The Causeway Boulevard building that houses Senator Bill Cassidy's office is private property. Or it's private property, unless you have an appointment. Or it's only people with appointments who can park in the parking lot. Or the problem is a small pile of signs, which needed to be moved from the sidewalk.
With increasing irritation that erupted into a testy exchange with protestors, a blue-shirted representative who seemed to work for building management company Select Properties tried out these potential deterrents. He was doing his best to shoo off a small group of activists attending a two-day "vigil" outside Cassidy's office in support of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). (Apparently, his efforts had been repeated throughout the day, to limited success.)
Around 2 p.m. Friday, about 10 people stood outside the Metairie high rise as traffic sped past them, making their signs whip in the wind. There was retired educator Mary Ryan and 12-year-old Journey Wills, who had come on a field trip of sorts; in a recent homeschool unit on the Constitution, Wills became a big fan of the First Amendment. There was the actor and artist Todd d'Amour, who rattled off a startling number of objections to individual Trump cabinet officials while praising the way "Obamacare" has helped him pursue his art; and Anne Davis, whose attendance at today's protest was her first appearance at a demonstration since protesting the Vietnam War at age 12.
[jump] "Obamacare saved my life," Davis said. "I didn't have insurance for 20 years ... I don't support any part of [the recently proposed American Health Care Act]. ... We won't be able to afford the insurance that [they're] offering."
Davis was referring to recent Congressional Budget Office projections of staggering premium increases, especially for older Americans and the poor, with the Republican-proposed plan that would repeal and replace the ACA. Local politicians, including Mayor Mitch Landrieu, have condemned the plan, saying it will hurt vulnerable Louisianans - especially those who recently gained insurance through the expansion of the state's Medicaid program.
"The proposed bill will take Louisiana back to the days when an ear infection meant a mother loses her job because she waited hours in an emergency room with her sick child," Landrieu said in a recent statement. "While the Affordable Care Act can be strengthened in some areas, it has improved the lives of nearly 575,000 Louisiana citizens."
Daun Calvert has insurance, but she came to today's vigil to stand up for the rights of family and friends who have benefited from the ACA. (Even her insurance for a family of four is almost unaffordable; the premium is $1600 a month with a $6200 annual deductible.) But she's more fearful for loved ones with health issues, including cancer, who wouldn't be covered without the ACA.
"They're scared to death. They're fighting a serious illness and they're stressing out about losing their health care," she says.
Participants said a few people were admitted to Cassidy's office earlier in the day to speak to aides, but otherwise they had not received a response. (By all accounts, the senator did not appear to be in attendance.) According to d'Amour, the actor, the aides had responded to constituents' concerns with what seemed to be pre-determined talking points about "freedom."
But Cassidy will have plenty of other chances to meet with citizens, it seems. With the group Indivisible, Nancy Holtgreve has been demonstrating at his office every Tuesday. She's trying to press answers on how the potential repeal of the ACA and Medicaid expansion may affect her 6-year-old son, who struggles with serious mental health issues.
"With a child with bipolar [disorder], you can't even look at it day by day," she says, describing her son's needs. "You have to look at it hour by hour. ... When health care gets turned over to the states [as implied by parts of the new plan], who's going to decide [about] mental illness?"
Wills, the 12-year-old homeschool student, held a sign that said "Save Lives Keep the ACA" with two miniature American flags taped to its sides.
"By trying to get rid of the ACA ... they're trying to make people sick," she told Gambit. It's just not fair."