So, yes, Scott, it’s so good to see you. Even virtually. You know would love to see you again in person sometime but feel my warmth coming out to you right now! Okay. Hello everybody, thank you for joining us for this first convening in Illinois. I’m really excited about this, but more excited, is that I am beyond honored to introduce Heather.
Heather Booth, has a storied relationship with Chicago.
She attended the University of Chicago where she someone you know she co founded the legendary Jane collective or Jane, an underground abortion service in the 60s that helped more than 10,000 women get abortions when it was illegal in most of the United States.
And in 1972 she helped found the Midwest Academy, a training organization that has taught organizing methods to grassroots organizations and it was first located near Clark and Fullerton. Heather Booth and other leaders of the academy created a highly regarded tool, it’s still in use, called the Midwest Academy strategy chart, which taught organizations how to set specific goals, what tactics are appropriate when planning direct action campaigns. And Heather I want to tell you to this day, I still use that chart when I organize it in any action that I’m about to undertake. Sometimes I do it in paper sometimes I do it in my head, I use it all the time.
I call Heather, I say she’s like the Forest Gump, of organizers. She’s been involved in almost every liberal campaign issue drive. over the past five decades. She’s worked for fair pay, equal justice and childcare assistance. Heather has worked for abortion rights as you know, worker, voters, civil and immigration rights.
Heather has been there for major legislation like the Affordable Care Act and Elizabeth Warren’s consumer protection agency.
She’s worked here back in Illinois on the historic political campaigns of Harold Washington first black mayor and Carol Moseley Braun.
Heather will be working doggedly, but you would never know about it. The tagline for the documentary film about her life and work is “Heather Booth is the most influential person you never heard of.”
I am so proud of the times with the Illinois Handmaids had the pleasure of collaborating with her. Some of you may have seen the stunning picture of Heather, accepting an award for her decades of reproductive rights advocacy at the Women’s March in Chicago in 2018 with the Illinois Handmaids arrayed behind her in a reverential visual.
So since 2011. She’s been a member of Democracy Partners, a progressive political consulting firm that has been active in elections and campaigns across the US, and during the Biden Harris campaign, Heather was director of a senior and progressive engagement. She still is working, she won’t stop can’t stop.
Please welcome the indomitable Heather booth
It is so my pleasure to be part of you with indivisible today invisibles you are organizing and changing this world for the better.
You bring hope and vitality and energy, and its just what we need. At this time, so thank you from Illinois, and around the country. And, and Annie. You are such a fierce and loving champion for women in the freedom and rights for all of us. And seeing and you and you in that Handmaid’s costume reminds us of the fight that we’re up against. And as you say. It’s a warning, and a prediction and will be a prophecy, unless we organize. And you and Leni have been partners since you met in 2016 organizing the Women’s March, when you brought 10,000 marchers on buses from Illinois to DC, and then worked to organize Indivisible Illinois with Scott Cross. And thank you Scott. And as someone who used to live in Illinois Thank you all. And thanks to all of you on this zoom and watching in from around the country.
You are the organizers the mobilizes the fighters for a better world. I’m so glad to be your partner for democracy and justice. And also, truly an honor to follow. Ezra on this call. And I try to follow him as best as I can.
You and Leah and indivisible are really, you helped to transform US politics and probably politics around the world, helping to power the resistance. And now, to carry it on.
Thank you all Indivisibles and when someone, I think, Scott was saying we’re all or Annie someone was saying how’s your family, Ezra, I wanted to say, Oh, I’m part of your family, we’re your extended family so glad to be part of the indivisible family, and I look forward to later hearing Reverend Barber.
What a testimony to indivisible, Illinois, that he’s coming to this summit just held up in the air a little while, and also a testimony to him that he’s willing to connect with a grassroots power.
Just what we need and this inspiring educating agitating leader.
And right now we need this all because we live on a knife’s edge, and which direction we go forward or backward really depends on what you do.
On the one hand we have greater potential for progress then at almost any time in the last 50 years. With Black Lives Matter was the largest demonstration over a period of time in the country’s history, and with the Women’s March, we had the largest one day demonstration in our country’s history. And I carry my, my pussycat with me so I’m, I’m ready to go indivisible says it’s time to go.
And I’m there. Okay, I put it on I’m ready to resist.
And then I take it off, because it’s not just one day or one week or one year or one season.
It’s a lifetime of organizing that we’re committing to just as indivisible knows building a long term infrastructure.
And with a ways we still can move forward with this build back federal legislation. We have a chance to see the greatest investment in people and in our communities that we’ve ever had in the first term of any presidency and perhaps ever in our country’s history with universal pre k historic investments and climate, beginnings on housing jobs infrastructure and more, and combined with the passage of the American rescue plan and last March, which by the way passed without one republican vote, though they’re all going to be at the ribbon cuttings and say oh they are so glad for this investment in their community. They didn’t help at all. Indivisible and others magnified around this country did that.
