They hope for peace - Don and Lois Booth Lois and Don Booth, 1999 photo by David Booth

Couple awarded for activism

Monday, January 15, 2001

Monitor staff
[Reprinted with permission from The Concord Monitor.]

CANTERBURY, NH - "I Have a Dream," plays forever in present tense to Don and Lois Booth. The content of that historic vision and the milestones of the past notwithstanding, the Canterbury couple refuses to archive those famous lines, dusting them off once a year with the rest of the nation.

They have a dream of their own - and it's still very much alive. So don't expect them to slow their pace for too long as they're honored today at the annual Martin Luther King Day Community Celebration.

"A healthy world of respect for all persons is very possible," said Lois Booth.

A tall order, but one at which the couple has worked tirelessly since youth. Now retired with seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, they can be found holding vigils or making banners, raising money or writing letters almost every day.

If quieter than King's dream, their vision for world peace is no less passionate.

Last month Don Booth was arrested during a demonstration at the School of the Americas in Georgia. Lois Booth spends her days dreaming up fund-raisers and making graphs and pamphlets to pass out at demonstrations.

"We've kept at it because there are so many things wrong in the world," said Lois Booth, co-founder of the state's largest peace group, NH Peace Action and a full-time volunteer for the organization. "People are dying. Five thousand children a month are dying. Nobody pays any attention."

She and Don are that much more in awe, then, of the hero honored today in celebrations around the state and country - a hero who did get people to sit up and take notice.

"An important thing for me has been feeling that the dream Martin Luther King spoke of is actually closer now," said Don Booth.

And though the Booths' own dream has taken a slightly different shape, it has overlapped at many times with King's.

In the late '40s, Don Booth was traveling in Rhode Island when he spotted a white man yank a young black boy off his feet by his collar. "The boy was crying and saying, 'leave me alone. I ain't done nothing,' " Booth recalled.

Without hesitation, Booth approached the man and demanded to know why he was bullying the boy.

"He said, 'none of your business,' " Booth recalled. "But I decided it was my business."

As Booth persisted, police officers arrived on the scene and told him to get in their car. Thinking they were sympathetic to him, Booth began relating what he'd seen. "Shut up," one officer told him, and pointed his revolver at him. At the station, he was shoved in a cell without so much as a phone call. In court, Booth said, the officers lied about him, and the judge sided with them. A civil liberties lawyer was later able to get the case dropped, but it never dropped from Booth's memory.

"That was quite an awakening experience," he said.

It was not the first time nor would it be the last that the Booths faced opposition.

Several years before, Booth had watched in horror as World War II bore down on the nation. He made up his mind to be a conscientious objector and was assigned to a civilian work camp. His father angrily told him that he was ruining his life, but Booth stood his ground.

At about the same time, Lois Booth was starting to flex her peace activist muscles, joining a campus peace group, then helping form a Women For Peace group in Concord.

"It was a challenge to be a pacifist in a world that has Hitler in it," she said.

The two met at a youth hostel and soon joined forces. Even as careers and six children crowded their lives, they maintained their commitment to peace and human rights.

In 1963, Don Booth traveled to Washington to hear King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

"It was wonderful to walk through and see so many black and white faces smiling," Booth recalled. "People were just glowing."

It is a glow the couple still wears when they talk about their work - a glow borne part of passion and part of infuriation.

"The United States is the biggest arms seller in the world," said Lois Booth, pulling out one of her many charts. "We keep building because the companies want to keep on selling . . . It's like an arms race with ourselves. The American public would never tolerate these things if they knew what was going on."

That's the reason Don Booth picks up his banners and pamphlets every week and stands out on the State House steps. Someday, he hopes people will listen to his dream the way they listened to Martin Luther King's.

The Martin Luther King Day Celebration will be held today at 2 p.m. at Notre Dame College in Manchester. There will be a potluck meal, an awards presentation, music and a speech by Russell Witherspoon, a teacher at Phillips Exeter Academy.