Ady Barkan

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Ady Barkan
Ady Barkan - 49640332768 (1).jpg
Barkan in 2019
Born (1983-12-18) December 18, 1983 (age 36)
EducationColumbia College
Yale Law School
OccupationActivist, attorney
EmployerCenter for Popular Democracy
Known forFed Up, Be a Hero

Ady Barkan (born December 18, 1983) is an American lawyer and progressive activist. He is the co-founder of the Be a Hero PAC[1] and is an organizer for the Center for Popular Democracy, where he led the Fed Up campaign.[2] Ady came to notoriety in 2017 when he confronted Jeff Flake on a plane, asking him to "be a hero" and vote no on a tax bill.[3]

Barkan, who was diagnosed with the terminal neurodegenerative disease ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease) in 2016 shortly after the birth of his son, has been called "the most powerful activist in America."[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Ady Barkan was born December 18, 1983,[4] to immigrant parents (his mother from Romania by way of Tel Aviv, where she met his father) who became academics in the U.S.[5] Barkan grew up in what he describes as a "secular Jewish household" and holds dual U.S. and Israeli citizenship.[5] He attended high school in Claremont, California where he took an early interest in progressive activism like the fight against anti-gay rights legislation.[5] Barkan next attended Columbia College, taking courses with economists Joseph Stiglitz and Jeffrey Sachs and graduating cum laude in 2006.[6] He later went on to Yale Law School, where he earned his J.D. degree in 2010.[7]


Between college and law school, Barkan worked on the campaign of Democrat Victoria Wells Wulsin,[8] serving as communications director for Wulsin's longshot and ultimately unsuccessful effort to win a congressional seat in a strongly Republican area of Cincinnati.[6] Following law school, Barkan lived in New York where he worked on immigrant legal rights, then clerked for Judge Shira Scheindlin on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.[5]

Barkan works for the Center for Popular Democracy.[9] Beginning in 2012, he developed the Fed Up campaign to advocate with the Federal Reserve for the impact of monetary policy on low-income people. Organizing protests at the Federal Reserve's annual meeting in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Fed Up sought to slow the raise of interest rates and more broadly change the governance structure of the Federal Reserve; by 2014, the group was included in the annual meeting's agenda.[10]

His book, Eyes to the Wind: A Memoir of Love and Death, Hope and Resistance, was published in September 2019 by Atria Books.[11] The book was blurbed by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and includes a foreword by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.[12]


Barkan with Senator Elizabeth Warren in 2019

In December 2017,[13] Barkan drew national attention engaging Republican U.S. Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona about Flake's impending vote on the proposed tax cuts, captured on video by another activist, Liz Jaff,[14] when they were on the same cross-country flight.[15] Barkan pressed Flake on the PAYGO cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security that such large tax cuts would trigger,[16] endangering programs that Barkan's disease meant his survival would soon depend on. He pleaded with Flake to "be an American hero" and vote against the tax cuts to ensure that patients like Barkan would not lose access, for instance, to the ventilator Barkan would eventually need to be able to breathe.[17][18] Flake voted for the cuts. Following that encounter, Barkan developed the Be a Hero campaign that supports a range of progressive causes and candidates.[19]

During the 2018 Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh, in collaboration with the Maine People's Alliance and Mainers for Accountable Leadership,[20] Barkan and the Be a Hero campaign advocated for Republican U.S. Senator Susan Collins of Maine to vote against the nomination; among other issues,[20] Kavanaugh opposed abortion and while Collins had indicated she would not support a nominee who would overturn Roe v. Wade,[21] she nevertheless seemed likely to support the nomination. After making little headway with other means of reaching Collins, Barkan turned to fundraising.[21] The effort sought crowd-funded donations in the amount of $20.20 to back a Democratic challenger to Collins's 2020 reelection campaign in the event that Collins supported Kavanaugh;[21] Barkan used the Crowdpac platform to collect pledges that would have been refunded to donors if Collins voted to oppose Kavanaugh's nomination. She ultimately voted to confirm and the campaign raised $4 million from more than 100,000 donors to fund 2020 challenger Sarah Gideon.[22][23]

During the 2018 election cycle, Barkan traveled the country (22 states in 40 days) to talk to voters about healthcare.[24] His healthcare ads were run in over 100 districts across the country and his PAC played a critical role in flipping multiple seats. Ady's ad was nominated alongside Colin Kaepernick's Nike Ad as "most inspiring".

In April 2019, Barkan testified before the United States House Committee on Rules in favor of Medicare-for-All at the first-ever congressional hearing on the subject. Barkan, who has ALS, used a computer system to testify to the House panel about why he believes America needs single-payer health care.[25]

Barkan is also a national co-chair of Health Care Voter.[26] Ady was named one of the Top 50 Political Thinkers in 2016 by Politico[27] and in 2018, he was listed in the 50 most influential American Jews by Forward.[28] During the July 2019 debate, Elizabeth Warren mentioned Barkan's struggle as an example of the inadequacies of private insurance.[29] In August, 2019, Barkan had his first interview with a presidential candidate. He spoke with Cory Booker and discussed Booker's plans for healthcare reform. During the interview, they also discussed how it was for Booker to watch his father, who died of Parkinson's, become ill and pass away.[30]

Personal life[edit]

Barkan is married to Rachael King,[31] an English professor.[32] King and Barkan, who met as undergraduates at Columbia,[5] have two children: a son, born in 2016, and a daughter, born in 2019.[33][34] They live in California.[35]


