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Protesters demand meeting at Sen. Toomey's Old City office

On a hot Tuesday afternoon, protesters vowed to stay outside the senator's office until he granted them a meeting.
Karen Burrison and Deborah Russell, who both suffer from cerebral palsy, joined a protest outside of Sen. Toomey's office on Tuesday. (Hayden Mitman)

As temperatures topped 91 degrees in Old City on Tuesday afternoon, protesters in front of Sen. Pat Toomey’s Chestnut Street office grumbled in the heat and shared cold sips of Gatorade.

But they weren’t planning on going anywhere.

That’s because protesters with ADAPT, a grass-roots organization fighting for the rights of disabled citizens, who arrived at 5 a.m., had sworn to stay as long as it took for the senator to finally meet with them.

“If he agrees to a meeting, then we will go, but if not, then they’ll just have to arrest us,” said Karen Burrison, from Philadelphia and a member of ADAPT.

Burrison suffers from cerebral palsy and requires attendant care in order to live an independent lifestyle.

With at least two "no" votes expected from Republican legislators on the controversial Better Care Reconciliation Act, or the “Trumpcare” bill, meaning it won't pass the Senate for now, one might think there would be no need to protest.

Toomey's office released a statement noting that he previously met with protesters and is aware of ADAPT's stance.

"ADAPT has come to Senator Toomey’s offices across Pennsylvania and Capitol Hill several times in recent months demanding unscheduled meeting," a spokesman said in a statement. "Senator Toomey spoke personally with a group that came to Washington earlier this year. The group has also met with Senator Toomey’s chief-of-staff, in-state regional directors, communications staff, and numerous regional state staffers."

Meanwhile, Trump's healthcare bill looked completely dead in D.C. Tuesday, a session day during which Toomey is required to be in the nation's capitol, and thus was unable to meet with anyone in Philly.

However, according to those outside Toomey’s office, even if “Trumpcare” is dead in the water, there is still cause for concern for the millions of disabled Americans who rely on Medicaid and Medicare services.

“Now they are talking repeal. All the president is saying is ‘repeal, repeal, repeal [Obamacare],” said Tony Brooks, 42, of West Philadelphia.

Brooks is confined to a wheelchair following a car accident, which he said counts as a "pre-existing condition" to an insurance company. He said that he has traveled with ADAPT in an attempt to meet with Toomey at his Harrisburg office, in his office in Washington, D.C., and in Philly to discuss Toomey’s desire to repeal Obamacare – a promise Toomey reiterated in a press release Tuesday, saying he was “disappointed” in the failure of the new healthcare bill. Trump made repealing Obamacare a core promise of his campaign but has so far had no luck. 

“It has some issues,” Brooks said of Obamacare. “But, you don’t just throw it out because a black man brought it in.”

German Parodi, an organizer from ADAPT – who has been confined to a wheelchair after surviving a carjacking in 2001 in which he was shot in the neck – claimed repealing Obamacare could literally be fatal to some Pennsylvania residents.

“We need our senator to understand that cutting over a trillion dollars [to healthcare services] would kill us,” he said.

Parodi said that he has been an activist for the disabled community ever since his injury. And, Parodi said, he’s had his share of hard times since then – he needs to rely on attendant care to get out of bed and, less than a month after his injury, he was dropped by his insurance company when they claimed his injury was a pre-existing condition – but, he said those issues are nothing compared to the hardships the disabled community would face if Republican legislators repeal Obamacare.

“These are the hardest times we’ve faced,” he said.