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From the White House to the Big House

Disabled Memphis activist arrested for protesting at the White House and on Capitol Hill.

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Less than 24 hours after the handcuffs left Memphian Randy Alexander's wrists last Monday, they were back on again.

Alexander was arrested twice in two days last week in back-to-back protests over disabled people's rights in Washington, D.C. On Monday, he and about 500 activists chained themselves to a fence outside the White House to protest what they consider the administration's lack of support for a bill that mandates equal access for home health-care services.

The Community Choice Act would provide disabled people and the elderly with federal funding for community-based home-attendant services rather than only giving the option of a nursing home. Home attendants help clients bathe, dress, and cook and perform other tasks that nursing-home attendants provide.

"Monday's action started as a rally outside the White House while a few of us had a meeting with heath-care czar Nancy DeParle," said Alexander, who sat in on the meeting with other leaders from ADAPT, a grassroots organization of disability rights activists. "That meeting did not go well. The administration isn't willing to work toward getting the Community Choice Act passed."

Though President Barack Obama co-sponsored a previous version of the Community Choice Act when he was in Congress, ADAPT wants the act added to Obama's overall federal heath-care reform package.

After the meeting with DeParle, the angry activists chained themselves to the White House fence. They remained there for about two hours before police intervened and made 87 arrests.

Since there were so many arrests — many of them people in wheelchairs — Alexander said he and the others were handcuffed, ticketed, and released. The following day, ADAPT staged another protest that blocked the streets near Capitol Hill.

"We split our 500 folks into two groups and blocked off the Senate and House sides of Capitol Hill," Alexander said. "About 100 of us were arrested for blocking a thoroughfare."

This time, police herded the group into a Senate hearing building and held them for about 10 hours while police took mug shots and fingerprints.

"We've been fighting for community-based services for a long time," Alexander said. "Why is the administration that's all about change not willing to change something that's such a huge civil rights issue?"

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