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Paul Booth: Fighting for Everyone to his Last Day

There have been some wonderful eulogies for movement giant Paul Booth, who passed away suddenly and unexpectedly last week. Those of us who were his friends-- and that number is legion, as Paul had been a good friend to so many people-- are still reeling from the loss. Paul was a giant of the progressive movement in every sense of the word, but he was also a fun person who was a joy to be around. He never took himself too seriously, and always had an impish grin on his face, enjoying the strangeness and humor of life and of his work.

I’m not sure what Paul was doing for social justice when he was in elementary school, but as far as I can tell he spent every day of the rest of his life being a happy warrior for justice for all people. People of every race and creed, women and men, LGBT folks, students and seniors, poor and middle income folks, people with disabilities. All those usual progressive movement lists, but not just the usual suspects.

The first time I ever met Paul, as soon as he found out I was from Nebraska, in contrast to most national progressive leaders who didn’t care much about small rural red states like mine, he wanted to know all about the politics of the state, who the good organizers and political leaders were. He said he wanted AFSCME to get a lot stronger in small rural states like Nebraska, and in the years to come, they did. He once said to me that a 50-state strategy was fine, but that what we really needed was a 3,142-county strategy. (Being Paul, he knew off the top of his head how many counties there were in the country.) He believed in organizing everywhere, in fighting for everyone.

The last two meetings I was in with Paul, he was thinking through organizing strategies for restaurant workers with Saru Jayaraman of the Restaurant Opportunity Center, and working with the Midwest Academy on building up their organizer training capacity. On the last day of his life, he e-mailed me about rural organizing, and was glad to send his wife Heather off to get arrested in a civil disobedience protest for the Dreamers. He lived and he died fighting for everybody.

Here’s a video we made in honor of Paul and all that he stood for:

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