Disability protests erupt in Pennsylvania capitol

Disability rights activists swarmed Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania state capitol, this past week, staging a four-day rally in response to state Medicaid cuts and larger cuts proposed by the Romney campaign.

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ADAPT, long-known for its direct-action techniques, organized the protests, the fall action for the advocacy group’s continuing “My Medicaid Matters” campaign.

“You can’t just make cuts without understanding what good the existing money does,” said Shona Eakin of Erie, Pa., of ADAPT, in a news release. “Our lives are not a business. Home services help my husband and I work and raise our children. The Romney/Ryan plan threatens our two children as well as us.”

On Sunday, October 14, activists rallied outside Governor Cobett’s mansion, followed by an occupation by more than 300 activists of the rotunda at the State Capitol building the next day.

Local police arrested 83 individuals the next day, when hundreds of activists surrounded the office of Gary Alexander, the secretary of the state Department of Public Welfare. An extensive list of speakers spoke at the event’s concluding rally Wednesday, when activists also surrounded the Romney campaign’s Harrisburg office. The Nation Magazine captured video of Harrisburg Police violently arresting protesters in wheelchairs, as activists chant “People are dying, shame on you!”

The protesters’ demands include a 10-point plan to reform the state’s Medicaid program. ADAPT’s proposal heavily criticizes the state’s recent cuts to home and community based services, which further reinforced the state’s heavy bias toward institutional care, as opposed to more integrated services. The state currently allocated almost 85 percent of its long-term Medicaid services to institutions and nursing homes, as opposed to home and community based care.

“My services allow me to remain as independent as possible in the community, and it gives me the freedom to do things I want to do,” Zachary Lewis, of Philadelphia, told Fox 43 at Wednesday’s demonstration.

ADAPT also stands firmly against the Romney/Ryan Medicaid proposal, which would slash Medicaid funding by 34 percent over the next decade as part of a plan to block grant the federal-state program.

The Romney/Ryan platform also calls for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

“Our issue is that the Romney/Ryan plan proposes to cut 1/3 of federal Medicaid dollars which will utterly decimate Medicaid home and community based service in every state,” said Nancy Salandra of Philadelphia ADAPT in the news release. “Our problem is that Romney and Ryan are not paying attention to what people with disabilities and seniors really want…When you have a situation where most people just want to live in their own homes, this fiscal policy is criminal.”