Ady Barkan, a prominent activist and advocate for Medicare for all, passed away on Wednesday in Santa Barbara, Calif. He was 39 years old. The news was announced by Be a Hero, the political organization he helped establish in 2018.
Mr. Barkan was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2016, just four months after the birth of his son. Despite his deteriorating health, he dedicated the rest of his life to changing the American healthcare system. He used his personal story to drive his message and gained attention and influence through congressional testimonies, interviews with Democratic presidential candidates, and speeches at the Democratic National Convention.
Born on December 18, 1983, in Boston, Mr. Barkan was raised in Cambridge, Mass., and later in California. He got involved in politics by volunteering for Representative Adam Schiff’s election campaign. He met his wife, Rachael King, at Columbia University and decided to become a full-time activist after participating in the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011.
Before his ALS diagnosis, Mr. Barkan worked tirelessly on progressive causes, including immigrant and worker rights, ending mass incarceration, and reforming the Federal Reserve. After falling ill, he became a prominent figure on the left and gained popularity on social media. He was known as “the most powerful activist in America” by Politico.
Mr. Barkan had a talent for attracting attention to his causes. He famously confronted Senator Jeff Flake on an airplane, urging him to consider the impact of Republican tax cuts on social services. He was also arrested during a protest against Brett M. Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination.
In 2018, Mr. Barkan co-founded Be a Hero, which expanded to include two nonprofits and a political action committee. The organization focused on issues such as protecting nurses during the pandemic and replacing Senate Republicans in the 2022 midterm elections.
His activism played a crucial role in preserving the Affordable Care Act and stopping Republican efforts to repeal it. Senator Elizabeth Warren praised Mr. Barkan’s relentless persistence and leadership in these fights.
Although he endorsed Joseph R. Biden Jr. in the 2020 presidential election, Mr. Barkan disagreed with the candidate on healthcare policy. He advocated for Medicare for all and had initially endorsed Elizabeth Warren and later Senator Bernie Sanders.
Mr. Barkan is survived by his parents, wife, children, and brother. Despite being paralyzed and reliant on technology for communication, he remained optimistic and energetic. He continued to advocate for home- and community-based care, emphasizing the importance of federal funding in an opinion article he wrote for The New York Times.
In his last in-person speech at the Roosevelt Library in September, Mr. Barkan expressed gratitude for his caregivers and looked forward to celebrating his 18th anniversary with his wife. He emphasized the rewards that come from staying committed to fighting for change.
Johnny Diaz contributed to this report.