I sobbed my heart out last night as I witnessed fellow disabled activists, literally, fighting for their lives and the lives of millions of others as Medicaid sits on the butcher block in the hands of those who lack any decency or compassion for the lives whose very existence depends on Medicaid services.
I think the last time people with disabilities made the news with so much impressionable presence was during the ADA march of 1990 when hundreds of disabled people, including myself, abandoned our wheelchairs and mobility aids and crawled up the steps of the Capitol in Washington D.C. sending a message of undeniable power as we demanded the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. I was there. And even though I had been part of many ADAPT actions in person and from afar, I have NEVER before felt so much emotion and rage making my tears flow like lava, and lighting my own torch of support for my ADAPT sisters and brothers who are out there doing what many others won’t or can’t.
I must confess, seeing the image of ADAPT Activist Stephanie Woodward’s hands tied behind her back struck a nerve in me. It touched a cord that made me just lose it. That’s when I started sobbing. This picture clearly illustrates and represents what cutting Medicaid will look like to thousands of disabled Americans. Cutting Medicaid means being immobilized –Our hands tied behind our backs while we sit in wheelchairs we can no longer push on our own. Cutting Medicaid means telling people with disabilities that our lives are not worth living, that our lives are disposable, that our lives are the throwaways of society.
Witnessing the moment when Stephanie is dragged out of her wheelchair while her desperate chants to not cut Medicaid got louder and louder as they carried her away like a criminal sent shivers of pain and anger down my spine. My heart started pounding. All of a sudden, I was back to being a little girl whose body was dragged to the operating room while I screamed for my life, begging them to please let me decide what to do with my body. But I was just a child –a little girl whose body belonged to the adults in my life, to the doctors who held me down as if I were a wild animal while the needle pushed into my vein. This horrible flashback became the tears of rage and sorrow that run down my cheeks even now as I write this post. Cutting Medicaid will disempower people with disabilities. It would take away the ability to decide for ourselves, for our bodies, for our lives.
For too long, we have been oppressed, segregated, forgotten, thrown into institutions, abandoned, left to die. We will not die like this. We will not die right now. We refuse! We refuse to die in institutions. We refuse to be sentenced to the empty halls of nursing homes. We refuse to give up our right to live in the community, our right to share our personal gifts with the world.
The proposed cuts to Medicaid are also like a spit on the face of the Olmstead Decision which declared that people with significant disabilities have the right to live in the community through the support of services that are, for the most part, funded by Medicaid. On the 18th anniversary of the Olmstead Decision people with disabilities and advocates like Stephanie Woodward were fighting for the right to live in the community, but ultimately, they were fighting for the right to live.
Without Medicaid funded services thousands of disabled lives are sentenced to death.
There is a certain smell…
a stench that rises in the air
and clings to the walls
disguised as promises of hope.
There is a certain smell…a certain something,
I can’t exactly pin down to a single word
because the smell of Lysol is so strong
that its attempt to kill whatever germs
makes hope smell like piss that never gets emptied
and hearts empty
People might not believe this,
but there is such a thing
as the institutionalization of hope.
That’s when lives are discarded and thrown away
sent to a place where nobody cares
and where the smell of sorrow
sticks to your clothes
and to your memories even when you try to forget
that human lives
are being thrown away
because disabled bodies,
or lives of a certain type become unwanted
and not allowed to live
among the rest.
And I guess the rest
is history…history that seems
to repeat itself
like a cycle.
Copyright 2017 Maria R. Palacios –The Unwanted –This piece was written for the Houston Public Poetry’s Poets & Musicians Show and performed live in April of 2017