EDITOR\PUBLISHER: A.V. Krebs
ADDRESS: PO. Box 2201, Everett, Washington 98203-0201
A PROFILE IN COURAGE
AND A TESTIMONIAL TO ALL
THAT IS GOOD IN THE HUMAN SPIRIT
Amidst the shedding of tears and the almost overwhelming sense of grief felt since the first news of the tragic death of Paul Wellstone, 58, his wife, daughter, three aides and the two pilots aboard the 11-seat King Air A-100 that crashed in northern Minnesota Friday morning an observation made recently by Michael Moore to NBC's Tim Russert has been haunting this editor.
Russert was asking Moore about his newly released documentary film "Bowling for Columbine" and why in the face of the public's general dislike of guns members of the National Rifle Association were so defiant and attached to leaders and gun advocates like former President Ronald Reagan, actor Charlton Heston, et. al.
Moore said he thought that was because these men were so firmly committed to their beliefs and large segments of the public in this day and age were searching for such dedicated leaders who stood forthright for what they believed in.
Expanding on that point Moore observed that when it came to politics he also felt that generally the American public was liberal in its thinking, but were reluctant to vote that way because they saw and have seen so many so-called liberal politicians as being "wishy washy" when it came to taking a stand based on a conscientious set of principles.
Paul Wellstone stood for what he believed. He left no doubt in people's minds by his demeanor and his votes in the U.S. Senate where he stood on the pressing issues of the day.
As the Washington Post's political correspondent David Broder points out the senator was admired for both his "unusual combination of ideological consistency and personal warmth."
Reading through the many statements of adulation that have issued forth since his death by both liberal and conservative politicians (see below) emphasizing his "unabashed liberalism" one cannot help have the ironic feeling that behind many of those statements there lurks a deep sense of political jealousy that here they saw a politician, unlike themselves, who fervently believed in doing what was right and just and was not in the least bit reluctant to "walk the walk" and vote his conscience.
As the Wall Street Journal columnist Al Hunt notes: "Much of American politics these days is antiseptic and superficial, full of blow-dried candidates who incessantly lift their fingers to test the political winds and respond to the political exigencies of the moment. In the current campaign we see this on prescription drugs, social security, taxes and national security. Paul Wellstone was an antidote to those politics . . . . Principles, to this former college professor and political activist, were a way of life."
Nowhere did Paul Wellstone show that integrity more than in his championing the cause of people he described who "now find themselves in brutal economic circumstances."
Not in recent years has family farm agriculture had a more outspoken advocate in the Congress and as the testimonials below from farm groups clearly show his death is clearly a monumental loss for family farmers and rural America.
For example, in 1997 he sought to focus national attention on the plight of the poor when he made a trip to the poorest parts of the nation, many of them rural, in a tour reminiscent of the one Robert F. Kennedy, one of his political idols, took in 1967. "The Democratic Party has lost some of its soul," he lamented at the time.
Wellstone believed he could be both passionate and effective. "It is not one or the other," he said. "The goal is to do well for people. You do it two ways. You push the envelope and I do. And then you also try and get everything you can get done based upon the political boundaries you have."
"Wellstone was not a committee chair," Congressional Quarterly notes; "he aspired to that role in a third term. But he was a master of the amendment process, and used it time and again to shape legislation carried by others. His recent lawmaking credits include a requirement that health insurance plans treat mental illness as any other disorder, blockage of a bankruptcy reform bill, inclusion of conservation payments to farmers in the 2002 farm bill, and efforts to give welfare recipients a chance to seek higher education."
The plight of the nation's and Minnesota's family farmers has throughout his two terms in the U.S. Senate been one of his ongoing concerns for he saw correctly that there was a direct relationship between failing farms and the growth of corporate agribusiness. Consolidation has made it impossible for small farms to compete, while having fewer food providers is bad for consumers, he argued. It was Wellstone who unsuccessfully sought to impose a moratorium on all corporate mergers affecting agriculture until the consequences on family farms of such mergers could be examined.
