Progressive activist Ady Barkan didn't let losing his voice to ALS stop him from launching a new series of interviews with presidential candidates that seeks to go beyond "debate stage quips" to highlight the deeply personal impact of American healthcare policy.
On Tuesday, Barkan—who relies on a computer that tracks his eye movements and converts selected text to speech—released his conversation with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and lead sponsor of Medicare for All legislation in the Senate.
During the interview, Sanders thanked Barkan for his tireless work for healthcare justice, which in April brought the dying activist to Capitol Hill to testify in support of Medicare for All.
"We talk to people who have lost loved ones because they could not afford the medicine or healthcare that they needed."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders
"You have been an integral part of the struggle to make clear that healthcare is a human right, and that every person in our country is entitled to all the healthcare they need regardless of income," said Sanders. "I know it's not been easy and it takes a lot out of you, but I do appreciate the struggle that you're waging to improve this country."
Barkan connected the fight for healthcare justice to his own personal story and the struggles of millions of Americans to afford life-saving medicine and treatment.
"Because I was diagnosed with ALS only four months after Carl was born," said Barkan, referring to his young son, "the two experiences are very intertwined for me."
Barkan asked Sanders how the death of his mother when he was 18 years old helped shape his views on the necessity of guaranteed healthcare for all.
"It is not only my family," said Sanders. "I go around the country and every day... we talk to people who have lost loved ones because they could not afford the medicine or healthcare that they needed."
When Barkan asked Sanders how he wants to be remembered, the Vermont senator said he hopes "people will remember me as somebody who had the courage to take on virtually all of the powerful special interests in this country, in the fight for economic, social, racial, environmental justice."
"In terms of your legacy, Ady," Sanders added, "I think it will be very clear that even with the terrible illness that you're struggling with right now, that you didn't give up, that you understood that, especially given your illness, that you could play a significant in rallying the American people toward a sane and humane healthcare system. And I think you will be remembered in very, very wonderful ways as a man of great courage in doing that."
Watch the full interview:
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Kenneth Zinn, political director for National Nurses United, applauded Barkan and Sanders for their "heartfelt conversation about an issue that is affecting every single person in this country."
— Kenneth Zinn (@kennethzinn) September 3, 2019
Others echoed Zinn's gratitude, calling the interview "moving" and "powerful":
— Amy Whitman (@amrita418) September 3, 2019
Barkan on Tuesday also released his conversation with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), in which the activist pressed Booker on his position on Medicare for All and his ties to the pharmaceutical and insurance industries:
According to CNN, Barkan has taped interviews with Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and former Housing and Urban Development secretary Julián Castro.
In an email to supporters on Tuesday, Barkan said the goal of the conversations is to "get the answers I believe we as Americans deserve to know before we vote next year."
"If we start focusing the conversation on healthcare in this country around people instead of 30-second soundbites, we can shift the debate and enact policy that puts people before profits," said Barkan. "I'm proud and honored to use my voice to share the real-life stories of people who are living with the real consequences of a system that is not designed for us."