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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

My First ADAPT Action Went a Little Like This…

By Raquel Bernstein, NCIL Summer Policy Intern

Before I came to DC as an intern for the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL), I had learned minimal information about ADAPT. I had heard legendary stories about ADAPT during my brief time in the NCIL office. These actions felt unfamiliar to me. However, when Youth Transitions Fellow Kings Floyd invited me to participate in an ADAPT action, somehow I just could not say ‘no’. Everybody accepted the fact that I did not want to get arrested at my first action.

We headed to the park where I was fortunate enough to meet some of the most compassionate, kind, and daring people I had ever met. I then learned that we would be participating in a “die in” right outside of Mitch McConnell’s office. 

During my experience at NCIL, I had learned first-hand the devastation of the cuts that are being proposed. I understand clearly that people will die if Mitch McConnell’s bill passes. DON’T LET ANYONE TELL YOU THAT PEOPLE WON’T DIE.

As we walked to the Capital, everything was impeccably organized, from the people who were giving us directions, to moving through security, to how to get the people in the elevator as quickly and efficiently as possible. Each individual instinctively helped in any way possible, as if we were all members of one family. We flooded into the Capitol politely from two separate entrances. Half the group went in through the Dirksen Senate Building and half through the Hart Senate Building, and we then met in the hallway at Mitch McConnell’s office.

Suddenly Bruce Darling began to sing our countdown: 3, 2, 1 and then more and more people got out of their wheelchairs, laid on the floor, and everybody helped others safely get out of their chairs. We then started to sing a very concise but powerful chant, “No cuts to Medicaid, save our liberties.”

Soon after, the police arrived, which was about ten minutes into the chant. I knew that it was time for me to back away. Although it was difficult to leave my new ADAPT family that way, I knew that I had to follow the instructions designed for the people who didn’t plan to get arrested. I was very troubled because I knew the uncertainty of what my ADAPT family was going to go through when they made the decision to get arrested. As I backed away from the scene, I noticed that there were people on the sidelines who knew their ADAPT brothers’ and sisters’ needs from previous experiences, for example, if they could not be dragged out in a certain way. The police were excruciatingly rough with everyone; however, the protestors on the sidelines were trying to communicate peoples’ particular needs.

I had witnessed some of the most courageous acts I had ever seen. While my ADAPT family was whisked away by police vehicles, they knew that contrary to what the police were saying to them, they were doing what was right. Having no idea what was in store for them, after being yanked, dragged, and yelled at, my brothers and sisters who got arrested were bravely smiling and laughing as they were being pulled into the accessible police vehicle. I hope that they were at least half as proud as themselves as I was of them.

We proceeded to find the police station. We asked the officer who opened the door, “When will our family be out and where can we wait?” The police officer answered that no one would be let out for hours and they were all still being processed. We then explained to the police officer that our family was in there and that we did not care about how long it would take or the weather outside – we were not going anywhere until every last one was out. The officer then informed that we would have to wait on the other side of the street. After struggling to find the cut part of the curb and cross the street, we began loudly chanting, “Free our family, free our children, free our people now!”

The very last thing that anyone wants to worry about after being released by the police is where it would be accessible to get across the street. The least I could do for the people who were arrested for my rights as a human being was to guide them to the accessible route to cross the street

When we had finally gathered everyone after 11:00 p.m., we all proceeded to the hotel to enjoy a pizza together. I met a person who explained to me that ADAPT had empowered her and showed her that she had a voice. As I ate my pizza, it became clear that I was not the same Raquel who I had been at the start of the day. I then realized that advocating, speaking your mind, and protesting can sometimes be the best therapy of all – it sure was for me. It is my hope that young people will see that activism is one of the most important ways to create change.


  1. James Turner says:

    Brilliant piece Rachel! Inspiring indeed. Big ups to those folks who went to the clink on our brothers’ and sisters’ behalf and those who acted in support. You are loved, people!

  2. Actually, since being arrested for CD on sept 25th to stop the GOP healthkill act (my 3rd or 4th CD in my life) I’ve been telling my fellow males that in terms of a dopamine high, Standing up for your convictions in this way is better than sex, and the high sure lasts lots longer. And activism is always the best therapy against depression. I’ve been an activist pretty much fulltime all my life, and never get seriously depressed, which in most cases is simply anger turned inward, because people are not sufficiently informed what they can do and don’t know their history of how all the rights and improvements we enjoy have almost always been the result of activism,

  3. P.S. I also went away from that experience with a huge reverence for the expertise ADAP and NCIL have in the craft and science of direct action and hope to find out whom to contact at each org to advise in the development of, which we hope will do for organizing what kickstarter has done for fundraising. In fact we are “kickstarter and more meets movement organizing.”

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