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ADAPT protesters in wheelchairs removed from Colorado U.S. Sen. Gardner's Denver office

June 30, 2017 Updated: June 30, 2017 at 8:50 pm
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Dawn Russell gets arrested by Denver police officers after refusing the vacate the offices of Senator Cory Gardner on June 29, 2017 in Denver, Colorado. A handful of people, all of whom are with ADAPT, held a sit-in for 58 hours in the tiny front lobby space in the office of Colorado Senator Cory Gardner. They are asking the senator to vote against the new health care bill. As they were arrested protesters chanted "I would rather go to jail than die without Medicaid." ADAPT is a national grass-roots community that organizes disability rights activists to engage in nonviolent direct action, including civil disobedience, to assure the civil and human rights of people with disabilities to live in freedom. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

Protesters at congressional offices have become old hat, but the disability rights group Denver ADAPT rewrote the script with a 58-hour sit-in that ended Thursday night as police removed about 10 people, some in wheelchairs, from Colorado U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner's downtown Denver office.

As Denver officers moved them out of the office lobby, protesters chanted, "Rather go to jail than to die without Medicaid," according to a video posted on Facebook by protest leader Carrie Ann Lucas. The Denver-based National ADAPT reported on social media that Lucas' wheelchair was damaged as she was removed.

In a video, officers ask for her help with the wheelchair to remove her from the small lobby about 7 p.m. She told them it was a $35,000 chair but officers would have to find someone who could push it or operate it, because she would not help them.

"You can Google, you can call someone, I'm not resisting but I'm not cooperating," she told officers before she was formally arrested. Lucas then resumed chanting, "Rather go to jail than to die without Medicaid."

Within two hours, the video had nearly 10,000 views.

Lucas called the protest "Camp Gardner."

Lucas is a lawyer and executive director of nonprofit Disabled Parents Rights.

Like other protests across the country ahead of the Senate vote on the Better Care Reconciliation Act, the Republicans' plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, Denver ADAPT wants Gardner not to support the plan, and specifically oppose the proposed $834 billion in cuts to future Medicaid appropriations.

The disabled say they will be disproportionately affected by the cuts, especially by caps with fixed amounts per Medicaid recipient. People with expensive care have a lot to fear, said Josh Winkler, a 36-year-old quadriplegic from Aurora who participated in the protest on Tuesday but was not one of those removed by police Thursday night.

"We've been trying to meet with Sen. Gardner for months on all these health reforms they're talking about, which is really just health care repeal," Winkler told Colorado Politics.

Called a "die-in" by supporters, the protest started Tuesday morning.

Gardner's office said ADAPT leaders have met in-person or by phone with his health care policy adviser 16 times - and once with Gardner personally - since January, and as recently as last week.

"The top priority throughout this protest has been allowing these individuals to exercise their First Amendment rights in a safe environment," according to a statement released Thursday night. "In order to allow this, staff have slept in the office for two nights and assisted and aided these individuals with several matters to ensure they were comfortable and safe. At the request of the building, Denver police were forced to remove them earlier this evening due to several factors, including serious concerns for their health and safety."

Denver police said a member of Gardner's staff signed the complaint to have the protesters removed, but Gardner's office said other tenants were demanding an end to the around-the-clock presence in the 25-story office tower at 17th and Lawrence streets.

Gardner is a member of the working group that drafted the Senate health care legislation. His spokesman told Colorado Politics' Ernest Luning this week that the delayed vote announced by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Tuesday offers an opportunity to fine-tune the Obamacare replacement.

"The organization currently in the office has spoken to Senator Gardner several times and are in constant contact with his health care policy staff regarding requested reforms to our healthcare system," Gardner's office said in a statement released Wednesday, the second day of the protest. "Senator Gardner wants the constituents that are in his office to have quality health care. He has concerns that our current system is imploding and won't be able to provide quality care if nothing is done to fix it."

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