“Everything is connected to everything else.”

Despite sounding like a message that might be found in a fortune cookie, this quote provided some clarity for me several weeks ago on a trip to Vermont. The individual sharing these words just happened to be someone who has had a significant impact on my way of thinking in the past few years. A weekend trip to visit friends had already been in the books for months when I saw a tweet that Bernie Sanders would be speaking alongside Ady Barkan at a rally in Vermont. Several years ago, I was ready to wake up extremely early to drive multiple hours to New Hampshire to be a part of a campaign rally in the early stages of Bernie’s primary run for President. Rain ultimately shifted the decision to a morning of a few extra hours of sleep instead of unsafe driving conditions. I have regretted that decision ever since. When I saw that the rally this time around was en route to my friends’ home, I knew that I could not pass up on this opportunity.

Bernie and his message entered into my awareness as a result of an interaction in the classroom. While teaching my students about ancient Rome, a student asked me if there were any modern day oligarchies in the world. (If you are not able to tell from the question, he was an awfully inquisitive and bright child.) Despite teaching the vocabulary term alongside the terms democracy and republic for a few years, I could not answer his question. It was during my own research later that night that I found references to the United States being a modern day oligarchy, unofficially of course. One of the names that I saw referenced a few times was Bernie Sanders. After watching a few clips of Bernie speak, I knew that my worldview had shifted instantly. The idea that the United States was not exactly what it purported itself to be was not a new concept to me. A few years earlier, I traveled to Philadelphia and went to an exhibit that contrasted ancient Rome and America side by side through various topics and themes. The final question the exhibit left its visitors with was whether or not we are doomed to fall like Rome. Not the most uplifting ending, but an impactful question for sure.

My arrival a few hours early to Brattleboro, VT was partly due to fear of traffic or parking issues that would cause me to miss out on the rally. Neither of these worries were founded. After grabbing a cup of coffee, I lined up in front of the old movie theater to be towards the beginning of the line. When we were let in, I found a seat in the third row from the stage and continued chatting with the guys I had met outside the theater. When the rally began, I started to frantically scribble quotes on the pages of my notebook. Over the course of about two hours, ideas were shared that will forever reframe the way I think about some concepts. Several speakers from Rights and Democracy took the stage. Through their own personal stories, the speakers highlighted the need for a health care system that works for all of people in a society. One of the quotes that stood out to me was about how our destinies are deeply connected.

By the time the people from Rights and Democracy finished their remarks and the people from the Be a Hero tour took the stage, I was quite revved up. Listening to Tracy and Anna Maria speak was humbling. I am passionate about many ideas and missions, but I suspect that my passion would register around 23 or 24% compared to their 100%. I was in awe.

“We have to act like we can radically change the world.”
“We have a shared humanity.”
“We must overcome fear.”
“We can be a part of bringing possibility into reality.”

Ady Barkan is my new hero. When I saw that Ady would be speaking along with Bernie, I was thrilled. Ady had made the news a months earlier when videos emerged of him confronting Senator Flake over the tax cut bill and how it would affect him on a deeply personal level. (A video link is provided at the end of the post. It is simply powerful.) The dignity and grace that Ady presents himself should be a lesson to all. Ady Barkan was diagnosed in October of 2016 with ALS. As he had described, the past few months have led to a rapid loss of his ability to speak and he has become increasingly paralyzed. With what may potentially be the last few opportunities to communicate with his own voice, Ady had set forth on a tour to raise awareness of the need for quality healthcare for all. For several years, he and his wife were living the “happiest and luckiest” life they could have imagined when their world was forever changed by his diagnosis. I am sure that some people who are diagnosed with ALS retreat into themselves instantly and are never again the same. On this day in August, Ady encouraged the audience to invest our time and treasure based on our core values and on a “North Star” towards larger transformations. Ady shared a vision where all people had the freedom to thrive. Ady encouraged us to tell our own stories and to put ourselves in the conversation. Ady ended his speech with a reminder that he has limited precious time and he feels the urgency in his mission. “This is a collective struggle, a larger movement, a purpose greater than ourselves.” Ady Barkan will forever hold a special place in my heart. The tears pouring from my eyes were just as genuine and guttural on that day a few weeks ago as they are right now as I am writing this reflection.

“Everything is connected to everything else.”

Being less than fifteen feet from Bernie Sanders was quite special. His convictions and passion are unwavering, and I respect him for these qualities. Bernie spoke about healthcare being both a moral issue and an economic issue. “The length of our life should not be connected to our income.”

“Everything is connected to everything else.”

This quote is not unlike many other quotes or lyrics that I have encountered throughout my life, but it was especially thought provoking on my drive towards the Burlington area that afternoon. This past summer has been a reflective and restorative one for me. Since December, my life has felt off balance. Extended family members got ill, and my aunt died a few weeks after being diagnosed with Leukemia. Work was stressful and too much to handle. The events in the world were overwhelming and saddening. One of the common themes presented at the rally was one of freedom. It was on the drive through Vermont that I was able to make the connection that freedom promotes a healthy being, and a healthy being promotes freedom. When I was feeling unhealthy for a majority of the school year, I did not feel free. Freedom is an essential feeling. Nobody can thrive while feeling stuck.

The passion of those fighting for access to quality healthcare for all is just as much about freedom and justice as it is about healthcare. As a society, we rely on each other to live our lives. As a teacher, I care for the students in my classroom each day and help them grow as learners and people. Each and everyone of us contribute to our communities on the local and larger levels. Is it even possible to feel free without the help and support of others? Our destinies are deeply connected.

Tomorrow is an election day in New York, and I will contribute by taking part in my civic responsibility. My hope is that many others will do the same. I will be voting in the primaries for candidates who best represent my core values and my “North Star,” as Ady would suggest. For me, a candidate who supports access to healthcare for every citizen is someone who understands the freedom that promotes. For me, a candidate who believes in holding corrupt officials to the same level of accountability as any member of our society contributes to the health of our society. I will be voting for several candidates who share these values with me before I even set foot in work tomorrow.

Being able to see the connections between health and freedom has been a gift. Witnessing so many people who have already made this leap while at the rally gave me so much hope for what will hopefully come to fruition in a relatively short time. The health of our democracy may just rest on the health of its citizens.

(This entry is the first in a three part series. In the coming weeks, I will publish “The People of a Democracy” and “The Art of a Democracy.” Additional entries may follow, too.)

Ady Barkan Video

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