Occupy DC Protestors Heckle, Harass Wheelchair-Bound Woman
(CNSNews.com) - When Occupy D.C. protesters stormed the Washington Convention Center on Nov. 4 to disrupt an Americans for Prosperity event, they blocked numerous exit doors and prevented Melissa Ortiz, wheelchair-bound with a service dog in her lap, from exiting the building. They also repeatedly harassed, heckled, and mocked her, she told CNSNews.com.
Ortiz is a volunteer for the conservative AFP group. The organization held its "Defending the American Dream Summit" at the DC Convention Center on Nov. 4-5. Ortiz, who has a congenital neurological malformation and is wheelchair-bound, was on her way out of the Convention Center around 10:00 p.m. to take her service dog for a walk when the protestors approached the building.
They kept yelling, “We are the 99 percent,” Ortiz told CNSNews.com. “The security guard said to me, ‘we really don’t want you to leave the building.’”
“They were across the street and they looked like angry dogs straining at the leash, waiting to go hunting,” recounted Ortiz. “The tension and the anger was palpable.”
“When it came time to leave, they [convention security personnel] pulled me aside and they said, ‘You’re not going to be able to leave the building yet because all of the wheelchair accessible entrances are blocked,’” she said.
The security guards added, “We can’t open the doors because they’ll rush the building.”
"There was just this mass of protesters and they were yelling and saying things like, ‘these people don’t care about you … you should come out here and be with us … we care about people with disabilities … we care about the fact that you need to be taken care of,’ which flies in the face of everything I’m about,” said Ortiz.
“I don’t want to be taken care of,” she said. “I want the government to get out of my way and let me make my way.”
Ortiz said she initially tried to leave by pushing through the door with her wheelchair but when she got part way through, protestors grabbed her dog, which was attached to her with a harness and leash, and then tried to pull Ortiz out of the wheelchair.
At that point, Ortiz used her electric wheelchair to back up into the center, and security personnel promptly locked the doors.
"But we couldn't get out either," she said. "If there had been a fire, people would have died that night simply because of the selfishness and childish behavior of some 300 people."
Ortiz said she called 911 to help her get out of the building but the police operator hung up on her. "The police had no intention of helping," she said.
Eventually, to get out of the building, AFP supporters had to form a human chain, said Ortiz, and surrounded her to get her down a wheelchair ramp and out onto the street, where they also escorted her back to her hotel, a little more than one mile away.
Nicole Keading, a state policy analyst with AFP who helped Ortiz to escape the building, told CNSNews.com, “One of the individuals that was there was trying to talk to the protestors through the door, ‘Can’t you -- will you let her out this door? Why won’t you let her out this door?’”
“And they started chanting back at us,’” she said, “‘This is what Democracy looks like,’ which I thought was a bit ironic.”
“What ended up having to happen is that conference attendees had to lock arms and line the ramp on either side for me to get down,” said Ortiz. “And even then I was heckled, yelled at. I was followed all the way back to my hotel and into the lobby of the hotel.”
Keading said protestors continued taunting, yelling, and screaming at the small group of people that helped push Ortiz through the crowd and to the Renaissance Hotel.
Keading, and two other AFP activists, Andreea McCarthy and Robert Langworthy, escorted Ortiz to the hotel. Keading confirmed to CNSNews.com that throughout the walk to the hotel, protestors followed them and repeatedly yelled and made comments to Ortiz.
Ortiz said that, enroute, the people escorting her were "yelled at " and "spit upon" by protestors. At one point, Ortiz stopped and asked one of the female protestors why she did not just go out and get a job. The woman reportedly said, "there aren't any jobs." When Ortiz said, yes, there were, and to go look in the help wanted pages of the newspaper, the woman said, "Oh, those jobs are beneath me."
"Then it became clearer to me in that moment what this is all about," said Ortiz. "It is a mindset issue. It isn't that people's rights are being violated. It's that they have the mindset that they are entitled to something simply because they graduated from a college in the United States of America."
"And that couldn't be further from the truth," said Ortiz. "This is the land of opportunity, that you create your opportunity, and you work to make that dream come true. Equal access does not guarantee equal outcome."
On the way to the hotel, protestors called yelled to Ortiz, "You're a scum bag, you're a dirt bag, you're a douche, you're nasty, you're probably not even crippled, things like that," she told CNSNews.com. "And the F-word was tossed around a lot."
Once she and her friends arrived at the Renaissance Hotel, the security personnel there stopped the protestors, according to Ortiz. Keading said the hotel security people ran out of the hotel lobby to prevent the Occupy DC protestors, who had migrated to that area, from entering.
The AFP held its fifth annual “Defending the American Dream” at the DC convention Center “to send a powerful message to Congress and President Obama that Americans do not want government controlling our lives and sending future generations deeper into debt," reads the group's Web site. AFP is a conservative non-profit organization dedicated to free markets.
Occupy DC is an extension of the Occupy Wall Street movement where protestors have inhabited cities for months across the country to demonstrate against the nation’s wealthiest 1 percent, claiming they, the protestors, are the 99 percent.
Videos from the evening of Nov. 4 depict chaos around the convention center, where protesters yelled, chanted, banged drums, banged on the doors, and used children as shields to block a doorway and to block cars from exiting a parking garage.
As reported by Fox 5 television news, “D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier criticized the protesters for what she described as people who have become ‘increasingly confrontational and violent toward uninvolved bystanders and motorists.’”
“Not just from a common sense perspective, but D.C. is the capital of this country, any citizen should be able to come here and feel safe,” said Ortiz. “People should be able to bring their children here and show them our founding documents, show them monuments to our Founding Fathers, and not feel like they were in jeopardy.”
Ortiz said children attending the conference with their parents were “accosted” by demonstrators cursing at them, saying they needed to get away from “these people who are brainwashing you.”
Conservative blogger and radio host Jeff Crank videotaped Ortiz while she was trapped inside the Convention Center, before she made her way to the hotel.Ortiz, a Tea Party activist who volunteers for AFP while looking for a full-time job, helped coordinate media for the event. She has attended numerous Tea Party protests and when asked if she had ever had a similar experience, she replied, “No."
Ortiz also founded “Able Americans” this year, a limited government advocacy group for the disabled. One of the organization’s goals is “to show employers how people with disabilities can be competitive members of the workforce because they are defined by their personhood rather than their disability.”
In a blog post, AFP President Tim Phillips addressed the incident with the Occupy D.C. protestors, stating that the activists “[s]tormed the convention center trying to take away our First Amendment rights. … Their violence, vile language, and disrespect for fellow Americans was outrageous.”
Phillips, however, also said, “I, for one, welcome these Occupy Wall Street protesters. Sure, it's uncomfortable when they're shouting vulgarities at children, destroying property, breaking the law, or spewing hatred. But know this, the Occupy Wall Street protesters offer our nation a crystal clear choice between their way of thinking and AFP Foundation and the Tea Party movement.”
“I believe in the right to protest, I mean, heaven knows, I’m a member of the Tea Party and I’ve attended my share of rallies,” Ortiz said. “But never once have I seen a Tea Party gathering get violent, and never once have I seen us go off message. We’ve always had a message and stayed that way, and these people have no message. They have no unified theme.”
“I hate to call them protestors,” said Keading. “I think it was much more of a mob mentality because it wasn’t people with picket signs walking in a line. This was much more than that.”