He also took a strong position on the nation's efforts to combat illegal drug use, especially against the package of military assistance to Colombia that Congress approved in 2000. He warned against sending weapons and advisers to a country with a poor record on human rights. He said the heavy aid to the military came at the expense of subsidies to coca farmers who might grow other crops. The likely result, he said, was that ruined farmers would join guerrilla or paramilitary groups.
"He was a man of principle and conviction, in a world that has too little of either," Wellstone's campaign manager, Jeff Blodgett, said Friday before scores of weeping supporters who had gathered as the news of his death spread. "He was dedicated to helping the little guy, in a business dominated by the big guys."
Sheila Wellstone, 58, worked without salary in the Wellstone Senate office, focusing on domestic violence. She coordinated an annual exhibition in the Capitol Rotunda devoted to the issue, and many lawmakers looked to her for leadership on it. "She was the best listener I have ever known," said Marsha Avner, who was a spokeswoman for the senator from 1991 to 1996. "People would tell her their stories."
Avner remembered one day in the early 1990's when she was touring Minnesota with the couple after a tornado, and struggled to get Mrs. Wellstone out of a crowd where she had been for about an hour. "It turned out this firefighter who had been pulling people and homes out of the rubble for three days, had never been asked the question, `How are you doing?'" Avner recalled. "Sheila asked, and he cried."
Sheila, and the Wellstone's 33-year old daughter, Marcia, campaign staff members Will McLaughlin, Tom Lapic and Mary McEvoy, and pilots Richard Conry, 65, of the Twin Cities, and Michael Guess, 30, of the Twin Cities. were all aboard the plane when it crashed. The Wellstones, who were married for 39 years, are survived by two grown sons, David and Mark, of St. Paul, and six grandchildren.
How ironic it was that Wellstone, a native of Arlington, Virginia and a graduate of Yorktown High School, was not only traveling to Virginia, Minnesota, a blue-collar town in the northern part of the state, but also to attend the funeral of Martin "Benny" Rukavina, a retired union organizer. State Rep. Tom Rukavina, the man's son, said Wellstone had been a friend of the family for more than 20 years.
Mark Dayton, Wellstone's Minnesota colleague in the Senate reflects "Paul just hated to fly on those small planes. He willed himself to do it because he believed in what he was doing and would never back down from adversity that was thrown at him. For him, it was a test of his mettle and resolve."
Not only was Wellstone's passion for economic and social justice always in evidence but his compassion was likewise frequently seen.
The New York Times David Rosenbaum writes how Wellstone was one of the few senators who made the effort to meet and remember the names of elevator operators, waiters, police officers and other workers in the Capitol. James W. Ziglar, a Republican who was sergeant at arms of the Senate from 1998 to 2001 and who is now commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, remembered "the evening when he came back to the Capitol well past midnight to visit with the cleaning staff and tell them how much he appreciated their efforts."
"Most of the staff had never seen a senator and certainly had never had one make such a meaningful effort to express his or her appreciation," Mr. Ziglar said. "That was the measure of the man."
Wellstone's ability to remember names was uncanny as this editor can testify to personally. I first met Wellstone when he was a professor at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota and we were both attending a rural issues conference at Marshall College in Minnesota in the mid-70's. Thus, I was surprised to say the least, when while attending a Minnesota Farmers Union state convention in 1991, shortly after his election to the U.S. Senate I felt this former University of North Carolina college wrestling champion bear hug me from behind and tell me how glad he was to see me again. In the ensuing years are paths have crossed several times and each time he has been a welcome source of encouragement for me.
Although he was not a student rebel, Wellstone did not fit in from the day in 1969 when he began teaching political science at Carleton College, a small liberal arts campus in rural Northfield, Minnesota
More interested in leading his students in protests than he was in publishing in academic journals, Wellstone often clashed with his colleagues and the Carleton administration. He fought the college's investments in companies doing business in South Africa, battled local banks that foreclosed on farms, picketed with strikers at the Austin, Minnesota Hormel meat-packing plant in the infamous P-9 strike and taught classes off campus rather than cross a picket line when Carleton's custodians were on strike.