  1. ^ Ramirez, Maeve Reston, CNN; Video by Gabe. "A neurodegenerative disease took this man's future, but his legacy might be the 2020 election". CNN. Retrieved October 25, 2019.
  2. ^ "Ady Barkan". The Nation. January 16, 2018. Retrieved August 6, 2019.
  3. ^ a b Allen, Arthur. "The Most Powerful Activist in America Is Dying". POLITICO Magazine. Retrieved August 6, 2019.
  4. ^ "Man with ALS to senator: You can save my life". CNN. December 14, 2017. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  5. ^ a b c d e Singer, Jenny; Casey, Nikki (November 11, 2018). "Ady Barkan Will Die For Your Sins: Meet The Man Giving His Last Breath To Democracy". The Forward. Retrieved February 11, 2019.
  6. ^ a b Pre, Jenn (Winter 2018–2019). ""Be a Hero," Urges ALS-Afflicted Activist". Columbia College Today. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  7. ^ Belli, Brita (October 22, 2018). "Driven to serve: Jefferson Awards recognize Yale's unsung heroes". YaleNews. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  8. ^ Noel, Jude (September 5, 2018). "He Launched His Political Career in Cincinnati — Now He's Fighting for Health Care Access While Battling ALS". CityBeat Cincinnati. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  9. ^ Eliahou, Maya; Lear, Justin (August 6, 2018). "Dying of ALS, this father is using his last breaths to help Democrats win in 2018". CNN. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  10. ^ Appelbaum, Binyamin (August 24, 2016). "Fed, Eager to Show It's Listening, Welcomes Protesters". The New York Times. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  11. ^ "Eyes to the Wind: A Memoir of Love and Death, Hope and Resistance". Retrieved August 6, 2019.
  12. ^ "Activist Ady Barkan's New Baby Joy Will Make You Kvell". Kveller. November 15, 2019. Retrieved November 19, 2019.
  13. ^ Henderson, Cydney; Hansen, Ronald J. (December 9, 2017). "Aboard flight, dad battling ALS pleads with Sen. Jeff Flake to vote no on tax bill". The Arizona Republic. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  14. ^ Jilani, Zaid (December 8, 2017). "In a Moving Dialogue, Disabled Activist Confronted Jeff Flake About Tax Bill on His Plane Ride Home". The Intercept. The Intercept. Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  15. ^ Kalich, Sydney (July 31, 2018). "SoCal Dad With ALS Travels Country in Last Days on Earth". NBC Southern California. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  16. ^ Costa, Pedro Nicolaci da (December 19, 2017). "A 34-year-old activist who's fighting for his life traveled to Washington to oppose tax cuts – and he says 'Republicans are screwed'". Business Insider. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  17. ^ Nilsen, Ella (April 24, 2018). "Activist and ALS patient Ady Barkan got national attention for his tax bill protests. Now he's getting involved in 2018". Vox. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  18. ^ Marans, Daniel (December 8, 2017). "A Terminally Ill Progressive Activist Confronted Jeff Flake About The Tax Bill On A Flight". Huffington Post. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  19. ^ Weigel, David (April 17, 2018). "Man with ALS who confronted Flake over tax law launches 'Be a Hero' campaign to beat Republicans". Washington Post. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  20. ^ a b Bixby, Scott (September 11, 2018). "Group Raises Nearly $1M for Susan Collins' Nonexistent Opponent if She Votes to Confirm Brett Kavanaugh". The Daily Beast. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  21. ^ a b c Jilani, Zaid (August 16, 2018). "Brett Kavanaugh Opponents Are Raising Money for Sen. Susan Collins's 2020 Opponent — but Will Refund It If She Votes "No"". The Intercept. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  22. ^ Stewart, Emily (October 6, 2018). "Susan Collins's 2020 challenger already has a $3 million campaign fund, thanks to Collins's vote on Kavanaugh". Vox. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  23. ^ Saul, Stephanie (June 24, 2019). "Sarah Gideon to challenge Susan Collins for Maine Senate Seat". New York Times. Retrieved September 4, 2019.
  24. ^ "Be a Hero Fund". Be a Hero Fund. Retrieved August 6, 2019.
  25. ^ "Health Policy: Then and Now", Health Care Turning Point, The MIT Press, 2010, doi:10.7551/mitpress/8308.003.0003, ISBN 9780262265966
  26. ^ "I'm dying of ALS, here's why health care will decide my last vote". The Hill. September 17, 2018.
  27. ^ "#48: Ady Barkan & Andrew Levin – The POLITICO 50". POLITICO Magazine. Retrieved August 6, 2019.
  28. ^ "Forward 50 2018". The Forward. Retrieved March 9, 2019.
  29. ^ David A. Graham. "Elizabeth Warren's Message: 'I Am Not Afraid'". The Atlantic. Retrieved August 1, 2019.
  30. ^
  31. ^ Marans, Daniel (December 27, 2017). "How One Dying Man Changed The Debate About The Tax Bill". Huffington Post. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  32. ^ Bunch, Will (July 31, 2018). "Dying from ALS, Ady Barkan will save U.S. democracy if it's the last thing he does". Philadelphia Daily News. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  33. ^ Hayes, Christal (August 2, 2018). "Father dying of ALS buys $100K ad to help Democrat in Ohio midterm". USA TODAY. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  34. ^ Barkan 🔥 🌹, Ady (November 14, 2019). "Our daughter, Willow Simone. Thank you for this joy,". @AdyBarkan. Retrieved November 15, 2019.
  35. ^ Marans, Daniel (October 29, 2018). "The Intercept Is Crowdfunding A Fellowship In Honor Of A Dying Progressive Activist". Huffington Post. Retrieved February 10, 2019.