WASHINGTON ― Fresh off an inspiring Democratic win in
Alabama’s Senate race, hundreds of progressive activists,
many of whom had physical disabilities, converged on Capitol
Hill on Wednesday to protest the Republican tax bill.
Eighty-four of them were arrested after refusing Capitol Police
requests to move from public spaces, the police agency
The demonstrators, mobilized by an array of progressive groups,
focused their efforts on Republican senators who had expressed
doubts about the legislation or the process that created it:
Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), John McCain
(Ariz.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).
Although Democrat Doug Jones, the victor in Tuesday’s special
election for an open Senate seat, will likely not be seated
before the tax bill is voted on, several activists said that
Jones’ win was a sign that the public is on their side in the
“What we saw in Alabama was more than just the rejection of a
pedophile,” said Social Security Works Executive Director Alex
Lawson, referring to accusations against Jones’ Republican rival, “it
was a rejection of the entire Republican agenda to … rob
us of our health care, to raid Medicare and destroy Medicaid,
all so some Wall Street parasite can buy yet another yacht.
Dozens of brave Americans got arrested in Senate offices today
to make it clear that we fight back and we never give up.”
A demonstrator protesting the Republican tax bill is arrested
outside the office of Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). (ALEX
The demonstrators on Wednesday, which included activists
affiliated with Social Security Works, the Center for Popular
Democracy, Housing Works, the Women’s March, the Strong Economy
for All Coalition and Hedge Clippers, focused on the
anticipated reductions to social programs that would result
from the tax legislation.
The tax bill is due to add $1 trillion to
the debt, which would trigger so-called “paygo” rules resulting
spending cuts that would affect programs like Medicare.
Republican leaders in Congress have committed to waiving paygo,
but activists are not satisfied that they will follow through
once the tax bill passes.
The activist groups also noted that the money the bill would
add to the debt is likely to generate pressure to reduce budget
deficits at the expense of vulnerable populations.
House Speaker Paul Ryan
(R-Wis.) and other GOP lawmakers have already announced
that cutting so-called entitlements for seniors and people with
disabilities ― Social Security and Medicare ― as well as
means-tested programs like food stamps are next on their
Ady Barkan, a 33-year-old organizer at the Center for
Popular Democracy, made national waves last Thursday when he
confronted Flake during
a flight they were both on about the ramifications of the
tax bill for people who rely on government benefits. Barkan,
who was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS, just over
a year ago, worries that cuts to programs like Medicare would
negatively affect his life when his disease forces him to seek
public assistance. In an emotional exchange with Flake, he told
the senator that a vote against the bill “could save my life.”
The conversation took place two days after Barkan was arrested protesting the
tax bill outside the office of Rep. Darrell Issa
(R-Calif.), who Barkan noted is the wealthiest member of
In one last bid to stop the legislation, Barkan flew once
again from his home in Santa Barbara, California, to
demonstrate on Capitol Hill on Wednesday ― this time with the
support of his wife and 18-month-old toddler. McCain and
Murkowski did not agree to his request for a meeting; Flake
was unable to meet with Barkan because he had to vote on
legislation. But Barkan was able to meet with Collins
alongside a delegation of activists from Maine.
In a meeting with Collins that was broadcast on Facebook
live, Barkan and his comrades pushed Collins on why she
would agree to vote for the tax bill without insisting on a
provision precluding across-the-board paygo cuts beforehand.
Rather than lock in the waiving of paygo before committing to
support the tax bill, Collins said, “I have to have it be
passed into law by the end of the year is the agreement.”
Barkan and the other activists argued that Republican leaders
could break their promise, much as they did the promises to
hold the middle class harmless in the tax cut bill and not
add to budget deficits. (Reductions in tax deductions,
including the state and local tax deduction, mean that the
bill is a net tax increase for millions of
“I believe the commitments that I’ve received,” Collins
responded when challenged.
“I know, but it’s my life on the line!” Barkan declared.
Collins refused to argue that agreeing to vote for the bill
before her condition is met amounted to giving up her
“I used my leverage to negotiate promises to me,” Collins
said. ”I know the vehicle that it’s going to be put in.”
“It’s not enough. You have to vote no,” Barkan replied.
Wednesday’s protests were the last of several days of civil
disobedience in recent weeks. Last Tuesday, Barkan was one of
133 demonstrators arrested outside House offices, and the day
before that there were 23 arrests.
But neither the public uproar nor an impending reduction in
the GOP majority after the Democratic win in Alabama was
enough to stop the speeding train that is the Republican tax
legislation. Shortly before the arrests, President
announced that House and Senate leaders had agreed to a final tax
bill reconciling their differences between versions
passed in each chamber. Congress would pass the legislation
and the president would sign it before Christmas, Trump said
― just in time to affect paychecks beginning in February.
The protests were not in vain, though, according to Lawson of
Social Security Works.
“The only way we lose is if we forget what we are fighting
for. Anything else is a temporary setback,” he concluded.
“These protests are a testament that we will never forget and
will always keep fighting to build a future for all of us,
not just a handful of billionaires.”
- This article originally appeared on