine years to receive services. We held the rally to show support for the Arkansans waiting for services and the need for Community First Choice Option (CFCO) to be implemented in Arkansas. CFCO will allow people with disabilities the proper support to live in the community, and with their families.
Monday through Wednesday were all days of protesting.
Monday morning, we went back to the State Capitol to pay an unexpected visit to the governor, Mike Beebe. We asked his secretary if we could have a meeting with Mr. Beebe but she said he was busy. However, an ADAPTer spotted him in his reception room next door, and being ADAPT, we all rushed to the room. Another ADAPTer presented our list of demands to the governor, asking him to issue a statement supporting CFCO, and to work with Arkansas ADAPT to develop a plan to increase Medicaid funding for long-term services and supports. He said that he does support it, but that it may not mean much because his term was coming to an end, and sneakily suggested that perhaps it would be a better idea to talk to the candidates for their support. After that successful meeting, we congregated on the Capitol steps for our nutritious lunch of sort-of-warm McDonald’s.
Monday afternoon saw us at American Health Care Association (AHCA), the nursing home industry lobby. We creeped our way to the offices of AHCA, and then asked to meet with the AHCA Executive Director to see if AHCA would be on board with implementing CFCO. She refused to meet with us, and loud, furious chanting broke the silence that was had. AHCA called the police, but ADAPT refused to move without talking to the Executive Director, and police officers soon lined the hallways between the ADAPTers. Now, ADAPT is a non-violent organization but apparently AHCA didn’t get the memo. The employees were, as one ADAPTer put it, “ready to brawl.” One lady was pushing her way through the crowded hallway, forcibly moving wheelchairs out of her way, to see if she could talk with the ADAPT leaders to get us to leave. Another woman was pushing ADAPT members and intentionally elbowing them, hitting one ADAPTer in the face. At one point, the second lady took that same ADAPTer’s phone and chucked it across the hallway. The police only told her that she “couldn’t do that.”
In a room branching off the hallway, an officer was with bunch of activists, who were chanting nice and loud. Yelling to be heard over the chanting, the officer told the ADAPTers that he didn’t understand our methods [of protesting and direct action] and that they weren’t going to effective. He went on to say that some buses were coming to haul all the activists off to jail. An ADAPT member, somehow hearing him over the chanting, asked the officer, “Are those buses accessible?” The officer proudly said, “Yes ma’am. Those buses will be fully accessible.” She replied with, “We did that.” That managed to shut him up. The police ended up arresting 39 ADAPT members that day, indeed transporting all 39 in accessible public buses.
They took the ADAPTers back to the La Quinta, beating the rest of us back, and processed them there.
With the line-up time the next morning being around 9:00 AM, I was able to catch a few welcomed Zzz’s since I was one of the many who had to stay up late for theatre. Tuesday we split into two groups to, following the Governor’s unofficial suggestion, headed off to visit the Gubernatorial Candidates’ campaign headquarters. The group I was in tackled Candidate Mike Ross while a group of about 42 or so tackled the other candidate, Asa Hutchinson.
My group headed off after waiting a while to let the other group get a head start since their target was much farther than our own. However, we ran into a small bump with the police. They ordered us to march on the sidewalk, versus the street that we always march on. This is a problem because the sidewalks weren’t accessible! Some curb cuts had about an half-inch to an inch of concrete before we actually got to the sidewalk, creating a bump for the wheelchairs to roll over, making it unaccessible. Other curb cuts were broken, and in some cases there weren’t any in the first place! In addition to the curb cuts being inaccessible, the sidewalks themselves often had barriers, such as tree branches, blocking the sidewalks. The police didn’t care and ordered us still onto the sidewalks. Four ADAPTers got arrested in this debacle. It was clear to us however, that the police were only ordering us onto the sidewalks so they had time to warn to candidates and give them the option barring their doors to us and having the police watch the doors.
When we, minus 4, arrived at Candidate Mike Ross’ campaign HQ, however, his staff welcomed us all in. They allowed us to “redecorate,” his office with our banners and red, white, and blue streamers. We had cute little patriotic hats with the ADAPT logos on them and decorate ourselves with face paint. Ross’s staff allowed all of this, and even went so far as to give us cold water to refresh ourselves. When we presented our demands to Ross’s staff, they immediately called Ross himself and he agreed to all of our demands. The assistant basically typed up our demand list and handed it back to us. This was a great victory for ADAPT.
The other group heading for Gubernatorial Candidate Asa Hutchinson’s campaign HQ was met with much less support. When the group arrived at the office building, the office doors were locked and police were waiting for ADAPT. When ADAPT blocked the entrance doors, demanding to meet with Hutchinson, they got no reply but for the police arresting members of ADAPT. Fifteen were arrested at Hutchinson’s office building.
This just shows the difference between Ross (Democrats) and Hutchinson (Republicans). Ross welcomed us while Hutchinson locked his doors and had the police arrest us.
