Heather Booth has lived more than fifty years of her life as an activist. Her father was a Jewish military doctor, and her mother was a special education teacher and avid feminist. As a child, Booth’s mother read her Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, originally intended to educate her on the growing number of married women in employment. However, young Heather Booth went beyond her lessons in female employment, and took every word Friedan wrote in The Feminine Mystique to heart. She continues living life to this day believing that she, a woman, will never be inferior to a man. Booth credits the sparking of her career in activism to her supportive parents, who always encouraged her to speak her mind and stand up to injustice. She first protested the Massachusetts death penalty at age seventeen, and has since never stopped fighting injustice for the rights of various minorities.
Booth’s college days at the University of Massachusetts took place during the height of the civil rights movement, and she was no stranger to the nonviolent protests. She marched alongside thousands of fellow citizens of all races, fighting for the civil rights of all Americans, even when threatened by police and their vicious dogs.
When asked why she would risk her life for the cause, Booth responded, “The real question is not, ‘Will you die for freedom?’ It is, ‘Will you live for freedom–and justice?’”
Although it’s been half a century, Booth continues to fight for civil rights and feminism, but she is also devoted to community organization and progressive politics.
Booth recently gave a seminar at Roosevelt to Mr. Nolet’s Hands for a Bridge social justice class on her many years of experience. According to Hands for a Bridge students Elaine Kim and Anna Bricknell, Mr. Nolet saw Booth’s documentary, Changing the World, at the Seattle International Film Festival. Moved by the film, he invited her to speak to his students about her work. According to the students, Booth spoke about her career as an activist, the movements she took part in, and how she came to be an activist as her primary career.
“But, who is this extraordinary woman?” Roosevelt News reporters asked the students, “What is she like?”
“She was really intense,” says Bricknell, “but, a good intense,” and, “That’s impressive to be able to do that at 70 years old.”
“I was in awe, honestly,” says Kim, “She really struck me as a very powerful individual.”
Kim understands how hard it is to be an activist with authorities pushing you down, and trying to accept the fact that people will hate you simply because they oppose what you believe in. She asked Booth what makes her get out of bed in the mornings to do what she does.
“She told me she did it for her grandkids, so they can just live a better future, a future full of good things,” says Kim.
When asked this same question in an interview, Booth says simply, “There was a song in the Civil Rights Movement–‘Freedom is a Constant Struggle.’”
According to Booth, the way young people can appreciate the rights we now enjoy because of people like Booth who protested in the Civil Rights Movement is to “Use those rights. The freedom of speech, the freedom of assembly, the freedom to vote and get others to register and vote and speak their minds! Use those rights!”
“If we organize, we can change the world,” says Booth, after being asked what message she wishes to convey to the students of Roosevelt. “But we need to organize. You are the leaders we have been waiting for!”
Graphic By: Eve Scarborough