At roughly 3:10pm on Friday, July 7, 16 activists from the disability group ADAPT were arrested by Columbus police during an occupation of Senator Portman’s office.
The occupation was a continuation of a sit-in the previous day, organized by Junto Unsilenced’s Kelly Weber, John Shade, and Bilal El-Yousseph and supported by Ultraviolet and Planned Parenthood. They were aiming to accomplish two major goals – get Senator Portman to agree to vote “no” on any version of the current Senate healthcare bill, the BCRA, and to force Portman to hold a town hall to address his constituents on the topic of healthcare, which he has thus far avoided. The sit-in mirrored those at every single one of Portman’s Ohio offices, though only Columbus and Cincinnati (the latter of which was led by Socialist Alternative and Democratic Socialists of America) were able to hold the offices.
The sit-in turned into an overnight occupation when activists were unable to receive any answers from Portman’s staff.
“[Portman’s Press Secretary] kept saying, ‘Oh, he holds hundreds of meetings all over the state.’ Where are those meetings and where can we find the schedule so that we know when to show up?” said Kim Kelly, an occupier who said she was there for her disabled son, Joseph LaValle. “She said that they don’t publish them because it’s a safety issue for the senator.”
The occupiers were also directed to fill out ‘schedule forms’ to get a meeting with the senator, but Shade said that these had no effect.
“I’ve filled out like three [schedule sheets] online, and probably four or five in person,” Shade said. “I’ve never even received a reply.”
The next day, after the original occupiers were replaced by a new shift, disability activists from ADAPT joined the fight, completely shutting down the lobby, front revolving doors, and several elevators in order to demand no cuts to Medicaid. Most of the occupiers had disabilities themselves and relied on Medicaid in order to remain in their own homes with appropriate care.
They were able to hold the lobby for several hours, but just after 3pm, the Columbus Police Department descended in full force.
There were at least 30 police cruisers locking in the entire building, and the Columbus Free Press counted at least 50 police officers for the relatively small amount of activists (perhaps 20 inside the lobby and several upstairs). There was so much police activity that onlookers speculated if there had been a terrorist attack.
In one particularly brutal incident, a thus far-unnamed CPD officer tipped disability activist Alisa Grishman out of her wheelchair onto the floor and simply walked away.
As many as 16 activists were arrested for trespassing, but all were released that night as the Columbus jail was not equipped to accommodate the activists’ wheelchairs and healthcare equipment.
The ADAPT activists have received nationwide attention for their penchant for driving around the country, getting arrested at different actions, but they noted that the treatment by Columbus police was particularly bad even in their extensive experience.
The action in Columbus was by no means the only one – ADAPT along with many other organizations occupied Congressional offices all over the country during the week of recess that Senator McConnell had originally planned on using the gather support for his healthcare bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act.
But thanks to these activists, that plan has backfired – it no longer appears that the bill will pass, as
Senator John Hoeven, Republican of North Dakota, just pledged not to support the bill “in its current form.” He marks the 10th GOP defection from supporting the bill.
The lesson learned from ADAPT and activists across the country is not only that mass action is the only way to truly make gains against Trump and the GOP’s agenda, as shown by the defeat of two Muslim travel bans and the original iteration of Trumpcare, but that an escalation of tactics is also necessary.
Leftist action in America has risen from protests to overnight occupation of Congressional offices, an evolution that cannot be ignored.
In Columbus, Junto Remains Unsilenced and Socialist Alternative will be hosting a town hall at 6:30pm on July 11th on the Ohio Statehouse grounds, whether Portman shows or not. Their actions the past week have proven that Ohio activists are not going to back down from the fight, and certainly are not to be underestimated.