Legendary Activist Heather Booth Inspires Change

By Jacob Bourne

Described as “the most influential person you may have never heard of,” acclaimed community organizer and activist Heather Booth led a discussion following the screening of the documentary – appropriately titled Heather Booth – that chronicles her life’s work on March 23 in San Francisco.

“When I asked how to get organized, I was told two words. Heather Booth,” Senator Elizabeth Warren says in the film.

The event was put on by Democracy Labs, a local non-profit that started post-2016 general election to help spread the knowledge and skills of community leaders like Booth. Among other event sponsors, San Francisco Labor Council, Working America, California Labor Federation, AFSCME and United EMS Workers helped made the event happen.

“The movement comes, it’s a moment, and then you have to sustain it over time, and that’s the hard work that many of you do with Union partners,” Booth told those gathered.

Booth began her career in activism at the height of the Civil Rights movement and has been a key figure in many crucial moments for progressive change over the past 50 years. In 1973, Booth founded the Midwest Academy, a training institute for progressive community organizers and affiliated organizations. One of the major lessons she’s imparted to others over the decades is how to channel anger and frustration over injustice into making a difference.

Booth described today’s political environment as a “perilous but also inspirational time” because in the face of major threats to democracy there are so many examples of people standing together and taking on the nuts and bolts of community organizing work such as phone banking, door knocking, tweeting and marching in protest. She placed current challenges in greater context by sharing stories of grave injustices that took place prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“Even in times that seem the most hopeless, even when you least expect it, there can be a breakthrough and movement for change — but only if we organize,” Booth said.

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