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All-day protest draws attention to opioid crisis, ‘Medicare for All’

Liberal group makes rounds in lawmaker offices with personal stories

A demonstrator is arrested after protesting outside a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Wednesday, September 11, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
A demonstrator is arrested after protesting outside a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Wednesday, September 11, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

On an early morning in May, Freddie Henderson III’s heart stopped from a fentanyl overdose, a story his sister Jasmine shared Wednesday in the office of Republican Sen. Rob Portman, as part of a larger push by progressive activists to pressure lawmakers into supporting “Medicare for All” legislation and signing onto a separate measure that would inject $100 billion of federal funding to fight the opioid epidemic.

“My brother is now a statistic,” Henderson said. “And even though I do this work for a living, I couldn’t save him. And that’s why I’m here.”

Henderson, who is from Portman’s home state of Ohio, joined with protesters from across the country for an all-day campaign to raise awareness on Capitol Hill of the lives lost to opioid overdoses. The liberal group, known as Center for Popular Democracy Action, organized the daylong demonstration that also included stops at the office of Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

The groups went to the offices of Sanders and Warren to thank them for their work on Medicare for All, and asked others lawmakers, such as McConnell and Portman, to sign onto a bill know as the Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency (CARE) Act.

The bill, which was introduced by Warren in the Senate and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., in the House, would give states and localities $100 billion in funding over a 10-year span to fight the opioid crisis. The measure would include $4 billion per year to states, territories and tribal governments. Further, it would allocate $2.7 billion each year to the counties and cities most adversely affected and spend $500 million per year to widen access to overdose reversal drugs, such as Naloxone.

It would also disburse $1.7 billion each year for public health surveillance, biomedical research and improved training for healthcare professionals. The bill is endorsed by more than 200 organizations, including the American Public Health Association. There are no Republican cosponsors.

The group also handed out copies of Ady Barkan’s book, Eyes to the Wind. Barkan, who has ALS, is a strong advocate of Medicare for All and an organizer for the center. He has interviewed several Democratic presidential candidates on the topic.

When the group was eating lunch in Grassley’s office, Kristin Mink, an activist, told Grassley’s staff that he needs to seriously consider the option of Medicare for All.

Aimee Ledwell, another activist with the center, said she participated in the demonstrations because health care is a grave concern in her family.

“I feel very strongly that we should have Medicare for All. My husband suffers from type one diabetes, and his prescriptions alone we wouldn’t be able to afford without insurance — there’s just no way,” said Ledwell. “So we live in fear that he could lose his job and we wouldn’t have insurance and we would lose our house. And thousands and thousands of dollars a month we would have to spend on his medical care, and we wouldn’t be able to survive that way.”

Earlier in the morning, five protesters — some of which were from the Center for Popular Democracy Action group — were arrested outside of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. They were protesting Trump’s nomination of Steven Menashi to be a United States Circuit Judge for the Second Circuit, who appeared before the committee Wednesday.

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