To Paul and Sheila Wellstone: You've passed the torch for Peace and Justice
to us. RIP October 25, 2002.
"Politics isn't about big money or power games; it's about the improvement
of people's lives."
- Paul Wellstone
First photo I took of Paul Wellstone, from 1980s at a meeting in St. Paul
My first recollection of Paul Wellstone was in the Armory in Virginia MN in the spring of 1986 (or, maybe, 1988), less than 10 miles from where he died in a plane crash near Eveleth in 2002.
It was the area Democratic (DFL) Convention, and Mr. Wellstone was, as always, running...and passionate. I remember him literally running up to the stage in the Armory, and giving us a sample of his already impressive and impassioned rhetorical skill.
He had lost his first bid for public office in 1982 - for State Auditor - and per vintage Paul Wellstone, he did not quit. 1990 was the year he was first elected to the U.S. Senate.
I worked hardest for him in the 1996 campaign serving as a Congressional District coordinator for teachers. I found that the practice of politics is very hard work, and I appreciate the huge efforts made by candidates and their staffs and volunteers.
The last time I saw Paul and Sheila was in a parade in Burnsville in September, 2002. I had volunteered to walk with the delegation and the green bus that day. By 2002, Paul was no longer able to run, and had some difficulty walking, but his enthusiasm was omnipresent.
I recall, that day, some guy in a pickup driving not far from the little green bus, spying Paul, and yelling insults at Paul as he sped away. It made no visible impression on either Paul or Sheila: just part of being in the public eye.
There was little question that Senator Wellstone would have returned to the U.S. Senate after October 25, 2002, had he been allowed to finish the race.
He was as close to a Senator of the People as we have seen, which made him a hero to many, and a dangerous man to some. He told me once that a letter I had sent him about access to health care was one he carried around with him. He was not the stereotype his opposition tried to tack on him: radical left wing. He seemed to have genuine friendships with some people in Washington which his core supporters might find distasteful. I well remember the tension in early October, 2002, when he was trying to decide how to vote on the war resolution which still has us in Iraq and other places. Ultimately he voted against the resolution, but it took a while. By the time he died he was a genuine champion for military veterans, and they were with him at parades and other events.
Politics is a tough business, and he was a tough politician. Two years ago I sent a Christmas message with Hubert Humphrey's thoughts about Compassion and Politics (it's still at peace_xmas.html). I wonder how Paul would have commented on that.
We were at the Memorial Service remembering the Wellstones, and others, lives on October 29, 2002 - every minute of it - and it was deeply disappointing to see how the events of that powerful evening were almost instantly manipulated and mischaracterized under the guise of journalism and very, very partisan politics. For some, there is no shame.
While his race and their lives were cut short, Paul and Sheila Wellstone live on in many ways. We will always remember them, and the others, who died that October morning in northern Minnesota.
Much more information on the Wellstone's at www.wellstoneaction.org - click 'about the Wellstone's' at the top of the page.
October 25, 2006
September 21, 1996. St. Paul, MN
Paul Wellstone at the Minnesota State Fair August 29,
October 25, 2002
In years to come there will be those who will want to know, what
were you doing when Paul Wellstone died?
I will say quite simply, I was dancing.
If the conversation goes beyond that I will add, Dancing in the
Federal Correctional Institution at Sandstone, MN.
Yes, we arrived at the prison at 8 a.m. for processing. By 9, we
had been locked inside. We did not leave until 3 p.m. After we left,we went
immediately to find real food. Then we drove the long miles home. At last
we heard Esther in the telephone message recorder, "Tell Mom that Wellstone
Shock! Hands rise instinctively to cover the vulnerable throat.
"No, no", you hear yourself say. But the TV news confirms the tragedy. How
awful! But I believe his spirit lives on and is multiplied among us.
I had wondered as I sat at the prison why there seemed to be so much
sadness. I've been locked up many times before. This was a celebration of
the survival of our nation and our culture. We danced together and we
laughed. I told a funny story to 100 inmates and other guests. Still
whenever I sat down the drum told me sad things and pulled at my heart.
At that time I did not know that a warrior had been taken.
When I'd left for the long trip to the prison I saw two golden
eagles. Quite unusual but very encouraging. I pulled over and prayed.
After our visit at the prison we saw another golden eagle. Wow! I thought
as I pinned my prayers to the eagle feathers, I've seen 3 golden eagles in 2
days. Rare indeed.
At the prison one of the men told a short story of a time when the
birds were trying to decide who would be most powerful. They flew up high
and each dropped a single feather. Then they came down to see what had
happened to their feathers. Except for the feather of the golden eagle,
they found all the feathers lying helpless on the ground. Only the feather
of the golden eagle had impaled the earth and was standing upright.
I'm glad I heard that story on that day. Like the feather, Paul
Wellstone stood upright in his integrity. He spoke for all the people and
served them to the best of his ability.
Yours in the struggle for peace, justice and human dignity.
September 8, 2002. Burnsville, MN
I was at our cabin, out of range of communication in northern
Minnesota, when Wellstone's plane went down on Friday, October 25. We came
out at 4:30 so I could pick up the Crisis Line phone at the Headwaters
Intervention Center, our community program for battered women. Awaiting me,
beside the phone, was the dreadful news that soul-mates in the struggle
against domestic violence, Paul and Sheila Wellstone, were dead. The grief
I felt was so total all I could do was sit and sob.
