Thirty-one people stood silently in the frigid Concord air this evening at a memorial vigil for Don Booth, who died last Friday, a few weeks after achieving his 94th birthday. Don was known as a pioneer designer and builder of passive solar houses, as an advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, as a father, and as husband and life-partner to the incomparable Lois Booth. But most of all Don was known for holding vigils for peace, by himself or with others, in rain or shine or icy weather like today’s. Don Booth stood for peace in all senses of the word, and the people of New Hampshire knew it.
Perhaps because a speech problem made oral communications challenging, Don devoted many hours to perfecting techniques for banner-making. In addition to struggling over what words would be both clear and powerful, he tested different types of paints and fabrics. In later years he experimented with designs involving light-weight PVC pipe, so that the banners would be self-supporting and he could sit by their side in a lawn chair.
Don generally conducted his vigils on a weekly basis in front of the State House, on North Main Street in downtown Concord. During the build up to the Iraq War, he also vigiled daily outside the Republican Party’s office across the street, with a banner saying he did not agree with President Bush.
Don’s peace vigils were not “strategic” in the sense that non-profit consultants use the term or in the way political campaigns are organized. While his long-term goal was clear, he had no short-term goal, no measureable process indicators, no specific short-term objectives.
Instead, Don’s vigils were acts of witness, public affirmations that war is not inevitable, that peace is possible, that justice can be built by people who are committed to it. They were an expression of faith, repeated week after week, year after year.
And they had results, measureable and otherwise. After the silent vigil this evening, several people shared stories of how they met Don and what he meant to them. Lynn Chong remembered seeing him standing in front of the post office one April 15 with a sign explaining his refusal to pay war taxes. Will Thomas remembered Don at the great peace rally in Central Park on June 12, 1982. Madonna Moran spoke about Don getting arrested outside the Nashua factory gates of the Sanders Corporation, or Lockheed Sanders, or BAE, or whatever name the arms manufacturer had at the time. Mary Lee Sargent spoke about standing alongside Don at State House Plaza. For every one of these dedicated peace activists, Don Booth provided inspiration for their own acts, whether that was his intent or not. Afterward, we sang “This Little Light of Mine,” and hustled away to warmer cars and homes.
We cannot know what it will take to end wars, to end war. I do know that Don Booth’s light shines, and that our acts of faith matter.