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Challenging the Plutarchy

“I hope they see my humanity”~Ady Barkan

“I hope they see my humanity.” They. Don’t. See. It. Don’t because in order to see humanity, one must be empathetic, feel the suffering of others, bear witness to it. I look at Ady Barkan and I see my sons. Not only do I see my sons, I think, “Ady Barkan could be my son.”

Ady Barkan is my son. And he is yours.

Truth is, Ady Barkan is a friend of my son J and daughter-in-law L. The three were colleagues at Make the Road New York. A year ago, at the age of 33, Ady was diagnosed with ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease. My son and his family spent this past Thanksgiving with Ady, his wife, and their 18-month-old son Carl. Later, J emailed a few photographs.

Last week, J called to tell me Ady would be in the halls of Capitol Hill, protesting the Republican tax bill, a big Merry Holiday to the uber-wealthy, that once signed by Trump could deny healthcare and life-sustaining medical equipment to Ady.

Backstory: Some years ago, I was a committed protester—going to rallies, marches, on the speaking circuit at peace events. I frequently took the train to D.C., gathering with peace friends, once for a two-week demonstration. I’ve walked the halls of Congress making statements, mostly to staffers. I’ve sent emails to Congressmen and women. Signed petitions. I was out there, dedicated and positive. When the Democrats took both houses in 2006, my fellow activists and I were jubilant. Soon, however, we met reality—the good cop/bad cop tactics of the Democrats and Republicans. A beaming Madam Speaker Pelosi, who’d condemned George Bush, posed with her hands affectionately on his shoulders. No more holding him accountable. “Look forward and move on.” Post-Occupy, I made a decision to disengage. I’d seen no progress, only expanded war, environmental degradation, and widening inequality. I didn’t exactly turn off. As most of you know, I continued writing articles. I wrote, wrote, wrote. But no more giving politicians any opportunity to say, “We honor dissent here. This is democracy in action. We can deliver it to your country.” If they noticed. Occasionally, the mainstream media mentioned the marches, but never the correct numbers, dropping two or three zeroes from 50,000 to 5000 or 500. Their allegiance was and remains with Wall Street, the donor class.

Yet, on Sunday, I drove to D.C. in support of Ady Barkan.

Leading economists decry the tax bill. Trickle down sounds promising, like a piñata spilling opportunities to workers. History proves otherwise. The goodie bag explodes upward, back into the accounts of CEOs and shareholders, many of whom live in other countries. The bill will create a massive deficit—a deficit used to cut social spending as required in the Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010. Billions cut from Medicare and other federal programs.

Check out Sen. Bob Corker, a fiscal hawk who opposed the tax bill … until he didn’t. When Corker discovered he’d benefit because he’s invested in LLCs, he repositioned. How many members of Congress have similar conflicts of interest and will profit? Democratic “leadership,” spitting outrage about the GOP’s largess towards the uber-wealthy in front of the camera and mic, no doubt will. Behind the scenes, they may be raising their goblets in a duplicitous toast.

I’ve detoured from the story, Ady’s story, and protesting.

I’ve never met Ady and his family, had only seen those photographs, but I was standing in the lobby of a D.C. hotel—the hotel where event organizers were explaining procedures. Looking out a window, I saw a tall, distinguished man pushing a stroller. As he approached, I stared at the little boy, his beautiful face, that curly hair, and I thought, “That’s Carl,” and then, “No, you’ve only seen a photo and not even a close up,” but when they entered a door near me, I walked towards them and said: “Is this Carl?” The man hesitated before saying yes, told me he’s Carl’s grandfather. I introduced myself, told him my son’s name, that Ady and his family and my son and his family had spent Thanksgiving together. We talked briefly. Then about 15 minutes later, I turned, saw the back of a wheelchair and two attendants helping a young man into a taxi. I said, “Ady?” When I told him I’m J’s mother, we embraced.

I’ve thought of little else since. Through tears.

Here’s a clip of Ady, before the Senate vote on Tuesday, the interview in which he said he hopes they see his humanity. I don’t want to be negative, but I see the future of healthcare for the working class and poor people. It’s a GoFundMe. Unless we reach through the miasma that separates us to engage with movements like The Poor People’s Campaign, uniting “across all races, creeds, religions, classes and other divides…” to challenge the plutarchy.

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Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: missybeat@gmail.com

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