ADAPT Kicks Off National Days of Action in Nashville, Tennessee

Published: March 20, 2006  |  Source: adapt.org
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Hundreds of Disability Rights Activists Blockade Traffic Around the State Capital

adaptnational3Nashville, TN: Nearly sixty people were cited and a half dozen were arrested in the first day of direct action in Nashville with hundreds of protesters in wheelchairs blockading the streets around the State Capital demanding a meeting with the Governor of Tennessee, Phil Bredesen. The Governor has said that he refuses to meet with the protesters, who number over four hundred. The protesters have come to Nashville from all over the country because Tennessee is a focal point in the war on health care access. Governor Bredesen, who has authorized Metro Police to arrest people in wheelchairs, is also responsible for the recent Tenncare cuts, which disenrolled 330,000 poor and uninsurable Tennesseans from the state’s health insurance program.

Don Duvall, of the Tenncare Sit-In Movement, said he was there to get a meeting with the Governor, “We are working on the legislation trying to let our Governor and our elected representatives know this is the only way to go and the Governor does have the power to make that choice for us so that we have attendant care rather than being inside of an institution or a warehouse situation. This follows with Mi Casa. Tennessee is a battleground. Nashville is definitely the focal point and we are not dead yet. With Tenncare being the premier in the country and with the Governor deciding to just cut it willy nilly that made waves across the nation that health care for all is the only way to fix this situation and Tenncare was the premier then why not start here. There are over thirty states being represented here today and almost five hundred people who have come here on their own. All these people have paid their own way to get here. That ought to show the seriousness of the way people feel. If we can get them to come all the way from Oregon and California and Texas to fight our war with our Governor then where are the Tennesseans, where are they?”

Duvall said they want the legislature to address pending legislation, “We want an affirmative to the CHOICES and to the TREAT bill that is in committee right now. We want to free our people so we all have the freedom to do our jobs and live where we want to live and that is being denied us every day without our medications and without our attendant care and without the equipment that it takes for a wheelchair to get around and they are cutting all of this. Able bodied people don’t know that is what is happening and we are not going to put up with it. We are going to stay like we did with the Tenncare sit-in where we stayed for ninety nine days. We are going to stay until we get what we need. Today is just a sample.”

adaptnational5Keith Caldwell, of the Nashville Peace and Justice Center, says that the protesters want the State Legislature to support the Community Choices Act, “We have been doing some Direct Action, taking some blocks downtown. It has been really good. I have never seen something with this many numbers. ADAPT is so highly organized with their group being broken up into color groups.”

Caldwell said his organization is learning from this event, “We are really going to take this training back to the Peace and Justice Center so we can do this kind of direct action on a national level. They chose Nashville because Bredesen chairs the Council of Governors Health Care Task Force and Senator Frist is the Senate Majority leader and he has a great deal to say about Money Follows the Person on a national level. Frist has had every opportunity to do something about this and he hasn’t done anything about it. Tennessee spends $165 to keep someone in a nursing home for every one dollar they spend to allow someone to have community based care. There is a TREAT bill that is currently in the state legislature that has a line item about Money Follows the Person. People have been leaving Tennessee in droves through an underground railroad because they are not getting the attendant care they need. Tennessee is one of the worst states to live in if you are a disabled person seeking home health care.”

Margo Waters came to the protest from Atlanta, Georgia and said she was there to make a difference, “We want to make people free to live in the community so we are here asking Tennessee for more independent living so that the people in the nursing homes can come back to the community. We crawled up the steps of the State Capital here to send a message that we want to be included into the community. We are disabled but we can still be part of the community.”

Linda Anthony from Pennsylvania, who uses a wheelchair, crawled up the steps of the State Capital along with six other protesters to make a point, “We are here because we want the Governor to support the passage of the Community Choices Act 2006 for Tennesseans here so they don’t have to go in nursing homes if they don’t want to so they can live out in their neighborhoods and communities if they want to.”

adaptnational6Anthony also wants passage of Federal legislation, “We are also here so that the so that the Governor supports the passage of Mi Casa, the Medicaid Attendant Services and Support Act which will give everybody in the country choices about where they get their attendant care, this is Federal Legislation. Now that the Money Follows the Person Act passed at the Federal Level every state will have the option to support this option and if they do then people will be able to get out of nursing homes and live with their families if they choose to. Many folks that are with us today have been in nursing homes and they are here blockading the streets so obviously they don’t need the kind of institutional care people think they do. Tennessee is one of the worst states in the country in terms of allowing people to live out in their communities. No one wants to be locked up and it is time. A lot of us have been locked up and we don’t want it. A lot of people want to live in their own home and we want that choice.”

