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More Than 50 People With Disabilities Were Arrested After Protesting in D.C.

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On Wednesday, 54 people with disabilities as well as disability allies were arrested in Washington D.C. after protesting the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The protest, organized by ADAPT, a national disability rights organization, included disability activists from around the country – almost all of whom were arrested.

“We’ve been pushing against the health care repeal for a while,” Stephanie Woodward, a disability rights lawyer and activist, told The Mighty. “The repeal turns back the clock on disability rights, and that is not something we are OK with.”

When the ACA was passed seven years ago, it expanded Medicaid and established Community First Choice, a provision offering additional federal funding to states that provide in-home care services. As it stands today, the AHCA plan would get rid of Community First Choice and would cap or block grant Medicaid, severely limiting how much states can spend on home and community-based services. Without these services, many people with disabilities who rely on Medicaid for care would be moved out of their homes and into nursing facilities.

To protest the Republican repeal plan, more than 50 disability activists from across the country gathered in the Rotunda of the Capitol building to have their voices heard. “We haven’t taken the Rotunda in 15 years,” Woodward, a participant in Wednesday’s protest, said. “We decided to take the Capitol Rotunda because if decisions are made in the Capitol, then that’s where we want to be.”

The group took the Rotunda at 2:00 P.M., chanting “Rather go to jail than die without Medicaid,” “Ho ho, hey hey, my Medicaid has got to stay” and carrying signs stating “Medicaid = life for disabled people” and “Don’t cut our services.” Within less than an hour, they were arrested by U.S. Capitol Police.

Protestors were not handcuffed or zip-tied and were evacuated from the Rotunda and moved to a different part of the Capitol where each person was photographed, processed and given a $50 fine.

After they were released, Woodward and her fellow protesters went to pay their fines. According to Woodward, the ticket they each received said all fines must be paid within 15 days. But when Woodward and the other ADAPT protesters went to pay their fines, they were turned away by Capitol Police and told they would have to wait 24 hours before they could pay their fines.

“We had people from across the country with different travel plans,” Woodward said. “Fifty dollars doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s quite a privilege to fight for your rights. Not everyone has the finances to get a hotel room to stay overnight and pay a fine the next day.”

Those who needed to leave the D.C. area, left and returned home. ADAPT sent a representative back to the Capitol Police at 10 A.M. to pay the collective $2,700 fine, and was prohibited, once again, from making a payment. Capitol police refused both cash and credit, Woodward said, maintaining that each protester must return within 15 days to pay the fine or a warrant will be issued for their arrest.

To help pay fines, protesters are asking people to donate to ADAPT. “There is no liberty being locked up in a facility,” Woodward said. “We will continue to fight the American Health Care Act and hope our Representatives and Senators will understand and vote against this. We will fight anything that goes against our liberty to live in freedom.”

Responding to a request for comment, a spokesperson for Capitol Police confirmed that 54 people were arrested Wednesday afternoon. 

Originally published: March 23, 2017
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