Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Missoula protest

I took part yesterday in a protest/sit in held at U.S. Senator Max Baucus's Missoula office. It was organized by the Missoula Coalition for Disability Rights and was part of a nationwide 25 city protest to push forward on passage of the Community Choice Act.

It was empowering to march with my fellow brothers and sisters over to Sen. Baucus’s office. I was on the team of folks who entered Max’s office at around 11 a.m. to make our demands. The demands were very simple. We as the Montana disability community just want some opportunity to meet with the Senator to discuss the Community Choice Act. His office has blown off previous attempts to schedule a meeting with the latest instance happening just three weeks ago. This time we weren’t leaving until there was something concrete promised. I was in my first sit in as a member of Montana ADAPT and it was awesome directly challenging the system.

The afternoon negotiations were headed up by Bob Liston and Marsha Katz. They talked to several Baucus staffers and got the typical run around that the Senator was so busy and they just didn’t think an appointment could be made. Well that wasn’t flying with us and as the afternoon wore on, progress was being made. I know we’re not fat cat donors but geez we are his constituency and we should at least have our concerns addressed.

Well it wasn’t long after we started our protest that the local CBS affiliate showed up and conducted interviews and shot footage. The local Baucus folks were nervous but like it or not they were stuck with us.

The 4 o’clock hour approached and were notified that the Missoula police would be paying us a visit at office closing time. We were prepared for that but we were finally able to get an email from Max’s DC scheduler that a meeting was in the works. Well we’ll see how that unfolds but I’m ready to go back if things fall apart.

Some of you may be wondering why direct civil action is necessary. We’ll here’s why. We as a community of people with disabilities have been ignored for too long. It is too easy for seasoned politicians to consider us an invisible part of society. We’ve tried asking nicely but that has severe limitations. That’s why we need to get in their faces and shake the foundation. We need to demand our rights and accept nothing less than what is just.

I’m happy that things went well yesterday but this won’t be my last protest or sit in. As long as one of my brother’s or sister’s rots away in a nursing home, I’m there for whatever needs to be done. I lost 3 ½ years of my life in a human warehouse and nobody else should ever go through that. We must FREE OUR PEOPLE and FREE THEM NOW.

In solidarity…Mark

You can read the press release for yesterday's protest below.

Disability Rights and Aging Activists Confront Sen. Baucus on Institutional Bias

Missoula, MT.--- Demanding an end to the institutional bias in the nation’s health care policy, the Missoula Coalition for Disability Rights (MCDR), a coalition of organizations for the aging and disabled, took its fight back to the Missoula office of Senator Max Baucus, while similar protests occurred simultaneously at Democratic offices across the country, and the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, D.C..

MCDR and disability rights and aging organizations across the country are calling for Congress to eliminate the Medicaid institutional bias in 2009 - either in health care reform or as separate legislation, specifically the Community Choice Act (CCA). CCA (S683/HR1670) allows people to choose to stay at home to receive long-term services and supports instead of being forced into nursing homes and institutions because that’s what the law will currently pay for.

The protesters are additionally demanding that the Democrats apologize for the loss of freedom suffered by countless Americans that resulted when a Democratically-controlled Congress created the institutional bias over 40 years ago; and that the DNC facilitate an immediate meeting between ADAPT and Senator Max Baucus, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee; Representative Henry Waxman, Chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce; and Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Liaison, to develop a plan to pass the Community Choice Act and eliminate the institutional bias in 2009. In Missoula, MCDR is also calling for a face-to-face meeting between Sen. Baucus and representatives of the Montana disability and aging communities.

“On July 2 the Montana disability and aging communities converged on all seven of Sen. Baucus’ state offices asking him to include long-term services and supports in health care reform and eliminate the institutional bias in Medicaid,” said Bob Liston. “We were promised by the Senator’s staff that we would get a call back early the next week with an appointment for a meeting. Not only did that call never come, but when we contacted them, we were brushed off like lint on an old suit. I’m beginning to think the Senator just doesn’t care about his constituents who are aging, disabled and low income.”

In an unprecedented show of unity this year, disability and aging groups across Montana and across the country have demanded that healthcare reform be the vehicle to change federal policy which favors paying for institutions over community-based services. They have repeatedly asked Sen. Baucus, Congress and the President to pass the Community Choice Act, but currently, NO proposal in the health care reform package eliminates the institutional bias in Medicaid. Sen. Baucus, as head of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, is playing a pivotal role in pushing for healthcare reform, but has also steadfastly refused to include long-term care in the health care reform effort.

