Berkeley activist Elisa Cooper dies at 47

Elisa Cooper (rightmost), a Berkeley resident and local activist, died in June at age 47.
Xiaoye Yan/File
Elisa Cooper (rightmost), a Berkeley resident and local activist, died in June at age 47.

Elisa Cooper, an activist and resident of South Berkeley, died unexpectedly in her home last June. She was 47.

Cooper was a “dedicated community leader” and “active advocate” in the city government who will be missed, according to Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín.

“(Cooper was) deeply committed to equity and to making sure that Berkeley remained a diverse and inclusive community,” Arreguín said. “We will continue to work for the things that she strived for.”

Cooper was born September 25, 1969, in Maysville, Kentucky. Even before she was brought home from the hospital, her mother, Paula Cooper, described in an email the intense curiosity with which Cooper seemed to view the world, always looking around.

Throughout her teenage years, according to her mother, Cooper had similar interests to other girls her age, while also showing a “considerable talent” for writing and curiosity about “the bigger issues in the world.” Cooper never let her family’s finances limit her aspirations, managing to secure funding to pay for boarding school.

After high school, Cooper dreamed of living in New York City and eventually attended Sarah Lawrence College, a private liberal arts school in New York. At Sarah Lawrence, Cooper was a member of the student senate, head of a campus archaeology club and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history, according to her LinkedIn profile.

She then made her way to the Bay Area to study at UC Berkeley, becoming involved in local city government advocacy.

Cooper was a member of the South Berkeley Friends of Adeline group and an active participant at City Council and other public forums, advocating for a variety of affordable housing and social justice issues.

Cooper was honored at City Council’s June 27 meeting, with several council members speaking to Cooper’s dedication to community issues and persistent activism. Arreguín noted that Cooper’s absence was felt at the June 27 meeting, one of the first City Council meetings he could remember where Cooper was not present.

City Councilmember Ben Bartlett said in an emailed statement that Cooper was “a thoughtful political commentator” and “treasured friend” whose “empathy, and deep commitment to Berkeley” were inspirations.

Elisa passionately and tirelessly advocated for vulnerable and underserved communities,” Bartlett said in the statement. “She taught us valuable lessons about diligence and persistence.”

Margy Wilkinson, a friend of Cooper, said the loss of Cooper was tremendous.

Wilkinson added that even though she was sometimes the target of online abuse and harassment, Cooper always showed courage and was “very forthright” in dealing with online vitriol.

“(I) found her as someone who was amazingly adept at understanding the effects of city policy and being able to articulate the needs of poor people in the city and demanding from the city that the needs of poor people be met,” Wilkinson said. “(She was) incredibly smart, hardworking … and an incredibly courageous person.”

Contact Patrick Boldea at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @testeapteteroma.

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