So with the American Rescue Plan with a passage of the infrastructure bill that was passed last week and as I said, we expect will be signed, perhaps on Monday.
There’ll be such an investment in our communities for broadband for climate for healthcare childcare. We may cut child poverty in nearly half, lowering drug prices for seniors, possibly moving on immigration reform.
Creating millions of good paying union jobs with lower costs for people with elements like the child tax credit, and making the wealthiest pay their fair share to support it.
Of course there’s always more to do.
But we are moving forward because you have organized, making historic change. We make change, but only when we organize.
So at the same time that we may move forward in this dramatic way we’re also threatened by the greatest challenges to democracy and civil rights, perhaps anytime since the Civil War or the end of reconstruction. Facts and science themselves are contested, as well as elections. And the very concept of what equality and freedom and justice can mean.
I was asked to say a few words about lessons from my own background, and how the many movements we work on are all related and the big lesson I take away is that when we organize we have changed this world. And when we will organize we will change this world.
I came into political activism through the civil rights movement. In 1964 I went to Mississippi as part of the Freedom Summer project. When northern students were asked to come down to that state to shine a spotlight on the courageous work that poor Black people were doing. This by the way is a picture of me in 1964. I hope you can see it. I’m 18 years old.
Here I am, and this is Fannie Lou Hamer. I’m at her home in Roseville Mississippi. And these are two of her friends.
And she was an extraordinary heroic courageous leader, head of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party co chair of it and said such things as “we’re sick and tired of being sick and tired,” but we keep on keeping on just what we need to do now.
Now many people heard about that Freedom Summer project because during that time there were three young volunteers, Andrew Goodman, James Cheney and Michael Schwerner who were killed at the hands of the clan.
And that made national news but what you may not have heard is that what they were looking for the bodies of those three young men they found the bodies of other Black men, some hands bound or feet chopped off thrown into the Tallahassee and other rivers, and those disappearances hadn’t even been reported, and the murders weren’t investigated until years later as cold cases.
But because people organized in Mississippi and around the country. within a year we had a voting rights act.
And so I learned three big lessons that have stayed with me and are part of Indivisible.
The first is that, even when things look nearly hopeless if we organize, we make progress, but only when we organize.
The second lesson: Sometimes you have to stand up to illegitimate authority. I want to show you another picture. This is in Bolivar county by the courthouse, I’m 18 years old.
Not doing civil disobedience, but I’m just standing as we’re doing a voter registration effort. And it was the first time I was arrested. Sometimes you have to stand up to a legitimate authority. Indivisible knows that.
And the third lesson I learned is that you need to trust and work with local people. That’s what organizing is relating to real people in person. Online when we have to. Relational organizing person by person growing our numbers, as well as talking to those who are already convinced.
Another period, I went back to my campus, the University of Chicago, and a friend of mine had been raped at knifepoint in her bed. We went with her to Student Health to get a gynecological exam for her. And we were told that student health didn’t cover gynecological exams.
We sat with her, they called it a sit in.
Of course now there are gynecological exams for women or people who need such treatment.
And, there’s counseling and support.
But even things we think are should be assumed only happen, because people organize, but when we organize we make change.
Now of course there’s pushback on these rights just as there’s pushback on on civil rights. Pharma and the republicans are challenging healthcare is a right.
But we make progress as you all know, when we organize.
And then, a friend of mine said his sister was pregnant and nearly suicidal, and not prepared to have a child, could I find someone to give her an abortion.
I hadn’t thought about this issue. This is 1965.
And I went to the medical committee for human rights which was the medical arm of the civil rights movement, and I found a doctor, Dr. TRM Howard.
I’ve learned only since those days that he was an extraordinary civil rights leader in Mississippi, who came to Chicago when his name appeared on a clan death list.
He provided the procedure, it was successful, and word must have spread. I didn’t tell anyone. Because someone else called.
I made that arrangement and then someone else called.
And I realized I had to set up a system. We set up a system we called it Jane, and between 1965 when Jane started and 1973.
The women of Jane themselves learned how and performed 11,000 abortions before Roe.
And we make progress, but only when we take action.
And when we organize.
And this question also has push back now.
The most personal question that in a person’s life of when or whether to have a child and start a family.
And there’s now of pushback on women’s rights. Texas has passed the most restrictive law in the nation on this area that says not only can you not terminate a pregnancy after six weeks when many people don’t even know that they’re pregnant, but it pays for an authoritarian state where neighbor is encouraged to turn on neighbor with a penalty for a bounty fee of over $10,000. 10,000 or more to report on someone else who’s helping a person make this most intimate decision in our lives.
