By all accounts, Ady Barkan is an American hero. A Yale School of Law graduate in 2010, he advocated against legislation that would prohibit gay marriage while he was still in school. He’d go on to advocate for immigrant workers’ rights before clerking under a New York judge named Judge Shira A. Scheindlin, who famously found that “Stop and Frisk” in New York violated racial profiling laws. He wasn’t an activist in the limelight yet, but he was already setting up a legacy of helping people.
And then, in 2016, everything changed. Barkan, then a husband and new father to his infant son, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a disease that carries a two-to-five year life expectancy. Since then, Barkan has become famous as a healthcare advocate, best known for confronting senator Jeff Flake on a plane in a desperate plea for the senator to vote against tax cuts that would have crippled Medicare and Medicaid. Since then, he’s been arrested for protesting tax cuts and DACA, raised money to fund someone to run against Senator Susan Collins, who famously voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, written a book and battled desperately for Medicare for All.
He’s also filmed a series of videos with top candidates for president such as Julian Castro, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris. Andrew Yang, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke have all agreed to do so soon. But Joe Biden, sort-of front runner for the Democratic party, has been absolutely silent. It’s ironic that as Barkan labors to speak with his eyes and a computer, it’s Joe Biden, who can speak fine, who remains silent.
On Sept. 18, he recorded a video message for Biden. The next morning, he would get a tracheotomy, which he hopes will allow him to live as long as possible. In the message, he calls out Biden directly, saying “You know that healthcare is personal. You’re running advertisements about it.” And he’s right; Biden has released at least one ad talking about how personal healthcare is to him and telling the story again of how he was sworn in next to his injured sons after the car crash that killed his wife and daughter.
“Look a dying man in the eyes and tell me how we fix this country,” Barkan asks, and really, that feels like the absolute least that a former vice president and current presidential candidate can do. Barkan isn’t asking him to agree; Biden has spoken against Medicare for All on a fairly regular basis since announcing his candidacy. On the other hand, Barkan has been pushing for Medicare for All with the ferocity of a man who knows he could lose everything at any moment. And Barkan is acutely aware that they don’t. He says it in that first message, “Democracy isn’t always about agreeing, but rather being willing to sit down with those of different opinions and talk it out.”
And he says it in his second message on Oct. 2, in which he once again asks Biden, who still has not responded, to have a conversation with him. A conversation. He’s asking for the absolute minimum, for a conversation. For someone who is trying to be elected to the highest office in this country to be willing to have a conversation with someone who he does not agree. Biden is right; healthcare is important. People’s lives are on the line with every decision a president makes. People live and die by what our healthcare system does. And for a presidential candidate not to even respond to someone because they don’t agree? That’s unfathomable.
Ady Barkan has fought harder for the American people in what is guaranteed to be a life cut too short than Joe Biden has with more than twice the time. A conversation shouldn’t be too much to ask for but from Biden, it is. It always is. Barkan isn’t asking for much; he isn’t asking to live. He isn’t asking for a miracle. He’s not even asking for Biden to agree with him or to care. He’s just asking for the conversation, for the debate. He’s asking for Biden to care. And Biden is showing he doesn’t.
Ashton Stansel is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.