Activist Barkan relates in this candid memoir how, after receiving a terminal illness diagnosis at age 32, he had to negotiate his failing body as his political star rose. In 2016, Barkan was diagnosed with ALS and given three to four years to live. Fueled by anger over his “outrageous” situation, he sought to leave a legacy for his baby son and wife. A lawyer at the Center for Popular Democracy, Barkan initially resumed work on Fed Up, a campaign to encourage the Federal Reserve to enact policies beneficial to working-class Americans, but soon pivoted to health care, “bird-dogging” members of Congress in visits to the Capitol. Barkan was wheelchair-bound by spring 2018 yet he embarked on a six-week cross-country tour in support of Democrats in the midterm elections (a sincere conversation with Arizona senator Jeff Flake about how a GOP tax plan would affect Medicare was captured in a video that went viral), ultimately sharing the stage with Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders. Throughout, Barkan weaves tales of law school and clerkships with insights into community organizing (a national movement led by a single person could “never approach the transformative political power that would be unleased by genuine mass movement of organized working-class people”). Barkan’s powerful narrative gives great insight into the nuts and bolts of political activism at work. (Sept.)
A noted progressive activist's account of his twin battles for social justice and against early-onset amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
When Barkan celebrated his first wedding anniversary in 2016, he counted himself and his wife "the happiest and luckiest people we knew." Both had jobs they loved, the author as an activist/lawyer for the Center for Popular Democracy and his wife as an English professor. Days later, he learned that what he thought was carpal tunnel syndrome was actually ALS. In this memoir, which he initially wrote to leave behind for both the progressive movement and the infant son he would not see grow to adulthood, Barkan looks back on his life and achievements. He begins with his social conscience awakening at Columbia University, where he became involved in radical political organizations. At Yale Law School, Barkan threw himself into work advocating for immigrant and worker rights. Rather than become a civil rights lawyer, the author did what "got my blood pumping": argue about public policy and organize protests. At the end of the Occupy movement, he organized the Fed Up campaign, which sought to change Federal Reserve monetary policies to help low-income people. But just as Fed Up began gaining notoriety and traction several years later, Barkan faced increasing physical difficulties. In May 2017, he walked with a leg brace; by early 2018, he was wheelchair-bound and needed a ventilator to breathe. Despite the deep strains his condition produced in his marriage, he continued to fight alongside other progressives, embarking on a summertime "six-week, twenty-state trip, from California to Maine," to help change the balance of power in Congress. Though sometimes self-congratulatory in tone, Barkan's book—part of which he wrote with the assistance of a technology that allowed him to use only his eyes—still moves with its portrait of a man driven to act on his beliefs while learning to accept the injustice of early mortality.
Not without flaws but unquestionably inspiring.
In the fight for social justice, giving up is not an option. From the halls of Congress to street corners across the country, Ady Barkan has become an American hero – placing his ailing body on the line for basic human rights. Eyes to the Wind is the gripping story of resistance and the triumph of human will. Barkan retells the timeless story of a parent’s love as he vividly details a very personal narrative of how far a father will go so that he can leave the world a little better than he found it.” —Senator Elizabeth Warren
“Ady Barkan is an American hero. His selfless activism fighting to make health care a right should be an inspiration to us all.” —Senator Bernie Sanders
“Ady Barkan’s writing on the choice between acceptance and resistance – a choice we must each make about injustices, from illness to oppression – is among the wisest and most beautiful I’ve ever seen. This unforgettable book made me think anew about hope, agency, justice, embodiment, legacy and, above all, what is possible through moral courage.” —Dr. Lucy Kalanithi, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine, Stanford University, and widow of the late Dr. Paul Kalanithi, author of When Breath Becomes Air
“Ady is one of the most inspirational activists we have right now. Whether by fighting for a fairer tax code, universal health care, or a better judiciary, he has done more for this country while suffering from ALS than most do in their lifetime. Eyes to the Wind is more than just a memoir; it’s a meditation on illness, an exposé of our broken health care system, and a 21st-century guide to organizing. It’s also a powerful reminder that losing everything you take for granted can end up inspiring great change. Just as in his organizing, Ady’s writing is driven by a deep humanity and sense of empathy.” —Representative Ilhan Omar
“In the face of death, Ady Barkan has written a beautiful, poignant story about what it means to live. His commitment to our collective struggle for democracy amid his own grueling battle with ALS is the most inspiring example of activism I’ve ever known, and a reminder that even in trying times and unimaginable circumstances, it’s possible to lead a life filled with joy, purpose, love, and peace. This memoir is a gift to anyone who dreams of a better world.” —Jon Favreau, cohost of Pod Save America and former communications director and speechwriter for President Barack Obama
“Eyes to the Wind will move you through every emotion and leave you transformed. Ady’s words are a powerful gift to those of us who are searching for hope in these dark times in our nation. Ady reminds us that no matter our circumstances, we must fight for the things we believe in at all costs because someone we love is counting on us. I am left rejuvenated and ready to win.” —Linda Sarsour
“Profound and gutting and beautiful. An inspiring meditation on what it means to be a human being at this moment in this society in this nation. Basically the opposite of everything that makes politics seem so terrible so much of the time.” —Chris Hayes
"Moves with its portrait of a man driven to act on his beliefs while learning to accept the injustice of early mortality . . . unquestionably inspiring." —Kirkus Reviews
“Barkan’s powerful narrative gives great insight into the nuts and bolts of political activism at work.” —Publishers Weekly
“The book’s primary question is existential: how to live when you are dying? Barkan’s answer is to share, open up, act, and capital-R Resist, and his memoir, clearly and candidly written, establishes a legacy.” —Booklist
Authoring one's own narrative, according to lawyer-turned-community organizer Barkan, means knowing what to resist and what to accept. Barkan, who lives with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), has long been outspoken about the importance of local politics in order to enact change. He continues that story in his meandering first book while also grappling with the paradox of privilege and misfortune, feeling distressed about the future and sometimes unable to think about the present. Barkan's story comes alive during his college years, when he discovers his passion for the intersection of journalism, politics, and law. His memoir covers a range of time periods and topics, including his years as a law clerk, his involvement in Occupy Wall Street, and later becoming an activist and advocating for government reform. A recurring concern for Barkan, as he contemplates how to handle his health's decline, is not being able to provide for his son; his wife, Rachael, begins to take on the majority of parenting responsibilities. Noticing his speech and voice changing, Barkan wonders, "What do I want to say? To whom? And how?" VERDICT Though Barkan's memoir at times feels a little rushed and unfinished, his life in social justice is a story worth telling.—Stephanie Sendaula, Library Journal