By Sabina Mollot
A chronically ill artist with a portfolio full of medically-themed performances protested Trumpcare on Tuesday by lying in a coffin on an East Side sidewalk.
For Rosary Solimanto’s newest installation, “Dead Without Health Care,” the performer, who has Multiple Sclerosis, arthritis and a rare condition called hypothyroidism, told Town & Village that she’d be in the coffin for 24 hours. When a T&V reporter got to the scene after 1 p.m. when she began, it was already 94 degrees out, but Solimanto remained in character, lying corpse-like as confused passersby tried to make sense of what they were seeing.
In an initial press release, the address given was Third Avenue in Kips Bay but the event wound up taking place about a mile north. The location was chosen because it was outside the building where New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have offices.
Earlier in the day, Solimanto spoke with a reporter over the phone to explain why she was staging the solo protest on one of the hottest days of the year so far.
Solimanto, who’s 38 and from West New York, said she was first diagnosed with MS at 22 although she suspects she’d had it already for five years. She’s paid for her medical treatment, which includes eight surgical procedures, using Medicaid as well as Medicare, although this still doesn’t cover all costs. Some procedures have been more successful than others in treating her MS. A bone marrow transplant was useless while chemotherapy was “fabulous at stopping” the MS.
But she isn’t just protesting for herself, she explained, but also others with chronic conditions and disabilities (her conditions officially make her disabled) whose health coverage may be reduced under the GOP health plan. Critics of the plan have noted it doesn’t cover all pre-existing conditions.
“This is frightening to me,” said Solimanto. “I’ve been in the hospital more than 100 times in my life.”
Part of her frustration lies in the fact that many illnesses, like her own, tend to get overlooked by people because they aren’t obvious. For this reason, she said, sick and disabled people suffer at work when their companies assume they’re being lazy if they can’t do things like work long hours.
“People say, ‘Oh, you look great,’” but you don’t see my brain damage, my spinal cord damage, my pain. People need to stop looking at people and judging. They need to listen to people.”
Solimanto said she was once fired without an explanation from her job selling cars even though she made more sales than any of her coworkers. “I think they just saw me as a liability,” she said. She added that she was hoping to speak with Schumer and Gillibrand about making it mandatory for companies to hire some percentage of people with disabilities.
Solimanto, when asked if she was worried that people might not respect her personal space while she’s lying outside with her eyes closed, said she wasn’t. However, the artist has been touched inappropriately during past performances. This time, a friend would be there with her.
That friend, Mick Cantone, also built the all-black, wooden coffin, which was displayed in front of a barrier put on the sidewalk by police. Asked during the performance if Solimanto would be okay in the extreme heat, Cantone said she’d be fine, adding that she’s actually more bothered by cold weather.
Later, a spokesperson for Gillibrand told Town & Village the senator opposed Trumpcare and has urged her colleagues to reject it. She has also said she wanted to “fix” Obamacare by lowering costs through the use of a nonprofit entity. The rep added that Gillibrand staffers had checked on Solimanto to offer her water in the extreme heat.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Schumer said the senator had actually been speaking about the GOP health plan in Washington earlier in the day. According to the transcript of his remarks, Schumer said he was alarmed by the lack of transparency in the drafting of the final healthcare bill with only 11 calendar days left in the Senate session before the summer break.
“Not a soul outside the Republican Caucus has seen the bill,” said Schumer. “To everyone in America: This should be a red alert… The Republicans have not scheduled a single committee hearing. Not one.”