Iowa's Tom Harkin, the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, which Wellstone sat on, in an emotional statement Friday spoke of "my best friend in the Senate."
"Bobby Kennedy did not know Paul Wellstone," he said. "But he spoke of him in Cape Town, South Africa, when he said, `Each time a person stands up for an idea, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.'"
Ralph Nader also stressed that the loss of the three Wellstones "deprives our country of courageous and steadfast fighters for a more just society and a peaceful world."
In 1991, shortly after he began serving his first term in the Senate Wellstone grilled President George Bush about the unfolding Persian Gulf war at a reception for new members of Congress. Bush turned to aides and asked: "Who is this (expletive)?"
In the ensuing years both the Bushes and Bill Clinton and Wellstone's colleagues in the Senate have learned all too well WHO he is!!!
When he first arrived in Washington Wellstone demanded votes to all appropriations and pushed consistently for unpopular (at least with many members) legislation involving gift bans and lobbying restrictions. In time, he grew, according to his colleagues, more polished in the use of Senate rules. In 1996, he forced fellow senators into an open vote on the gift ban and lobbying restrictions by threatening to attach the issues to a huge telecommunications bill.
He also led crusades against bills he felt put the average American at a disadvantage such as railing against still-to-be-enacted bankruptcy reforms that enjoy overwhelming support in Congress as benefiting only banks, credit card issuers, automobile finance companies and retailers. He routinely has tacked amendments onto colleagues' bills and threatened to filibuster legislation, such as attempts to open the Arctic Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, that he strongly disliked.
One of his first Senate votes was against the Persian Gulf War. He cast one of the few votes against Bill Clinton's 1996 pseudo welfare reforms. In 1996 with Senator Pete V. Domenici, Republican of New Mexico, he authored a bill requiring insurance companies in some circumstances to give coverage to people with mental illness, but he failed this year in an effort to strengthen the law.
He was also one of three senators in 1999 to support compromise missile defense legislation; was the only one that year to vote against an education bill involving standardized tests, and the only Democrat who opposed his party's version of lowering the estate tax.
Explaining his opposition to the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq in a recent Senate speech in the Senate Wellstone stressed that Saddam Hussein was "a brutal, ruthless dictator who has repressed his own people." But he added: "Despite a desire to support our president, I believe many Americans still have profound questions about the wisdom of relying too heavily on a pre-emptive go-it-alone military approach. Acting now on our own might be a sign of our power. Acting sensibly and in a measured way, in concert with our allies, with bipartisan Congressional support, would be a sign of our strength."
Wellstone was the only Senator running for re-election this year who opposed the Bush authorization legislation.
In his 2001 book, The Conscience of a Liberal (Random House), Wellstone wrote, "I feel as if 80% of my work as a senator has been playing defense, cutting the extremist enthusiasms of the conservative agenda (much of which originates in the House) rather than moving forward on a progressive agenda."
But Wellstone has never regretted his principled stands. "I really tried to never do anything I don't believe in, so I don't want to change it now. I really don't," Wellstone said in a recent interview with CNN. Earlier this year, when he revealed he had been diagnosed with a mild form of multiple sclerosis, Sen. Wellstone dismissed the illness as a little bit of trouble with his right leg, telling reporters: "I have a strong body, I have a strong heart, I have a strong soul."
In one of Wellstone's campaign ads which the Senator helped to write he stresses that he doesn't represent oil companies, drug companies, or "the Enrons of the world. But you know what?" he says, "They already have great representation in Washington. It's the rest of the people that need it."
Among the many words of praise for the Senator these past three days this observation by Washington Post political columnist E.J. Dionne, Jr. is particularly poignant for the Senator from Minnesota that gave us such fundamental lessons in political courage and human compassion in his 12 years of service in the world's most exclusive club.
"I suppose a political columnist isn't supposed to say such a thing, but I
loved the guy. Yes, I admired his unwavering progressivism, but there are plenty
of liberal politicians around. What made Wellstone special was a democratic
spirit that matched his party label --- it doesn't always happen --- and an
unquenchable enthusiasm for the craft of pulling people together. He was
grateful to every single person who had ever done anything for him or with him
on behalf of one of his many causes."