"For 44 years, Medicaid's institutional bias has stolen the lives of Montanans with disabilities and older Montanans,” said Mike Mayer, Executive Director of Missoula’s Summit Independent Living Center.” It has deprived them of their most basic freedoms. The Democrats were in power when that bias was legislated. Now it's time for them to apologize, and most importantly, time for them to take action to fix it. We want to live in our own homes and communities, close to family and friends, like everyone else."

MCDR’s action comes in part as a response to a video released last week by the Democratic National Committee. The video tells Americans "It's time" for health care reform, and urges them to call their Senators. Picking up on that theme, the national grassroots disability rights organization, ADAPT, released its own video this week telling Sen. Baucus and other Democrats "It's time" to eliminate the institutional bias and pass the Community Choice Act.
"The Democrats say they want health care reform to focus on covering more people and saving money,” said Mark Boatman, a 33 year old ventilator user from Missoula, “yet they refuse to change the current law that mandates people receive long term care in the most expensive setting rather than less expensively at home where we would rather be. Two years ago Sen. Baucus used my life as an example in a statement he made at a Senate hearing on long term care. He was so willing to talk about me moving from a North Dakota nursing home so I could live in the community in Montana, but he isn’t willing to take the action necessary that would allow me to live in the community in North Dakota near my family. Right now I live in fear everyday that Montana will cut my services and I’ll be forced back into a nursing home.”

Many states have no home and community-based services, or they may provide limited services with waiting lists that keep people stuck for years in institutions and nursing facilities before they have any chance of getting services. Or there are states like North Dakota that provide some community-based services, but will not provide them to people who use ventilators. In addition, the current law forces states to go through complicated procedures just to let a few people stay at home and get assistance there, while others must go to the end of a waiting list. It is not uncommon for people to wait so long that they die before their name reaches the top of the waiting list.

"The Democrats, including our wonderful Sen. Tester, have historically supported the Community Choice Act every time it has been introduced in Congress," said Brooke Jaqueth, a member of ADAPT Montana . “Many in the disability community were optimistic that the Democrats would finally pass CCA and eliminate the institutional bias, but the Democratic leadership in Washington, including Sen. Baucus, is doing absolutely nothing. It seems as though the Democrats are so concerned with political maneuvering that they have completely forgotten about the people they represent who have no voice in Washington.”

“We are concerned about people who right now are stuck in nursing facilities and other institutions, like I am. We are concerned about people on Medicaid, like me, who will continue to be forced into those places if the law isn’t changed. And if the Democratic leadership won't speak up for them, then I will," added Jaqueth.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sad passing

As promised I've put together a slide show of pictures from my parents recent visit. They were taken around Missoula and on the trips we took to Stevensville and Flathead Lake at Polson. We had so much fun and it's cool to flip through these pictures again. I'm already looking forward to their fall visit and hopefully we'll be able to schedule it around a Griz football game. Oops how dare I mention football in July :-)

A giant in the journalism world was lost this past week when former CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite passed away. I may be too young to remember Walter in his heyday but I've seen plenty of footage to recognize his superior skill as a newsman. His emotional announcement of Pres. Kennedy's death has become a permanent part of American history.

As a journalism student I'm in awe of the gold standard that Walter Cronkite personified. If I'm only 1/10 as good someday as Walter was in his career and life, I'll be damn lucky. Sure is sad that we will never see another one like him ever again. Godspeed Walter and thanks for showing us what the news is all about. Below is a clip looking back on his incredible career.


Objective journalism and an opinion column are about as similar as the Bible and Playboy magazine.

Walter Cronkite

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Long overdue

Well after a fantastic few weeks I thought it's high time I return with some sort of an update. Things have been crazy around here but I'm happy to report that Theresa, Dustin, and 3 Pugs are home safe after a 5,000 mile round trip to New York. They enjoyed themselves at the NY Pug Meetup and the Pugs travelled very well. It's sure good to have them all back home. You can read Dustin’s musings on their trip by visiting his blog at Speaking for the Dead.

While my housemates were off to New York, my mom stayed here in Missoula with me. We had an awesome time and we were able to do so many fun things. My dad joined us for the last 5 days and that was sure nice. I’ll share pictures next week of what we did but I need to sort through them first. Check out the video this week of the Missoula 4th of July fireworks we shot. Was good practice at some basic editing and it turned out pretty well I must say.

I finished up my American History class a few weeks ago and I couldn’t be happier. This class was intense but our professor was awesome which was nice. I was able to manage a strong B and that’s fine with me. Shouldn’t be any more history requirements but there is one or two classes I might still take. School starts on August 31st so at least I’ve got some summer left to enjoy.

Stay well and I’ll be back soon with some promised photos!