On Dec. 20 just after midnight, the U.S. Senate was voting on a tax overhaul bill that eliminated the mandate that people buy insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), action that many feared could lead to the death of access to affordable healthcare in U.S. But this historic vote didn’t take place without protests from the people in the gallery.
“If you listened to C-Span, you could hear our shouts of protests,” local activist Harrie Farrow said. Farrow was arrested that night along with 11 others for disrupting the tax bill proceedings in the Senate and 18 who were arrested during the House vote a day earlier.
A photo of Farrow with her hands handcuffed behind her back, shouting as she was led from the Capitol building, was widely viewed after being posted to The Guardian website. Although normally law abiding, the Dec. 20 arrest was Farrow’s third for actions protesting bills that threaten the ACA and her second specifically protesting the GOP tax bill. This was the fifth time she participated in related protest actions in D.C.
“Specifically, these actions in D.C. have been about healthcare,” Farrow said. “The tax bill takes away the individual mandate which will pretty much destroy the ACA. Why am I protesting? Mainly I’m going because I think it’s important for everyone to fight the destructive things this administration is trying to do, and healthcare is a very important aspect to everyone’s lives. I think it is barbaric not to have healthcare affordable to everyone. And I think we had it and now taking it away from people is even harder to take.
“These extreme times take some extreme measures. People need to stand up and make it clear we will not allow the administration and the GOP to carry on policies that are destructive to the country and more broadly to democracy and our environment.”
Farrow, also arrested in earlier in December and July, was in good company.
“People from organizations that are concerned about healthcare have come together from all over the country from literally every state,” Farrow said. “Some people are coming just as individuals organizing to fight the destruction of healthcare. For some, it is quite literally a matter of life and death as losing their health insurance could cause them to die. And some of the people who are involved are healthcare workers or work for non-profits involved in the healthcare industry. There are definitely people from Indivisible and other resistance groups joining forces, as well.”
Farrow’s most recent trip to D.C. was for a court hearing for misdemeanor charges stemming from her latest arrest.
“There were twenty-seven of us there,” she said. “We were given thirty-two hours of community service, and we have to stay away from the capitol building for four months and not get in any kind of trouble. If we violate any of that, we could be subjected to a fine or jail time. The judge wished us all good luck. The prosecuting attorney made a disparaging comment about the tax bill. Even the community service representative was on our side. They just made the whole thing easy. The whole process was really expedited.”
Farrow doesn’t usually go around getting arrested and doesn’t plan to get arrested for anything during the four-month period. But she also won’t quit speaking out about actions of the present administration that she deems dangerous and harmful.
Are protestors making a difference?
“I think it is really important for the Republican Party and president to see people are paying attention, people care, that people don’t approve of what the administration is doing,” she said. “Just by them knowing we are watching their every move prevents them from doing much worse things. We have made it much more difficult for them to go ahead with their agenda, and in some cases we have been able to stop them. I also think it’s important for people who are frightened and even traumatized by what is going on in the federal government to see that people are fighting for them and that action is being taken.”
Some people are suffering from what has been called Trump fatigue because the assault has been on so many different levels including gutting of environmental protections, actions against immigration, increased discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer population, attacks on the media, and assaults on civil liberties.
Farrow said fatigue of activists is partially a problem because even though there is a massive resistance effort, not enough people are stepping up.
“Many people who really care are not actively participating, resisting and fighting against the things they find troubling,” she said. “I think there are more of us than people who are okay with what is going on. I think if everyone who cared would step up it would be resolved more quickly. I also think that a lot of people who are doing a lot feel guilty they are not doing more, but they should know how important the things they’re doing are, like making phone calls to members of Congress or giving money to groups like the ACLU or other organizations fighting this threat to our country. I think often people are so overwhelmed by the bad things that they don’t realize how successful the resistance has actually been and that their actions have mattered.”
Farrow has found that being involved in political action in Washington is intense.
“The protests are very dynamic,” she said. “Things change sometimes every two minutes. The main intent is to influence our senators and Congress people in the most direct ways we can think of. So that involves going into senators’ offices requesting to speak with the senator. Usually, we don’t get to speak to the member of Congress directly and instead speak with staff. Usually people from their home state have dramatic healthcare stories and will talk about how this tax bill will kill them or their children or their parents.”
When they don’t get a response from the Congress member who plans to vote against the bill, they sometimes choose to sit in the hallway outside of their office and chant, “Kill the bill. Don’t kill us.” Those who refuse to move are arrested.