The day before, October 24, I waited to go up to the cabin so that I
could welcome Sheila Wellstone to Park Rapids as she campaigned for Paul.
Mary McEvoy was also with her. "The Little Guy" would have come too, but
they were campaigning separately to cover more ground. He cared about us in
Park Rapids, even though our county has never voted to elect him! On his
first campaign in 1990 he came to our county convention. Our son, T.J., a
brand new driver then, picked him up at our little airport. He really liked
Paul! He was no taller than T.J.! The 1996 and 1998 campaigns brought him
back stumping for other DFL'ers [Democrats]. He knew we counted just as much
as the big guys.
At our meeting October 24, Sheila speculated that Paul's win in this
campaign could be as close as 20,000 votes. They were keeping on keeping on
in spite of the recent $1,000,000 stealth advertising campaign against Paul
by "Americans for Job Security". Sheila commented "Minnesotans have never
seen this before and this group isn't telling us who they are."
In answers to my questions about the misleading advertising
campaign, she simply stated, "[Paul] is opposed to any privatization of
Social Security. He [also] wants prescription drugs to be part of
Medicare." I then thanked her and Paul for their continuing support for
victims of domestic violence, even though we've not heard about that much in
this campaign. "The focus has not always been what we wanted it to be. Many
of these issues have been completely overtaken by the discussion on Iraq",
Sheila spent a half-hour with us, precious time I will never forget.
I am still grieving their untimely deaths, but I am re-committing myself to
the progressive agenda that they worked so hard to realize on behalf of "the
July 4, 2002. Eagan, MN
The people of this country, not special interest big money, should be the
source of all political power. Government must remain the domain of the
general citizenry, not a narrow elite. This means that the values and
preferences of all citizens, not just those who can get our attention by
waving large campaign contributions in front of us, must be considered in
the political debate. One person, one vote - no more and no less - the most
fundamental of democratic principles.
Senator Paul Wellstone, 2001
The green bus at the Wellstone Memorial October 29, 2002. The
tributes were almost exclusively from groups representing the least
fortunate among us. On the back of a bus was a cardboard placard which
said, simply, "Thanks Paul for your work in Colombia when no other leader
had the courage."
It was a year ago October 25, 2002, a Friday, at about 12:30 p.m., when I was walking in a corridor of the Thunderbird Motel in Bloomington, MN and happened to notice a cluster of people standing under a TV. I looked up, and the text across the base of CNN said it all: "Wellstones are dead."
I was scheduled to do a workshop at 1:00, and I muddled through it. But the whole scene reminded me of November 22, 1963, where I was preparing for a chemistry class in the lab in Hallock MN, when the announcement came that President John Kennedy had been shot and killed.
I wasn't part of the "in" crowd for the Wellstones - marched in a few parades with them in the summer of 2002 - the last was September 8, in Burnsville. But I was definitely a strong supporter of Paul, from the first time I had heard him speak sometime in the mid-1980s.
The last visit to Paul Wellstone's St. Paul office was sometime in early October, 2002, when I went over to join an informational picket line in the afternoon...he was unsure of how he would vote on the Iraq War authorization. When I arrived there, sometime after three as I recall, there were no pickets around - it was business as usual. It was only later that I learned that he had a short while earlier decided to not support the War plans. I left the office, went to my favorite restaurant in Roseville, and wrote a note and sent an old photo I had of Paul, circa 1987, to Paul through his aide, Josh, who I had worked with in the 1996 campaign.
(Paul Wellstone was a politically complicated man...many of his early friends and supporters thought he deserted them in later years in the Senate. Paradoxically, that pragmatism is what would have almost without question won him a third term in the U.S. Senate had he lived to the election. It is impossible to forget the dramatic - and politically dangerous - act of his, right after beginning his U.S. Senate career in 1991, when he spoke on the floor against the Iraq War. 0ne of the last times I walked in a parade for him, July 4, 2002, his honored guest on the platform of the Green Bus was a past president of, if I recall correctly, the National Veterans of Foreign Wars. He had become a true friend of veterans.)
October 25, 2002, in the evening, I joined an emotion-laden group grieving the deaths at the State Capitol.
The next day, a long-planned Peace March turned into a march not only for Peace, but in memory of those killed in the plane crash.
October 29, 2002, Cathy and I and 20,000 others went to the now famous Memorial Service at Williams Arena. We were there from 2:30 till after 10 p.m. The eight hours we witnessed were much different than the diabolical media and partisan spin subsequently given to the event, which centered on a few short minutes of impassioned grieving by Paul's closest friend, Rick Kahn. I will always have vivid memories of that evening. Even in the midst of the War on Terror, Yellow Alerts, Homeland Security, security was extraordinarily non-intrusive even though much of the political glitterati of the U.S. was in that large place, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, etc., etc., etc. It reminded me of the "old days," before national paranoia was mandated by law and publicity. Seated finally in our balcony seat, I turned around, and much to my surprise, directly behind us was Jody, who built and has updated this website ever since. I tried with little success to take photos in that massive place. The closest I came to one that is identifiable is above. The group is a large contingent of ministers of all faiths who walked to the platform together, and jointly gave the invocation.
The Wellstones live on as a shining memory for me. They, and those who fell with them, rest in honored peace.
Thank you card from Paul Wellstone, November 1996
- Dick Bernard