Under the blistering Florida sun, Jonathan Harrington, a young mustached man sporting a blue "Tim Canova for Congress" T-shirt, propped his right leg on an ice cooler. His friend slowly recited the ten digits of her phone number as he jotted them on his thigh with a thick black felt-tip marker. She was his emergency contact, because Harrington was among a dozen protesters at U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio's local office who'd just volunteered to get arrested.
Harrington and his 40 or so fellow protesters marched on Rubio's Doral office to demand that Florida's junior senator vote against the Republicans' health-care bill, a proposal that the Congressional Budget Office predicts will cut health-care coverage for 22 million people by 2026. Though Rubio hasn't announced his stance on the bill, most experts believe he'll vote for it.
"The Republican majority margin is razor-thin," Harrington said, "so if we can switch Rubio to voting no, we can save lots of lives."
Protesters say they are angry over the bill's intent to give tax breaks to the wealthy while cutting billions of dollars from Medicaid, a program that serves one in five Americans and two-thirds of people in nursing homes. One protester hoisted a cardboard placard that read, "Healthcare, Not Wealthcare." Another, "Obamacare > Nothing," which is funny, Harrington said, "because that's what [the Republicans] are planning to replace Obamacare with." He scoffed: "Nothing."
The group was a mix of young and old, from millennials who feared what their health insurance would look like after age 26, when their parents' plans could no longer carry over, to senior citizens with preexisting conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Because many attendees were Medicaid or Medicare consumers, or simply had no health insurance whatsoever, they were encouraged to give personal testimonials on a megaphone.
One woman, Danni Long, was a breast cancer survivor who once had to give a cashier's check to her surgeon because she was uninsured.
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As protesters told their stories into a megaphone and waved signs, it was unclear whether Rubio was even at his Doral office: the senator never came out to address the protesters (though he did go on a fairly disingenuous tweetstorm about them).
Rubio's staffers agreed to see constituents one by one but ultimately granted an audience to only four protesters. (The senator's spokespeople didn't respond to a message from New Times about the protests.)
"[Rubio] has an obligation to his residents, not his donors," protest organizer Laurie Woodward Garcia said, shaking her head as a line of police officers on standby blocked the entrance. "We're asking for a town hall, but he's neglecting his obligation to communicate with Floridians."
Though no arrests were made, police officers regularly demanded the group to vacate the private lot and forcibly removed Harrington after he ascended the front steps of the building. "We tried our best to get arrested in honesty, because it'd be the worst move for Rubio," he said. "It would show that he's more willing to have law-abiding people, who are expressing their First Amendment rights, arrested than to hear from his constituents."