PAUL WELLSTONE ON PAUL WELLSTONE
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Below are some portions of Sen. Paul Wellstone's The Conscience of a Liberal selected by Nation magazine's David Corn that prompted his highlighting when he read the book. As he advises: "Imagine Paul's voice, often cracking and crackling with emotion, as you read these, and you can still experience his passion, his conviction, and his goodheartedness.”]
* * * *
The First National Bank, Paynesville, had called in the demand note on the Kohnen dairy farm. Land values had plummeted, and therefore the farm's debt-to-asset ratio had changed dramatically. The bank said the farm was no longer solvent, and it intended to foreclose. At the first sign of trouble, this huge branch bank wanted out of its farm loans. Farmers then organized an "action" on the bank: They marched into the bank with the Kohnen family and demanded negotiations.
A former student of mine, Joel Chrastil, asked me to come to Paynesville to support this effort. When I left home, Sheila said to me, "Don't get arrested!" I said, "Of course not, don't worry about it. I am working for the governor. I certainly can't get arrested." Famous last words!
Sheila knew me too well. The problem is, I made the mistake of jumping on a table and giving a speech about how we would "stay until there is justice for the Kohnen family." I thought the bank would surely work out a compromise.
But not so. At closing time, one of the farmers, Mike Laidlaw, announced, "Some of us are staying!" They turned to ask what I was going to do. I had no choice. I'd given the speech! I couldn't walk out on the farmers or him. I made the lead story on the 6:00 and 10:00 P.M. news, being handcuffed and led away by the police. Not a good move for a special assistant to the governor and not a great strategy for getting elected to the U.S. Senate.
* * * *
Too many Democrats learned the wrong lessons from the 1993-1994 health care battle. They think the only way to go is in small steps acceptable to vested health care interests. The truth is we need bold proposals that will really help poor people and that an aroused public will fight for.
* * * *
One early morning in August 1994, during the height of the Senate health care debate, I spoke to a gathering of 350 orthopedic surgeons. It was not a fund-raiser but a favor to a childhood friend who was in the field.
I arrived five minutes early, and as I entered the room I heard the group's PAC director tell the doctors, "When you go to see your representative or your senator, you cannot give them a PAC check in their office. That is not legal. So they might want to just tell you where to send it instead." And then he hesitated and said, in an awkward way, "But they will take it." There was an uneasy laughter in the room, because these doctors clearly didn't feel good about their role in the process.
Then I was introduced . . . . I told them that while I would speak about health care policy, I wanted to respond first to what I had heard. I told them that I didn't think representatives or senators should take any health care PAC money before voting on health care legislation. I was certain these remarks would be met with a wall of hostility. Instead, to my surprise, the surgeons literally came to their feet and gave me a long standing ovation. Their reaction made me hopeful: People feel ripped off, and they are angry --- even prosperous orthopedic surgeons!
* * * *
I knew all along that it would be a tough race [in 1996]. I was the only senator up for reelection who voted against the "welfare reform" bill, and this vote alone was supposed to have cost me the election. I was at odds with most of the powerful economic interests in the country, including in Minnesota. My friend Harry Reid, senator from Nevada, told me, "Paul, you are the most difficult senator to raise money for!"
* * * *
Disproportionate among the ranks of nonvoters are "minorities" and blue-collar and low-income citizens. It is the Democrats' natural constituency, if we are willing to speak to the concerns and circumstances of their lives and include them. If you don't say anything important to them and hardly ever show up in the community, people don't vote. Why should they?
Somehow, too many Democrats have failed to make a key distinction. It is true, as the conventional wisdom goes, that if you speak only about the poor, you lose. This is fairly obvious. But to say you should not focus only on the poor doesn't mean you should never deal with issues of poverty.
The same holds for issues of race and gender. The Democratic Party, which is supposed to be the party of the people, has far too often been silent about these issues. To do the right thing and to win, they must be put back on the table.
