The real heroes of last night’s vote are not John McCain, Lisa Murkowski, or Susan Collins. They aren’t the 48 Democratic senators either. The real heroes are the direct action protestors in ADAPT that demonstrated tremendous courage in going to the offices of senators and putting their often broken bodies between those senators and ACA repeal. Everyone knew this bill was a disaster. But that didn’t stop most Republican senators from voting for it. The pressure to do so was tremendous. And the real pressure is internal. Especially in this era of exceptional partisanship, voting for the team is the highest priority for most senators. It was far easier to vote for this monstrosity than stand up to McConnell, Pence, and Trump, not to mention big donors like Adelson, Koch, and Wynn. Dean Heller knows this bill is terrible and he knows that it is bad for the people of his state. He also lacks the courage to do anything about it. I strongly believe that without the ADAPT protests, it’s quite likely at least one of those three senators votes for the bill. Such an assertion can be directly proven, but neither can it be for nearly any other protest movement in history, including the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s. Most politicians will never say, “I voted against a bill because protestors came to my door.” But they will vote for or against bills based on public pressure. Direct action protest adds to that public pressure. Moreover, those direct action protests also inspire other, less radical, activists into action–calling senators, going to town halls, talking to friends and family about the issue.
I mention all of this because even at this late date, many in the LGM community, broadly defined, are not very comfortable with direct action protest. Many commenters will deny that protest helps and they write about how uncomfortable they are with protests, turning into self-parodies of liberals. This kind of direct action is not the be all and end all of political action. But like voting and lobbying, it is an absolutely required type of political action. When people see disabled and mortally ill people sacrificing themselves to save health care, not only for themselves, but for millions of people, it gives a face to the issue. Much like ACT-UP galvanized political support to fight HIV instead of just letting gays and heroin users die, ADAPT helped build political pressure against ACA repeal. We are going to need a lot more of this in the future, and I hope people step up with this kind of action. I also hope we all recognize the vitality and necessity of direct action and do what we can to support it.