BRATTLEBORO—It’s rare that any one could upstage Bernie Sanders at a political rally in Vermont. But that’s what happened on Aug. 10 at the Latchis Theatre.
To be fair, Ady Barkan is a rare individual. The 34-year-old Yale Law School graduate is battling the affects of ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, an incurable progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.
ALS has slowed his speech, and confined him to a wheelchair. But it hasn’t dimmed Barkan’s fighting spirit.
“I may be dying,” Barkan told the crowd. “But I’m not going quietly.”
That because Barkan, who works for the Center for Popular Democracy, is spending his last days fighting for the principle that health care is a human right, and that the U.S. is long-overdue in adopting universal health care for its citizens.
Barkan has been barnstorming the country, going to states with contested congressional races in this election year, in support of candidates who back the idea of health care for all.
He was wrapping up his six-week-long “Be a Hero” tour in New England, with stops in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Rights & Democracy, a Burlington-based grassroots political group, was his local sponsor.
In a backstage interview with reporters before his turn at the microphone, Barkan said he had worked with Sanders before on health care issues during the Vermont senator’s 2016 presidential campaign.
After becoming diagnosed with ALS, Barkan was determined to keep fighting for political change. He was one of the thousands of people with disabilities and life-threatening illnesses who descended on the U.S. Capitol in 2017 to confront members of Congress who wanted to cut funding for Medicare and public health programs.
Barkan said that, in the conversations he has had with people around the country during the past few weeks, he’s found that “people feel that government doesn’t work for us anymore and that we have a ‘democracy deficit.’ People are angry and afraid, but they are hopeful and ready to fight.”
According to its website, the goal of Be A Hero is to mobilize voters to “help us elect a Congress that will fight for health care, for Ady’s family and yours.”
Sanders called Barkan a “true American hero,” and didn’t seem to mind being a supporting player on the Latchis stage.
He also reminded the audience that while the event was devoted to health care, it shouldn’t be considered an isolated issue, for it is deeply entwined with economic and civil rights.
Sanders spoke of how he started out as the lone supporter in the U.S. Senate in 2015 of a “Medicare For All” bill that would allow people of all ages to enroll in the federal health care plan for Americans 65 and older.
Now, three years later, there are 16 Senators who have lent their support for the legislation, and many national polls show about 60 percent of Americans in favor of Medicare for All.