Disability Protesters Block Traffic Near Capitol

Posted April 26, 2010 at 5:02pm

Hundreds of protesters from a disability advocacy group shut down traffic Monday afternoon on the 400 block of North Capitol Street as they blockaded the Hall of the States building and demanded a meeting with an executive from the National Governors Association.

After about an hour, their demands were met.

About 250 protesters from ADAPT — many in wheelchairs and most with disabilities of some sort — attempted to storm the NGA building but were stopped at the door by Metropolitan Police.

The group then blockaded the entrance to the building, which also houses C-SPAN and Fox News. Wielding signs that read, “Our Homes Not Nursing Homes,” “In Our Homes or in Your Face,” and “I’d Rather Go to Jail Than Die in a Nursing Home,” they chanted support for the Community Choice Act, which would increase access to community-based health care programs such as home care for those needing long-term care.

“We want the National Governors Association to support our legislation long-term that removes the institutional bias,” said Kansas resident Mike Oxford, a national organizer. “A lot of our issues are really unfolding on the state level.”

This is not the first time the group has used nonviolent civil disobedience to bring attention to its cause. Last April, 86 ADAPT protesters were arrested, and in April 2008, more than 40 were detained near the Capitol. Some of those protesters started trial Thursday in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

But on Monday, no one was arrested. Following 30 to 45 minutes of protest, word came down from the governors association that longtime Executive Director Ray Scheppach would meet with three of the protesters. Oxford, a wheelchair user, and two other protesters went into the building soon thereafter.

“We got three going in,” one protester yelled to rousing cheers.

But the remaining protesters held court during the meeting, enthusiastically chanting and obstructing access to the building.

Ten-year-old Ryan Johnson of Rochester, N.Y., briefly led the group in a call-and-response chant of, “How do you spell power? A-D-A-P-T.”

Johnson, who sported a short red mohawk with “ADAPT” shaved into one side of his head and the handicapped symbol on the other, said his father suffers from a leg injury. Johnson added that he came to Washington, D.C., with his mother “to help get people with disabilities out of nursing homes because they have the same rights as [other] human beings.”

Cecil Walker, an ADAPT national organizer, said he lived in a nursing home once but lives in his own home in Kansas now, and there’s no comparison.

“In a nursing home, you don’t have the right to choose what you want to eat and you don’t get the proper care you need,” he said. “In your own home, you’re in control.”

The demonstration drew dozens of police officers traveling by car, motorcycle and bike. Though ADAPT didn’t have a permit to protest, Metropolitan Police provided them an escort along Louisiana Avenue Northwest from the National Mall, where the group had lunch after protesting in front of the Department of Justice. But as the group approached the NGA building, they rushed toward the doors, an officer at the scene said.

After 30 minutes inside, Oxford and his fellow envoys emerged from the building with good news: Scheppach had heard them out and agreed to include their input in a policy briefing his organization provides to states. The Community Choice Act, though, was a nonstarter.

“Frankly, that’s a hard sell. But they are willing to sit down and work with us,” Oxford told the assembled crowd. “That’s really what we came here to do.”

“We’ll do some chanting on our way out of here, but we need to think about turning around,” he added.

Scheppach confirmed in an interview that the association won’t support the Community Choice Act because it’s too expensive.

“The fiscal condition of the states is so bad,” he said. “The area we agreed on is next time we did a brief … on this nursing home or community-based care, we would share it with them on draft so they could comment on it.”

He said he’d follow up with the group about the timing of the report in the next few days.