* * * *
In 1993-1994, I observed one senator closely as he cast several votes he obviously didn't believe in. One time, he came up to me, noticing the disapproval on my face, and said, "Paul, understand, I have to get through this election." This senator had served many distinguished years. I especially admired his ability to manage a bill on the floor. He was thoughtful, articulate, and a great debater. He was a great senator. And yet he was a shell of himself and miserably unhappy that election year. And he lost.
* * * *
Quite often, it's important as a senator to take on vested power. I think this is where the Democratic Party is weakest. On large questions dealing with power in America, on "class issues," most Democrats are nowhere to be found. When it comes to funding for Head Start, affordable child care, more investments in job training, housing, health, and education, the differences between Democrats and Republicans make a difference. But not when it comes to challenging economic power in America. The same powerful investors control both parties. I hate saying this --- it is the most discouraging thing about being a senator --- but it is a reality.
* * * *
Policy is not about techniques of communication. Over and over again I hear my Democratic colleagues talk about how to better deliver our "message." But the question is not how to communicate our agenda, but whether we have an agenda worth communicating. . . One student at a the University of Michigan said to me, "Senator, I want to be able to dream again --- about a better country and a better world. And politics today doesn't give me a chance to dream."
* * * *
There is, of course, no guarantee of success. But politics is not about
observations or predictions. Politics is what we create by what we do, what we
hope for, and what we dare to imagine.
Kathy Ozer, Executive Director
National Family Farm Coalition
MEMORIES OF SENATOR PAUL WELLSTONE
I woke up this Saturday morning before 6 AM --- stunned and saddened by the death of Paul, Sheila and their daughter, Marcia. I woke up hoping this had been a bad dream but know it's not. I fell asleep hearing newscasts of Paul and his positions knowing that he was being eulogized in his death in a way that he wasn't given that level of respect and air time for his views during his life --- during his fights for justice on a whole range of issues --- from health care, war on Iraq, welfare reform, fair trade and fair farm policy.
I was planning on working today --- to continue to catch up from almost a month on the road --- to pursue our challenge to raise funds and move forward on our campaign for a new farm policy. Instead, I am going to the rally against the war in D.C. to add my feet to the numbers opposing the war. Paul had stood up against issues that he knew could jeopardize his political career --- but his views were deeply held and not to be swayed by political pundits.
There are many farmers who have known Paul since the 1980's when he stood with them on the courthouse steps fighting foreclosure. I first met Paul during the 1990 campaign. NFFC and FLAG were hosting a farm credit training in 1989 in St. Paul and he came by to say a few words. We were working to figure out how to ensure that farmers received their rights from the 1987 Agricultural Credit Act --- the legislation that grew out of the class action lawsuit against USDA filed by FLAG and the grassroots pressure mobilized by groups in Minnesota and around the country. He had the same feisty energy, deep convictions, and a sense that it was important to raise the issues we are all fighting on that day in a St. Paul Ramada Inn as he has had during the past twelve years in Congress.
On the weekend before the election in 1990, I attended a last minute fundraiser for Wellstone in Mt. Pleasant. The party was hosted by Minnesotans (it was one of Mondale's brothers) who were very excited about the prospect of Wellstone winning as the polls showed him closing in on Boschwitz. We viewed the creative ads airing in the campaign and met the green bus. Paul spoke via speaker phone and the sense of excitement was very strong. A few days later he won the Senate race.
Paul has been there, often too lonely a voice, in the fight to make sure that farmers earn a fair price. He understood what it would take to change the situation in the countryside and he knew that politically we were locked into a very uphill battle. His decision to be on the Agriculture Committee during this past session meant that he could help play an inside-outside strategy. It was his persistence that led to some key amendments being debated during the 2002 Farm Bill.