After we talked to the candidates, the two groups reconvened at Mike Ross’s office for lunch. While we were waiting for those who were arrested to join up with us again, an ice cream truck pulled up. And, of course, every single ADAPTer bought something from that ice cream man. One member of YO! even went so far as to ask her father for some money through the bathroom door. The whole thing was quite humorous.
Full of McDonald’s and ice cream, we headed off to see U.S. Senator John Boozman. We were asking the Senator to support the Convention on the Right of People with Disabilities. His staff met with us and said they would take the conversation back to him. Done for the day, ADAPT marches “loud and proud” back to the hotel.
Wednesday found us lined up at around 9:00 AM again. We marched in the street, despite Little Rock Police’s orders to use the sidewalks. We headed out to Americans for Prosperity. Lead by the Koch Brothers, AFP opposes CFCO because they want the public funding to go into the expensive nursing homes. Even worse, AFP is spreading lies about CFCO. One liee they’re spreading is that CFCO and community services will cost more than nursing facilities. This is not true. CFCO is supposed to have a net gain by the end of 2020. ADAPT demanded that AFP supports CFCO, and meet with ADAPT to continue to fight for the rights for those with disabilities. AFP refused to meet with us, and then the police threatened arrest so ADAPT moved quickly out of AFP’s parking lot to avoid such arrest.
After we hit Americans for Prosperity, we headed over to the Arkansas Goodwill building to demand that they give up their 14(c) thus stopping their dependence on subminimum wages for people with disabilities. Arkansas Goodwill pays minimum wage to all their employees, however, and doesn’t use 14(c). They did, however, promise to send our demand to Goodwill HQ.
We then headed back the hotel for the customary ADAPT party! During the party, we watched a video composite of news clips of our Little Rock action – because ADAPT had dominated the news for three solid days there!
Thursday is usually the day we head back to Rochester; however we had the wonderful opportunity to meet up with Not Dead Yet in Chicago to protest the conference of The World Federation of the Right to Die Societies. Because of this opportunity, we had to be downstairs at 6:00 AM instead of 7:00. But we all could have gotten another hour of sleep, at least, because the bus was two hours late. When it finally did arrive, we quickly realized that it was the wrong bus! Our usual bus had a huge lower loading dock, for the wheelchairs, but this one only had a small one. We had to improvise, loading the luggage into the bus and putting the wheelchairs in the U-Haul. We headed out at around 10:00, a full three hours late, with a few other ADAPTers joining us.
That bus had to be one of the worst buses known to man. It had no outlets nor did it have any WiFi. The seats were horrible. I had to make my seating partner move to an open seat because I was so uncomfortable. I hope to never repeat that experience.
We gratefully got off the bus when we arrived in Chicago sometime late that evening. Half of us stayed in the Hyatt, and the other half stayed in the Sheraton. The Hyatt was gorgeous and elegant and expensive as all heck. Thank God we weren’t paying for the hotel rooms.
Not Dead Yet, as described on their website www.notdeadyet.org, is a “national grassroots disability rights group that opposes legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia as deadly forms of discrimination against old, ill, and disabled people… Not Dead Yet demands the equal protection of the law for the targets of so called “mercy killing” whose lives are seen as worthless.” In other words, NDY protests the use of assisted suicide/euthanasia when no proper preventative treatment is being offered.
In Chicago, NDY was protesting The World Federation of Right to Die Societies’ bi-annual conference. They meet bi-annually all around the world. This is the second time that they’ve met in the U.S., the first time being in Boston in ’02.
The NDY action was different from an ADAPT action because we only had one target and everyone already knew where we were going.
For those of us who went to Arkansas and then Chicago, we had missed a day of the NDY action. Friday, we arrived early to the Embassy Suite Hotel where the conference was being held. We chanted until our press conference at noon. Then early Friday evening, knowing that delegates would be leaving the hotel, we blocked the primary exits of the hotel. The police did get involved but they did not arrest us.
Those planning the NDY action put six NDYers in three rooms in the Embassy Suite Hotel. Over Friday night, these six protesters had visitors joining them. Finally, morning dawned on Chicago and at 7:45 AM those initial six plus their visitors went up to the 11th floor atrium and held the elevators all the on the 11th floor. They started chanting “We don’t need your suicide; Not Dead Yet Keeps us alive!” In the atrium, our message echoed beautifully. Within an hour, police and security had escorted the protesters down to where the other NDYers were protesting outside the hotel. Again, there were no arrests.
These two actions were amazing. I didn’t realize how much I missed my ADAPT family, because they truly are a family to me, until I arrived in Little Rock. My media crew for ADAPT was brilliant in getting media attention for our ADAPT action. At some point, we even had the news channels competing to get the information out to the public. My theatre crew was amazing in making posters and banners and everything else we needed. We even managed to get to bed before 2 AM!
NDY was a new experience for me, from the location to the organization. The experience was just as pleasant and awesome as my ADAPT experience. I loved the many new people that I met and the cause is one that I definitely believe in. I cannot wait to join NDY in the next direct they have!
Thanks again to all my brothers and sisters in ADAPT, and my new friends in both ADAPT and NDY! I love you all and I’ll see most of you in the spring!