Documentary Review: Ady Barkan reminds politicians what “Not Going Quietly” looks like

Ady Barkan first gained national notoriety during the 2018 midterm elections, campaigning cross country in Republican-held Congressional districts, going to war over a single issue — health care, and the GOP’s efforts to “destabilize the entire health care system” to finance tax breaks for the wealthy.

His #BeAHero” campaign was very personal. He was just a couple of years into his ALS diagnosis, a lawyer and lifetime activist (Fed Up) watching his body and then his voice fail, while unaccountable “bought and paid for” Republicans busied themselves with gutting Obamacare and stacking the courts with judges just as beholden to their super rich sponsors.

After helping flip the House and turn the tide against Trumpism, Barkan vowed to “give my last breath to save democracy,” badgering Democratic presidential candidates into online interviews with him about the issue that for him and millions of others, was literally about “saving my life.”

“Not Going Quietly” captures Barkan’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” moment, when he met campaign consultant and advisor Liz Jaff just as they were about to board an Arizona-bound flight that just happened to also carry then-GOP Senator Jeff Flake. Flake’s grudging and damning “meeting” with Barkan, filmed on board that flight, went viral. And a political star was born.

“Not Going Quietly” lets us see a fierce, and dying, advocate for health care show us what John Lewis meant by “Good trouble.”

Barkan’s messaging about health care rights was simple. His image — that of a dying man first on a cane, then in a wheelchair, first speaking publicly, eventually requiring a voice-synthesizer to testify to Congress — instantly burned into the national conscience.

The film is both a moving and intimate portrait of a passionate political animal in decline, the mundane struggle to just stay communicative enough to carry on, and a fascinating study of what “grass roots” organizing, attention-grabbing and issue-galvanizing can look like in an era of paid GOP “crisis actors,” dark money “Astro turf” politics and assaults on voting rights aimed at securing permanent minority rule by the rich.

Spokespeople with debilitating illnesses or sick family members are coached in the civil way to respond to attempts to keep them from speaking up (politely, firmly, when it’s their turn) at town hall meetings.

Fearful Congressional staffers call the cops when protestors show up, with TV cameras, to confront the unconfrontable and unaccountable. And Congressional careers go down in flames.

The film gives “the other side” its say, but exposes Supreme Court-stacking, tax-cutting for the rich and Republican health care callousness as it does. Even Barkan’s foes — some of them, anyway — express admiration for his zeal and compassion.

All that’s missing from this jeremiad is a visit to another Arizona senator, the one who isn’t giving her “last breath” to save democracy, or even one day of her vacation.

Through it all, Barkan and we see his little boy Carl grow from infant to toddler, his wife Rachel bravely soldier on and his cause resonate with voters similarly trapped in an embattled health care system and a seriously corrupted political one.

MPA Rating: unrated, some profanity

Cast: Ady Barkan, Rachel Barkan, Liz Jaff, former Senator Jeff Flake

Credits: Directed by Nicholas Bruckman, script by Nicholas Bruckman and Amanda Roddy. A Greenwich Entertainment release.

Running time: 1:36

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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