Adi Barkan, a prominent activist who campaigned for Medicare for All while battling the terminal neurodegenerative disease ALS, has died. He was 39 years old.
His death was announced Wednesday by Be a Hero, a political organization he co-founded in 2018. Barkan died around 6 p.m. local time at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara, California, due to complications from ALS, the organization said. .
Barkan was diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) in 2016, four months after the birth of his son Karl. The paralyzing disease strikes many people in their prime years and often leads to death within two to five years.
Barkan faced his own death and dedicated the rest of his life to changing America’s health care system.
Despite his declining health, his popularity and influence grew. That’s in part because he had a knack for blending personal stories with calls to action. He testified before Congress, interviewed Democratic presidential candidates, and spoke at the Democratic National Convention.
“That’s the paradox of my situation,” he told The New York Times in 2019. “As my voice grew weaker, more people heard my message. As I lost the ability to walk, more people followed in my footsteps.”
Ohad Barkan was born on December 18, 1983 in Boston. He was initially raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where his parents were graduate students, and later in Claremont and Pasadena, California.
His mother, Diana Cormos Buchwald, is a professor of history of science at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. His father, Elazar Balkan, is a professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University.
Barkan initially wanted to become a lawyer, and after graduating from law school, he clerked for a federal judge in New York. But he was drawn to the Occupy Wall Street movement that began in Lower Manhattan in 2011, and decided to become a full-time activist.
Before ALS, Mr. Barkan was a tireless but relatively anonymous foot soldier for progressive causes such as immigrant and worker rights, ending mass incarceration and reforming the Federal Reserve System. After falling ill, he became a hero on the left, with Politico calling him “America’s most powerful activist” and a social media star.
He was skilled at drawing public attention to his progressive causes. In 2017, he confronted Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., on a plane over a Republican tax bill that he believed could lead to deep cuts to health care and other social services.
“If you stand for your principles and turn them into votes, just think of the legacy you could leave for my sons and grandchildren,” Barkan said. “You save my life.”
In 2018, he was arrested in a wheelchair in the Senate building while protesting the nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
Officially founded that same year, Be a Hero eventually grew to include two nonprofit organizations and a political action committee.
In the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election, Barkan has made it clear that while he supports Democratic candidate Joseph R. Biden Jr., he disagrees with him on health care policy. (Mr. Biden opposes Medicare for All, and Mr. Barkan initially supported Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and later Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.)
In a Zoom conversation with Barkan in 2020, Biden did not commit to doubling the National Institutes of Health’s budget, saying, “We will significantly increase the budget,” adding, “Another $50 billion for biomedical research.” ” ” over the next few years.
“I don’t think that’s enough,” Barkan said. At that point, he could only speak with a computerized voice using gaze technology.
Biden told him, “If I’m elected, maybe you can come and help us figure out what’s good enough.”
“Thank you, Vice President,” Mr. Vulcan replied. “I’ll take that up.”
Mr. Barkan is survived by his parents; His wife of 18 years, Rachel King, is a professor of English literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara. their two children, Carl, 7, and Willow, 3; brother Muki Balkan; and his aunt Deborah Schrag.
in video Last year, while celebrating Mr. Barkan’s 39th birthday, Mr. Carl summed up his father’s remarkable economic career over the course of his life: “He’s helping to make sure people don’t have to pay too much for their doctors.”