By Philip Rucker
Tuesday, June 8, 2010; 10:36 AM
Raucous demonstrators greeted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) at a gathering of progressive activists in Washington on Tuesday morning, forcing her to yell her 28-minute policy speech over their loud and uninterrupted protests.
It was a bizarre scene at the America's Future Now conference, as protesters screamed just a few feet away from the speaker's stage. At first, Pelosi paused and appeared rattled, apparently trying to discern what the protesters were chanting. But minutes later, surrounded on stage by her security detail, Pelosi pressed ahead.
"I'm not going to leave," Pelosi said to the audience of several hundred leaders of the progressive movement. "I'm going to deliver my speech. . . . I am going to make my speech over your voices."
The protesters, wearing orange shirts and chanting "Our homes, not nursing homes," did not let up until Pelosi finished her address and left the stage with security guards. The protesters said they were members of ADAPT, an activist group that advocates for disability rights and is fighting for passage of the Community Choice Act. The bill was introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) in 2009 but has not advanced out of the Finance Committee. In the House, a similar measure remains in the Committee on Energy and Commerce.
The act would allow those who are eligible for care in a nursing home to instead receive similar care in their own homes through community-assisted living.
Many of the protesters were in wheelchairs or otherwise disabled, and they held up banners. One protester shouted at Pelosi: "We supported Obama. We supported you. We supported the campaign . . . But we don't want to be taken from our homes."
At one point, Pelosi made light of the protests, saying: "Listen, I'm used to noise. I talk to the Democratic Caucus every day."
In her speech, Pelosi noted the historic health-care overhaul and outlined a message she hopes will carry Democrats through the November midterm elections.
"It seems to me the choice is clear," Pelosi said. "Democrats want to rein in big oil. The Republicans say no. Democrats want to rein in health insurance companies. The Republicans said no. Democrats are reining in the recklessness on Wall Street, and the Republicans are saying no. We passed the bill in the House without one Republican vote."
When the protests began, Pelosi's security offered to remove the demonstrators, but she declined because she believes in free speech, said two conference organizers who were with Pelosi on stage. Her security then advised her to stop speaking and leave the venue, the organizers said, but Pelosi refused, saying she was determined to finish the speech she came to deliver.
Demonstrators from ADAPT have followed Pelosi to other speaking engagements in recent weeks, organizers said. But Robert L. Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future and one of the conference organizers, said it is an unusual tactic to protest Pelosi because she is one of the group's few lawmakers on Capitol Hill to support their position.
"The bizarre thing is the speaker is their ally," Borosage said. "She just needs a coalition."