Paul Robert Booth

By Harrison Smith January 19, 2018  Email the author Washington Post

Paul Booth, labor leader and antiwar activist, dies at 74

Paul Booth, a progressive activist who organized one of the first major rallies against the
Vietnam War — a 15,000-student march on the White House in 1965 — and who later
oversaw efforts to boost wages and preserve Social Security benefits as a top strategist for
one of the nation’s largest unions, died Jan. 17  2018, at a hospital in Washington. He was
74.The cause was complications from chronic lymphocytic leukemia, said his wife, activist
Heather Booth.

On the day he died, Mr. Booth was working on an article for the American Prospect and had
encouraged his wife to attend a Capitol Hill demonstration, where she was arrested while
protesting on behalf of “dreamers” protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

The lanky son of a left-leaning economist and social worker, Mr. Booth engrossed himself in
organizing as a student at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, where in the early 1960s he
founded a chapter of Students for a Democratic Society — a fractious, sometimes anarchic
organization whose calls for peace, social justice and political reform came to define the
movement known as the New Left.“We’re really not just a peace group,” he told the New York
Times on April 17, 1965, the day he led the SDS-organized war protest in Washington. “We
are working on domestic problems — civil rights, poverty, university reform. We feel
passionately and angrily about things in America, and we feel that a war in Asia will destroy
what we’re trying to do here.

”Mr. Booth was described by Alan Haber, first president of SDS, as a rare “cheerful spirit” in
the organization, singing and telling stories to maintain morale during the contentious drafting
process that resulted in the organization’s 1962 manifesto, the Port Huron Statement, under
student leaderTom Hayden.Rising to the position of national secretary, the group’s de facto
leader, he worked with civil rights and women’s groups to organize events such as the
antiwar march on the White House and an earlier rally at the New York headquarters of
Chase Manhattan Bank, which the coalition labeled a “partner in apartheid” for giving loans to
the South African government.litary service or draft-card burning, he was censured by some
SDS leaders.

Sociologist Todd Gitlin, a fellow SDS activist who helped organize the bank and antiwar
rallies, described Mr. Booth’s politics as akin to what writer and socialist leader Michael
Harrington called “the left wing of the possible”: “Don’t go out on a limb, don’t break your
contact with ordinary people and mainline institutions.”A protege of community organizer
Saul Alinsky, Mr. Booth left SDS to become a labor organizer in 1966. He worked on
environmental efforts in Chicago before joining the American Federation of State, County
and Municipal Employees, the country’s largest public-services employees union.He went on
to serve as the chief assistant to union president Gerald W. McEntee and as an executive
assistant to his successor, Lee Saunders. His titles belied the full range of his work, which
included behind-the-scenes efforts to support Democratic politicians and maintain or expand
social benefits for working-class families.

In addition to leading campaigns that opposed cuts to Medicare and the privatization of
Social Security, Mr. Booth was credited with organizing a coalition in Baltimore that
successfully pressed for the country’s first living-wage law. Passed in 1994, the legislation
raised the base pay for city contract workers in Baltimore above the federal minimum wage
and has since been mimicked in cities across the country.The law also formed the seeds of
the recent campaign for a $15 minimum wage — an issue that made it onto the Democratic
Party’s official platform at the 2016 national convention. Mr. Booth, selected by presidential
nominee Hillary Clinton, was a member of the committee that wrote the platform.

Paul Robert Booth was born in Washington on June 7, 1943. His father was a Labor
Department economist who later worked for the International Labor Organization in Geneva;
when he suffered a heart ailment, the family returned to the United States and became
dependent on his mother’s income as a social worker.Mr. Booth graduated from
Wilson High School (1960)
in the District and, in 1964, received a bachelor’s degree in
political science from Swarthmore.

He met Heather Tobis two years later at a University of Chicago sit-in protesting the
Selective Service, and after three days on the floor of the school’s administration building
asked her to marry him. She later formed the Midwest Academy, a Chicago-based training
center for social-justice organizers, where Mr. Booth was a board member.In addition to his
wife of 50 years, survivors include two sons, Gene Booth of Chicago and Dan Booth of
Concord, Mass., named for the socialist leaders Eugene V. Debs and Daniel De Leon,
respectively; a brother; and five grandchildren.

Mr. Booth was research director for the United Packinghouse Workers of America before
joining AFSCME in 1974. As the international union representative for Illinois, he secured
union contracts for state workers and city employees in Chicago — “further speeding the
demise of the patronage system,” the Chicago Tribune reported in 1988.

He retired in 2017 but remained engaged in national politics, even when he was hospitalized
last week. On a CaringBridge site for Mr. Booth created shortly before his death, his wife
noted that alongside notes or calls from well-wishers, “Paul particularly welcomes any news
about more Republican retirements.”What he really wanted, she continued, was for friends
and strangers “to organize and build the resistance.”Paul Booth at the Democratic National
Convention in 2016, holding a copy of the party platform he helped draft. (J. Scott
Applewhite/AP) AMr. Booth and his wife, Heather Booth, at an AFSCME event in 2012.
(Khalid Naji-Allah/AFSCME) B