Sixteen Arrests in Capitol Rotunda Mark Beginning of Health Care Justice Week

On October 14, Health Care Justice Week 2000 began unconventionally when a group of health care professionals and reform advocates calling themselves the "Healthy Democracy Brigade," engaged in a dramatic act of civil disobedience in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.

The action illustrated how $250 million in political contributions have been used during the last decade by the health care industry to stymie a range of health care reforms — from a patients’ bill of rights to a prescription drug benefit for Medicare recipients to universal health care coverage.

Sixteen citizens were arrested in the action, which was the first to expressly link the two issues. In addition to doctors, medical students, and other health care professionals, participants included small business owners, students, a former congressional staffer, senior citizens, and community organizers. The event, which was organized by the Alliance for Democracy, was cosponsored by the Universal Health Care 2000 (U2K) Campaign, a coalition of over 550 state, regional, and national organizations.

As more than 100 tourists watched, the group conducted a "Speak-out on Health Care and Democracy" during which participants called for universal health care and full public financing of elections (a.k.a. "Clean Money/Clean Elections" reform) while unfurling 15-foot banners. One read "Big Money, Bad Health Care: Campaign Finance Reform Now", and another "Threat to Public Health: Privately Financed Campaigns."

"The fact that 1/7 of our population lacks health insurance is a moral outrage and a national disgrace," said Ken Frisof, MD, co-chair of the U2K Campaign. "The fact that this is not a campaign issue in the 2000 elections is an indictment of our political system. We know that to remedy the illnesses of our health care system we must also remedy those of our body politic," he added.

Brigade members spoke aloud about "crimes against democracy" — including legalized bribery, extortion, gross conflict of interest, and criminal malfeasance and negligence — committed by Members of Congress and their big individual and corporate contributors within the health care industry. The pointed to the fact that over 42 million Americans are uninsured and millions more are at risk, even though 75 percent of the public favors a system of universal coverage. They also called attention to the fact that in the 2000 election cycle alone (as of August 3), the health care industry has contributed over $49 million to congressional and presidential candidates and their political parties, including $3.6 million to George W. Bush and $1 million to Al Gore.

The Speak-Out, while an exercise of the First Amendment rights of free speech and free assembly and the right to petition one’s government for a redress of grievances, was considered illegal under a Washington, D.C. statute which prohibits "demonstrating in the Capitol," and thus all sixteen members of the Brigade were arrested by the Capitol Police. After several hours of booking, they were released on their own recognizance and ordered to appear for arraignment in D.C. Superior Court on November 9th.

"These are people from all walks of life engaging in a dramatic action because they know that Congress is guided more by corporate greed than by human need," said Jim Ace, Program Director of the Alliance for Democracy. "People are angry and they’re willing to put their bodies on the line. They’re taking democracy back, and they’ll keep coming back until real reform becomes law."

Said Ace, "U.S. Senator Paul Simon of Illinois had it right when he said: ‘Why do we have 41 million Americans without health care coverage? Because they are not big campaign contributors, and those who profit from the system are.’"

The Alliance for Democracy is a grassroots organization consisting of 60 chapters in 21 states. The protest action on October 14th was the sixth in a series of "Democracy Brigade" speak-outs in the Capitol Rotunda that began one year ago, with each action protesting campaign finance corruption and calling for full public funding of all federal elections.