Friday, May 02, 2008

FRIDA Members Arrested in ADAPT Actions This Week

Veronica Martinez, Rahnee Patrick and I, all members of FRIDA's base in Chicago, were involved in this week's ADAPT nonviolent civil disobedience in Washington, DC. Several FRIDA fighters from around the country were also present at the action. Althought ADAPT is a separate group from FRIDA, a lot of folks are very involved with both. I wanted to provide some personal perspective on this week's happenings.

As those who follow this blog have seen, ADAPT had two major actions this week: one at the Department of Health and Human Services and a second double hit on the offices of Senator John McCain and the Republican National Committee. The HHS action was terrific in that it won us a meeting with Secretary Michael Leavitt, but it's the McCain/RNC action that's really percolating in my mind right now.

First, Veronica was arrested for disorderly conduct for the first time ever outside the offices of John McCain. She was blocking an office door with her power chair and chanting at the top of her lungs to let Senator McCain know that people are dying every day in nursing homes. We are very proud of her for willing to take this risk. I believe Rahnee was instrumental in working to surround the RNC with 250 ADAPT activists. ADAPT has been to the RNC's ridiculous that for a bipartisan bill like the Community Choice Act, a lot of Republicans (notably....John McCain!) are reluctant to work with the people who actually have been at risk of dying in nursing homes.

I was also arrested just outside McCain's office while blasting chants down the hallway with a bullhorn belonging to Ricki of Salt Lake City ADAPT. I want to clarify some issues regarding my arrest, mainly due to a video posted on YouTube that documents part of my arrest. The video and some pictures can be found at: Go check it out, then come back and keep reading below.

This video has been posted on several blogs as of right now. I have had an awful lot of people come up to me and ask how I am doing, so heads up folks, I am doing fine. Here's what went down from my end.

After ADAPT activists filled McCain's Senate offices and overflowed into the hallway, a large number of police came into the halls and began monitoring us. I am guessing somewhere between fifteen and 20 Capitol Police members came in. We chanted as loudly as we could. Our chants were along the lines of "Community Choice Act Now!" and "Up with attendant care, down with the nursing homes!" After a few minutes, a policewoman issued us a warning to disperse or be arrested. I could lipread her (I think), but we were there to get a meeting with John McCain, not be treated like children. So we began chanting louder and louder, and our new chant was "I'd rather go to jail than die in a nursing home!" At some point I had the bullhorn and was chanting as hard as I could, trying to match the chanting going on inside the offices, where they had their own bullhorn---hard to do when you're only wearing one hearing aid (I'd forgotten the other at home). So I was focusing on that when all of a sudden the police moved at me and took my arm and pulled on me. But I was stuck between two power chairs---and I wasn't planning to move because, again, we were there to get a meeting with McCain. So I fell, but as I fell, I tried to hand off the bullhorn and didn't notice that now I was surrounded by about seven members of the police---and EVERYONE was yelling, and I could not understand a thing. I did know that I needed the cops to understand that it is really hard for me to hear, so I was yelling "I'm deaf! You need to communicate with me!" Finally people slowed down with the yelling and I was asked to stand up and walk away from the door. I said no, I was planning to stay. So they rolled me over and handcuffed me...I believe I felt someone put their foot in my back. Then they rolled me over again and asked me to walk, I think....but it was really hard for them all to shut up so I could focus on just one officer. I was almost carried (a loooooong way) to the processing area (a Senate hearing room on a lower level) but I agreed to walk (after being handcuffed). I honestly am not sure if the police tried to communicate with me when I couldn't see them. No idea.

There was definitely miscommunication and I was definitely freaked out as a deaf person. If I had been in a more dangerous situation, things would have been very complicated. However, this is my fifth action and I am aware of the risks involved in ADAPT's style of nonviolent civil disobedience. I do think that the video of my arrest serves as a reminder that the arrest process can violate the rights of Deaf and hard of hearing people and that police need more training on non-visible disabilities.

As I was surfing the web to look for information on the action, I found a few points I wanted to respond on. See this link for commentary on the McCain/RNC action: Someone mentioned that ADAPT is extremely well organized and trained. Yes, we are. I saw a comment in a different blog that the Capitol Police are unused to Congressional office takeovers and they only happen once a year. Guess what folks? That's because those takeovers are ADAPT takeovers. Nobody else has the guts or the experience to get things done that way. And we DO have a right to visit our legislators in the building our taxes pay for. Just know that when we do sit-ins, they aren't freaking "rallies." They are to achieve movement towards change--and they work, because nobody likes a bunch of cripples in their office. If I have to fly all the way to DC to do this, I am damn well gonna make sure my people get what they need. People will do this as many times as we need until we win freedom for all in danger of unnecessary institutionalization. I am reminded of a chant from the Chicago National Action in 2007: "We're on a mission from ADAPT! Give us what we want or we'll be back!"

Someone at the Daily Kos was talking about how McCain is a disabled vet and was wondering if ADAPT counts vets among its members. You bet. National Organizer Bob Kafka is a veteran, as is, for example, Salt Lake City ADAPT organizer Barbara Toomer. We have lots of vets in our ranks---pissed that this country doesn't do justice to those who serve. We have LOTS of ADAPTers who are very anti war---those billions Bush has spent and we will pay on the war could have gone to community supports, housing, jobs, education.

Someone else was wondering how police arrest folks in wheelchairs, especially power chairs. Good question. That one's been flummoxing police across the US for 25 years, ever since ADAPT began its direct actions. How do you haul 'em away? And you know what...I'm not going to answer that question. You figure it out. At least 40 people were arrested at McCain's digs. I think the RNC avoided arresting people in case of political fallout. Too bad. The Dems are SO on top of this one.

One last thing for this ramble: the people and the leaders of ADAPT are some of the best and most interesting people you will ever meet. We have nothing less than the goal of full inclusion of people with disabilities. Since when is this a criminal goal? Our people are incredibly diverse, but incredibly aware of our power to achieve change in groups as small as four or as big as 400. ADAPT commands and deserves a tremendous amount of respect for their strategy, knowledge, and sheer guts. I am always especially very pleased to see women ADAPTers working their skills in everything from strategy development to media handling to equipment logistics. I am proud to be an ADAPTer and a member of FRIDA. "To dare: that is the secret of revolution." It's true. Ask yourselves: would you rather be cited for a disorderly conduct misdemeanor or die in a nursing home?


To visit the national website for ADAPT, see: