July 12, 2017: This Monday, July 10, four PWN-USA members as well as a number of allies joined over 100 other constituents from 21 states in descending on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., with a very clear, explicit message for their members of Congress: “Kill the bill, don’t kill us!”
PWN-USA’s Board Chair and PWN-USA Colorado Co-Chair Barb Cardell, Colorado member Mary Jane Maestas, Ohio member Olga Irwin, Florida member Lepena Reid and PWN-USA’s communications director Jennie Smith-Camejo participated in the sit-ins. Barb, Olga and Jennie were among the 80+ protesters arrested for civil disobedience. (You can see Barb still carrying the message in handcuffs above.)
“I’ve been living with AIDS for 20 years. I’m in Washington, D.C., today because my medications are very expensive, and I have coverage through the Affordable Care Act. If I don’t have my meds, I will literally die,” said Olga, who was arrested at the sit-in at Senator Portman’s office. (Watch PWN’s Olga Irwin and ally Bryan Jones taking over the D.C. office of Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) in this video shared on Facebook by ABC News.)
The massive direct action was organized to draw attention and keep pressure on Republican Senators leading up to a vote, which has already been delayed due to failure to muster the 50 votes needed, on the GOP health care bill. The “Better Care Reconciliation Act” (BCRA), as the Senate version is called–or “Trumpcare,” as the House and Senate bills are collectively known as–would decimate care for hundreds of thousands of people living with HIV, as well as for millions of others with preexisting conditions and disabilities, and the 40% of children and 2/3 of nursing home residents who depend on Medicaid.
“I have stage 4 kidney failure and have been living with HIV for 6 years,” said Mary Jane Maestas, who participated in Monday’s direct action after having been arrested during another sit-in on June 28. “I depend on Medicaid to access medications which keep me healthy.”
Lepena and Jennie were among the protesters also delivering a strong message to members of the House who voted for that chamber’s version of Trumpcare, the “American Health Care Act” (AHCA) in May: “We will not forget, and we will unseat you next year.” Watch PWN-USA’s livestream from the D.C. action on Florida’s Congressman Curbelo on Facebook here.
All in all, protesters hit 13 locations in the Senate and House buildings, with 59 arrested on the Senate side (including Barb and Olga) and 21 arrested on the House side (including Jennie). The protests and resulting arrests made national news as well as local news across the country (click here to check them out).
“I’ve been living with HIV for 26 years and I am alive because of my medication,” said Barb. “Without my medications, I would die, and without my health insurance, I can’t afford my meds. They cost $10,000 per month. I remember the early days of HIV when people got sick and just died. Today the science and the medications are better. We don’t need to die, but under the Senate bill we will. I have tried to speak with Senator Gardner about this many times and wasn’t able to reach him in Colorado, so I’m here today to try to find him myself.”
Meanwhile, back home, PWNers and allies have been organizing and taking action in their Senators’ districts. From meeting with staffers to protesting outside offices to writing op-eds to organizing phone banks to mobilize other constituents impacted by the health care bill, PWNers have been doing everything they can to stop this disastrous bill.
The clock is ticking, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced yesterday that he would delay the August recess by two weeks in hopes of ramming the BCRA through, among other Republican priorities including a separate package of tax cuts for the rich and corporations. That means we will have to keep up the fight as long as it takes. Save the date: next Wed., July 19, is our next National HIV Call-In Day. Plan on mobilizing your friends, coworkers, family, neighbors, etc.!
But there is no reason to wait until next Wednesday to take action. You can call the HIV Protection Hotline at 866-246-9371 anytime. Call every day to be connected to your Senator. Keep asking where they stand and telling them to vote NO on any “health care” bill that includes cuts or caps to Medicaid, rolls back protection for preexisting conditions or does not ensure continued coverage of essential health benefits. This bill is inherently dangerous and cannot be fixed.
Want to do more? Check out our #KillTheBill Resource Center for ideas and resources.
Here’s the updated Senate target list:
Tier 1 Targets (have expressed opposition to the bill–need to stay strong):
Tier 2 Targets (have expressed concerns about the bill; might be persuaded to vote no):
Tier 3 Targets (unlikely to vote no in a final vote, but may stall the bill getting to a vote):
ThinkProgress: Trumpcare Protesters Aren’t Swayed by Promise of a New Bill
The Rachel Maddow Show: Protests Flare as GOP Health Care/Tax Bill Stalls
Washington Post: U.S. Capitol Police Arrest 80 Protesters at House and Senate Offices