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What compels a dying man to fly across the country to fight a tax bill? We spent a week with him to find out.


A 33-year-old man who walks with a cane, struggles to turn his neck, and if not properly supported, will literally blow over in the wind, has become the face of an American public deeply dissatisfied with the Republican-led Tax bill, which legislators will likely vote on next week.

His name is Ady Barkan, and social media launched him into the national conversation last weekend when he confronted Arizona Senator Jeff Flake on a plane, explaining how the tax bill could deny him hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of medical care. Ady suffers from ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and without help, could die within two years. The conversation, filmed on a phone, went viral.

After Ady’s conversation received millions of views online, lawmakers invited him to come to Washington to speak with them. He posted the news on Facebook.

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Ady and I are Facebook friends because we were good friends in college. We lived in the same apartment together near Columbia University, in New York City, and often stayed up late talking about big books and big ideas. I got on a plane to DC, to share the moment with him.

Speaking with him Tuesday night, Ady explained how the viral video is affecting him. "My ability as an activist and a participant in democracy has been transformed," Ady told me. "It's exhilarating."

On Wednesday, Ady led a series of direct actions aimed to rally public support against the bill. He helped hundreds of demonstrators gain access to congressional offices, including Senator Collins from Maine, with whom he had a sit-down meeting. Organizers coordinated a series of mass arrests to keep media attention buzzing throughout the day. At the end of the day, Ady himself was arrested.

His efforts paid off. Within 24 hours, Ady spoke directly to the American public through a series of national evening newscasts.

Ady's compelling narrative as a father with ALS desperate for access to health benefits has helped propel his influence. His struggle epitomizes that of thousands. But what many don't know is that his passion for economic justice began years ago; he's been a lifelong activist. Ady summarized his experience in a personal essay he wrote for the Washington Post.

After law school, I represented low-wage Latino workers in Queens who had been victims of wage theft, and I helped write New York City’s groundbreaking paid sick days law. Later, I created a campaign called Fed Up, urging the Federal Reserve to use its economic tools to focus on raising wages and creating jobs, not just minimizing inflation.
Ady Barkan, Washington Post

Headlines Friday afternoon declared the GOP tax bill close to a done deal, but Ady and other opponents of the bill will continue to fight next week. Stop The #GOPTAXSCAM is planning another day of rallies and direct actions on Monday. A coalition of progressive groups, including the Center for Popular Democracy, the Women's March and the Working Families Party will be sending representatives to the event. Organizers are arranging vans and carpools to bring demonstrators from other east coast cities to Washington DC.

Monday is also Ady's 34th birthday.

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