Observations From Below: Where Everybody Knows Your Name

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By now everyone probably knows that three Republicans voted against the latest effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Senators John McCain, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski joined 46 Democrats and 2 Independents in opposing the bill. Those of you who have been reading my blog know that I have been advocating against that bill for quite some time and represents a major victory for activists with disabilities who rely on Medicaid. I have said many times that disability is bi-partisan, so I would like to thank the many Conservative disability activists who opposed their own party’s effort to change Medicaid. Without their help, we probably would have had a different outcome.

Sometimes it seems that the universe has a way of putting me in the right place at the right time. I was in the perfect location to experience such a major milestone: celebrating the ten-year anniversary of Disability Rights North Carolina (DRNC). I somehow managed to be surrounded by many passionate advocates, who at that point were nervously anticipating the passage of the repeal. The party was one of the more inspiring events that I have been to in a long time. Not only did I learn more about the history of the formation of DRNC, but I also got to honor two of my friends who both won the Champions for Equality and Justice Award. I think watching a friend win an award is more gratifying than winning one for myself, and to have two friends win makes it even more special. One of the winners, Matt Potter, I’ve known and advocated with for years in the Triad and around the state. The other winner was actually a trio that formed a group called Advocates for Medically Fragile Kids NC. They have been extremely effective in an incredibly short amount of time protecting services for the most vulnerable of NC’s children. Elaine Nell, one of the founders/recipients, was actually a student in my Disability Advocacy Training in Action (DATA) class I helped co-create this past year.

One of the more memorable moments of the DRNC celebration was when the Executive Director, Vicki Smith invited all staff members who were there to come up to the front, followed by a standing ovation. As a board member, I would like to add my congratulations to Vicki Smith and the staff for setting a good foundation for the organization during its first ten years. It’s been an honor to be associated with the group over the past few years, and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store.

After the party, I returned to my hotel room to get a good night’s rest for my NC Empowerment Network meeting the next day. I knew it was going to be a stressful night because of the health care vote-a-rama in Congress. A vote-a-rama is the process of debating a number of the different amendments to a bill then having a succession of votes. There is very little time between votes with no inclusion of a filibuster. It is an arduous and draining task that takes hours and usually occurs when the two parties come to a stalemate when determining a bill. Luckily, the outcome was not what the senate majority was looking for. Even with all the stress, I was doing well. That is until the policy analyst from the NC Council on Developmental Disabilities began to email her projections and stated that there was going to be another last-ditch effort vote following the failed vote-a-rama, called the skinny repeal.

It was unclear if the skinny repeal had enough support, but most analysts believed it did. This was late in the evening. I couldn’t sleep, so I decided that I might as well watch it on T.V. At this point I was devastated and thought I had wasted all of my advocating efforts. At about 1:00 am, something very interesting happened. All the senators were in the room, including the Vice President (who usually doesn’t show up unless he knows he’s going to be the tie-breaker). There was an unexpected delay. This seemed to be a good sign, as they don’t usually put off a vote unless they know they don’t have enough support. I began to become optimistic due to the length of the postponement, and around 1:30 am, they started the roll call. They needed three “noes” to stall the repeal, and long story short, that is what happened. It was quite the emotional roller coaster that mirrored the last couple of months.

Even though last Thursday evening/early Friday morning does represent a major victory, there’s always the possibility that they can try again in the future. Now is not a time to be complacent and celebrate too much. We must remain engaged and steadfast in order to win more of these battles.

That’s how I roll….

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