But every, every place, and certainly in Illinois when we organize. We make progress.
Because you and others have organized and Illinois, Illinois is now a haven in the Midwest for abortion rights.
Just recently, you helped to repeal parental involvement legislation.
And now, Illinois 100% Pro choice.
It’s monumental in an atmosphere where reproductive rights are being slashed across the country.
Because you organized Illinois embraces access on on democracy also. Access to the ballot box. The greatest degree possible in terms of every election issue.
Same Day registration early voting voting by mail drop boxes and more.
You have a key election coming up. Many may not know about it. It’s an Illinois Supreme Court race on the ballot in 2022. And if we don’t win at least one of them, the Illinois Supreme Court will be as right wing as the US Supreme Court and reversing everything we fought so hard for.
But we’ll make progress, because there is indivisible Illinois, because you do organize.
And then as as we said the next big fight is democracy itself.
And not only for the 2022 elections that are in the balance. But our whole futures.
And we should remember that often dictators come to power, using the tools of democracy, like Hitler did who was elected in a democratic election, so called democratic election, but then they changed the rules.
So there’s no democracy in the future.
We see this with partisan gerrymandering going on in many states, giving republicans a greater number of safe, legislative seats, much greater than their representation is in the real population of the state.
We see it in the violations of the Civil Rights Act that have been gutted. That allow redistricting with disregard to racial bias. We see it and disinformation campaigns.
We see it in the unfair rules in the Senate and as I mentioned this fight on the filibuster, which can stop votes of the Democratic majority by preventing debate from ending.
And so we have to take up this Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
The public is overwhelmingly and supported the Freedom to Vote backed by a 35 point margin.
This would establish national standards to protect America’s freedom to vote, require every state to have automatic voter registration, make Election Day a holiday, restore federal voting rights to formerly incarcerated Americans and address dark money in the electoral process.
And there’s even larger support by 69% for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. That would make sure that any changes to local or state elections are federally reviewed.
So that everyone’s equal right to vote is protected.
All of this and more.
We can make part of our future but only when we organize, and it’s what you do, and have been doing every day.
It’s why we love Indivisible.
This is why when it feels like we’re up against enormous odds, we need to keep organizing standing up to illegitimate authority, trusting and reaching out to people.
I was in the campaign for President Biden as director of progressives and seniors outreach and I made these two buttons for a very large group of volunteers that were in our core.
Two themes that I think embodied are embodied in Indivisible and want to share with you. One says, organize, and the other says, Love at the center.
And those two themes are what I think we need to keep close to us to remember to care for others to care for ourselves and to be agents of hope.
We have made change in the past.
And we will make change.
When we organize.
Thank you Indivisible, and I look forward to celebrating so many victories with you in the future.
Thank you Heather so much.
Whenever I hear your words of encouragement you know I always think that organizing also means power, you know, and we have the power of people have the power but I think we forget that.
So, thank you so much.
If we all know that you’ve been a tireless fighter for reproductive rights. And I think the thing that most inspires me is just your optimism and your unfailing positive attitude.
And like you said your simple philosophy is, if we organized we can change the world. Right.
But you, you also acknowledge that change is a struggle. It comes from struggle and it’s not always pretty. I remember reading a story about you, you were in Mississippi and had chiggers crawling on your leg and, you know, but you can get that moving.
So can you talk more about the challenges of progressive advocacy and how we as activists can stay motivated.
And the truth is, you are someone who could tell us how you stay motivated and also would be worth hearing from that, in the short time though I’ll answer your question that would you inspire me and we inspire each other.
Yeah, It’s one of the reasons we love indivisible.
When I was in the civil rights movement, some people would ask, Are you willing to die for freedom.
And I very much wanted to live.
I was willing to take that risk, and some, like Heather Heyer, who was killed in Charlottesville, standing up to the right wing there.
Some may die for freedom.
But the real question that we have now is are you willing to live for freedom to incorporate it in our lives in one way or another, whatever your regular work is whatever other involvements you have when you live and follow the values you believe in, when it’s too hot when it’s too cold. When you’re too tired. When it’s too boring we shouldn’t romanticize this work.
I’ve got to make another phone call, I’ve got to do another text banking.
I’ve got to go out door to door in COVID safe ways. One more time.
And the answer is yes.
The struggle is worth it.
Because we can win when we organize and to win we also need a strategic plan we need to know where we are going. It’s one of the reasons that indivisible is so invaluable.
And we also need a loving and caring community, like you have, and the leadership you provide Annie and Leni and Scott, and others.
We need to organize, stand up to illegitimate authority and engage people.
And when we’ve organized we have changed this world.
And when we organize in the future.
We will change this world.
Thank you for what you’ve done.
Thank you for what we’ll do together, love Annie, love you indivisible.