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story.lead_photo.caption Liv Paggiarino/News Tribune Missouri NAACP President Rod Chapel, left, shakes hands with the Rev. John Bennett, a retired First Christian Church minister before Tuesday’s Medicaid expansion rally in front of the Missouri State Capitol. Bennett, a longtime local activist, said the opening prayer for the rally. Both Chapel and Bennett were involved in Medicaid 23, an activism group dedicated to advocating for Medicaid in Missouri. Chapel, a lawyer, represented Bennett and six other clergymen in 2014 when they were arrested after protesting Missouri’s failure to expand Medicaid in the Senate gallery in 2011. In total, 23 people were arrested during that protest, leading to the group’s name, Medicaid 23.

Some participants in Tuesday afternoon's rally in support of broadened health care for poor families felt an overwhelming sense of deja vu.

They were back on the steps of the Missouri Capitol, asking lawmakers to fund Medicaid expansion.

Only, they'd already done the work, said Nimrod Chapel, president of the Missouri chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Protesters were there, when they should have been someplace else, Chapel said.

"We ought to be someplace else, because we've already done the work that's required," he said. "We the public have already spoken."

Missourians passed Medicaid expansion in August last year. Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, has included funding for it in his proposed budget. However, the Republican-led Legislature has not placed funding for the program in the budget.

It's been a 10-year fight, Chapel said. Good people throughout Missouri have tried to save lives.

In 2014, about 300 demonstrators, led by clergy, entered the Senate chamber's upper gallery to rally for expanded Medicaid.

Police arrested 23 of the protesters — one of whom was the Rev. John Bennett — after their singing, praying and chanting was loud enough to force senators to stop their debate because they couldn't hear each other.

Chapel and former state Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, subsequently represented the defendants.

Bennett, one of the "Medicaid 23" arrested that day, was among speakers participating in Tuesday's rally and led the gathering of more than 100 people on the Capitol steps in prayer.

"They came here with hundreds of clergy and people of faith from around the state, asking only that people in their communities and their families not die because Medicaid couldn't be expanded," Chapel said. "And, what did they get? They got arrested and prosecuted for praying and singing Bible hymns."

It took years to ensure those charges would not move forward, he said.

"We have a Legislature that is refusing to act," he said. "They have taken our tax money collectively and decided that they're not going to do what my friend Webster Davis knows as an old lesson from home. When Momma sent you to the store, you come back with what was on the list. You don't buy bubble gum. You don't get you some Cracker Jacks."

Participants in the rally chanted "Fully fund Medicaid," and other messages at the Capitol and waved signs.

Signs reminded lawmakers "Voters Approved Medicaid. You Can't Deny It," or "Honor Our Vote! Fund Medicaid Expansion!" or "We Voted for Medicaid," or offered other messages.

Barbara Nyden, of Willow Springs, stood within the crowd, wearing her bright red T-shirt with white lettering. The T-shirt said "Close the Coverage Gap."

Nyden said it's a T-shirt she first put on 10 years ago, and had retired. However, lawmakers forced her to break it out again.

"It tells us this is a long struggle," Nyden said. "When this happens, they are pulling shenanigans."

Those shenanigans are going to cost the state millions of dollars in lost federal tax dollars, speakers warned.

Rep. Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, the House minority leader, said the day would serve to remind legislators they are in the Capitol to serve the will of the state's people.

Republican lawmakers are trying to overturn voters' decisions again and defying the state Constitution to strip health care from hundreds of thousands of Missourians, she said.

Listeners, Quade said, would hear about "this callous, cold-hearted, fiscally irresponsible attempt to ignore the voters, to ignore the Constitution, to go as far as to ignore the governor's own budget and ignore common sense."

She said speakers weren't talking about giving free health care to millionaires, but instead were talking about the people who have to work two part-time jobs, 40 hours weekly, pulling in under $18,000 annually.

"If Missouri can't help these people, these families, access affordable health care, access affordable preventive care, the ramifications will hurt every industry in Missouri," Quade said. "Having affordable quality health care is not only a human right, it's the best investment we can make in keeping our workforce healthy and ready to build Missouri into a better economy."

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