Bruce Darling of Rochester, New York was the first person to be arrested. He said that “All we were doing was in the process of taking the intersection and they decided to arrest me right away. I was arrested and cited with blocking a passageway. I am here with ADAPT and we are trying to eliminate and reverse the institutional bias which seems worse here than anywhere else in the country. We want our brothers and sisters to be able to live in the community rather than in institutions and nursing homes. There are about five hundred of us and we have shut down six intersections around the Capital Building.”

Darling said there were specific reasons for being in Tennessee, “We have targeted the Capital because Governor Bredesen has the power to make the State comply with the Olmstead decision so that people with disabilities can live here in the community. It is clearly not a priority so we need to raise that issue. People have gone to the Governor and it needs to be addressed and there has been no action so we need to take things into our own hands. I am hoping that people with disabilities, whether they are old or young, get freed from nursing homes and get to live free in the community just like everyone else. I was willing to be arrested although I wasn’t planning on it happening so soon. I think I was the first person to be arrested. I have a job to do and they have a job to do.”

adaptnational7Dawn Zuppelli was working with Rochester Indymedia to cover the event, she said they had driven fifteen hours to come to this protest, “We drove down here via bus fifteen hours with thirty people on a bus. We are called the nation of Rochester down here because we have quite a showing from our little city. We started off marching single file. The group is excellent about marching single file. We marched from the Hilton up to the Federal Building, I mean Legislative Plaza. It is funny because we don’t get told ahead of time what we are doing or where we are going.”

Zuppelli said the direct action process requires trust, “There are only twelve people in the whole leadership group so it is really about trusting the leader and knowing who to follow, following your color coordinator and day leader, so until we took this corner and until then we didn’t even know which corner we were taking and here we are, about half of our people have agreed to be arrested. If they decide to make arrests the other half are going to back up and agree to be support for the people that are being arrested. They will not move without being taken away first, they won’t move willingly. It is cold and windy and rainy so we are all in these attractive garbage bags.”

David Whittie of Austin, Texas said he is here to support human rights, “I am here because I support the rights of people to live in their homes and not in nursing home. Tennessee has a very poor record of not allowing people to live in their own homes and not letting people make choices about their community. So the reason I came to Tennessee, I live in Texas which has a very poor record, but not as bad as Tennessee in terms of letting people with disabilities choose when and how they receive services.”

Steve Verriden of Madison, Wisconsin said the situation is bad in Tennessee, “for every $160 they spend on nursing homes they spend one dollar to keep people in the community. There is nobody here that is in a nursing home and we have to come here to help. They can’t get out to help themselves.”

Scott Norman of the Delaware Valley said that a lack of attendant care is a human rights issue, “This institutional bias is unconstitutional, illegal and flies in the face of human rights and human dignity. It is totally out of line. I have an invisible Disability. I am a literary artist and I passed up a chance to study with Roberty Bly to stay with my father when he was aging so he didn’t have to go in a nursing home. It is wrong from just about every point of view. People should have the option if they want to go to a nursing home. People shouldn’t be forced into it. If more people had more options they wouldn’t want to go.”

adaptnational13Randy Alexander from Memphis, Tennessee, a leader of the movement and participant in the Tenncare Sit-Ins said the goal was to get a meeting with the Governor, “We have had five intersections blocked all day and we are not going anywhere. Not one person will make that decision but the leadership will look at how long we will stay here. I am inclined to stay here until we get a meeting with the Governor’s office. We have actually backed way down and said just meet with twenty five of our people and then address our group so we think our demands are fairly reasonable.”

ADAPT plans to continue its direct actions in Nashville through Thursday. For more information please call 615-321-9066.

by Chris Lugo