Two days ago, seven Colorado residents with disabilities and two attendants passed through security and into the office of Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) in downtown Denver. More than 50 hours later, they’re still there.
The group is staging a protest over Senate Republicans’ proposed cuts to Medicaid in their health care bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act. The group of nine has now spent two nights sleeping in the 15-by-12-foot room, bringing in inflatable pool toys on Wednesday night after many slept in their wheelchairs or on the hardwood floor the first night. (Four of the protesters use wheelchairs. Two others have cerebral palsy.)
“It’s been really hot and cramped in here, but we’re not leaving until we get a commitment that Sen. Gardner will vote ‘no,’” said Carrie Ann Lucas, 44, an attorney with the state of Colorado.
Gardner’s aides have not asked the protesters to leave, and one of the aides stayed with the group for much of last night, according to the Denver Post. However, Lucas said they’d repeatedly asked for — and been denied — an opportunity to meet with Gardner in exchange for ending the protest.
“We rely on community-based services to live. I use a ventilator 24/7, and so I need help cleaning the device and taking my respiratory medications,” she said. “Gardner needs to know that these cuts are unacceptable.”
A slew of protests across the country
The action in Colorado is among dozens like it that have emerged across the country in opposition to Senate Republicans’ bill.
In the city of Rochester, New York, on Wednesday, disability activists took over the headquarters of the local Republican Party, pouring into one of their meeting rooms. The same day, about 1,500 Planned Parenthood supporters helped stage a rally outside the US Capitol. Earlier Wednesday, about 50 people were arrested after entering five Republican senators’ offices on Capitol Hill — those of Marco Rubio (FL), Pat Toomey (PA), Tom Cotton (AR), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Rob Portman (OH) — and refusing to leave.
Kati McFarland, 26, from northwest Arkansas, was one of 11 protesters arrested in Cotton’s office. An aspiring musician, she yelled, “This bill will literally kill me,” as Capitol Police cuffed her in the Russell Senate Office Building on Wednesday.
Kati being cuffed and taken out of the Capitol by police. All 11 protesters arrested, many w/ Indivisible Ozark pic.twitter.com/wSlahRH4tQ— Jeff Stein (@JStein_Vox) June 28, 2017
The resistance has reason to think its actions are having an impact. Earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed to postpone the vote on the bill — something some Senate Democrats attribute at least in part to nationwide civil disobedience campaigns.
“You’ve had this whole community of people with disabled children or disabled adults who really got activated. They’ve really made a big difference,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) told me on Wednesday.
In Denver, Lucas stressed that all of the protesters in Gardner’s office are gainfully employed. She works as an attorney, another protester works for the VA, and another works with a disability development agency. Most are parents — Lucas herself has four children.
She said they’ve all committed to taking off work because of how essential Medicaid’s community-based services are to their ability to lead independent lives outside of a care facility. As their story has gone viral, strangers have sent food and supplies to Gardner’s office for them. The Service Employees International Union brought them lunch. A disability group in Rhode Island ordered food via Seamless for them.
“It’s not the most comfortable slumber party ever. Folks are tired. People want showers,” Lucas said in an interview. “But we've managed.”