Paul spoke to the outrageous situation of taxpayer subsidies being at the core of our farm policy due to low prices for corporate buyers while at the same time there was increasing hunger. He fought for a competition title in the farm bill and his push at the Committee level helped to ensure that country of origin labeling was in the final farm bill. In the closing debate on the farm bill, he eloquently talked about the work that must continue --- whether through the Agriculture Committee or Judiciary Committee. Paul had made a commitment to work with us to have a real alternative to this current farm bill drafted --- one that could be used to help organize farmers in the countryside. His agenda reflected the real needs of people not corporate agribusiness.
I didn't know his daughter, but had met Sheila many times. At fundraisers, in the halls of Congress, and in the neighborhood. Sheila was his constant companion and in her role on Paul's "staff" expanded her leadership role in the fight against domestic violence.
He has a very committed staff --- both in D.C. and in Minnesota --- they worked for Paul because they believed in what he stood for and they worked hard to make a difference in these fights. During the past week, I spoke to each of the Brian's --- Brian Ahlberg and Brian Baenig --- both cautiously optimistic about the race.
We need to mourn Paul and Sheila and the others who perished in the plane but
we need to ensure that the issues Paul cared so deeply about are the ones we
continue to fight and organize around. There is no replacement for Paul --- but
we need to do what we can to make sure that whomever continues to represent
Minnesota in the U.S. Senate supports the causes and issues that Paul and Sheila
devoted their lives to.
Bill Christison, President
National Family Farm Coalition
ON THE TRAGIC DEATH
OF SENATOR PAUL WELLSTONE
The membership and staff of the National Family Farm Coalition are shocked and deeply saddened with the news of the tragedy which has befallen the Wellstone family, their friends and co-workers.
We extend our most sincere sympathy and condolences to the surviving families and to all who mourn this great loss to the nation.
Senator Wellstone was the conscience, heart and soul of the United States Senate. He always spoke his convictions with commitment and dedication that reflected his ability, expertise and wisdom.
Senator Wellstone was a true representative of the people. He spoke for farmers, workers, and the many who have little or no voice. Sheila was his constant companion and in her role on Paul’s "staff" expanded her leadership role in the fight against domestic violence.
Over the years, farmer members of the National Family Farm Coalition have been blessed by his presence and his representation of our needs and goals in the U.S. Senate. The loss of Paul's voice and action at this critical juncture is particularly devastating as we face the issues of terrorism, probable war, and bad economic times fueled by an unjust trade and agricultural policy.
The Senator's position will soon be filled. The Senate will be made whole, but the Senate will be forever changed, in fact in a larger sense, the void created by the absence of Senator Wellstone may never be filled.
We, as a people, must remember and use what Senator Paul Wellstone has taught
us. We must come together and move forward in the fight for social and
John Hansen, President
Nebraska Farmers Union
LOSS OF OUR GOOD FRIEND
PAUL WELLSTONE IS A NATIONAL TRAGEDY
The loss of our good friend Paul Wellstone is a national tragedy, because while Paul was elected to represent Minnesota in the U.S. Senate, he adopted everyone in the world in need of social and economic justice. He loved us, and we loved him. He was our guy in the Senate. We knew that he deeply and passionately cared about us and our well being.
Paul not only fought many good fights on our behalf, he fought them in a good way. In a world of confusion and compromise, Paul was a man of clarity and principle. Always the educator, Paul not only articulated our problems and pain, he put them into historical, political, and moral context. Through the power of his intellect, heart, soul, passion, example, and courage he taught us to do more than beg for mercy, he taught us to stand up for ourselves and demand remedy and justice.
He taught us that self esteem is the building block of political empowerment. He implored us to believe in ourselves, hang on to our dreams, trust our core values, and to never ever quit until we succeeded.
Paul Wellstone taught us to see the big picture and think structurally. He reminded us that in our political system there are two kinds of power: money and people. He reminded us that the way people get power is to get educated on the issues of the day, harness the power of organization, build broad based coalitions with like minded people, educate every single person we can, focus on concrete objectives, and participate in our political system and make it work for us. Long before Paul was our political leader, he was our educator and organizer.
I mourn the loss of my good friend Paul Wellstone, Sheila, his best friend
and wife, their daughter Marcia, the other victims and their families. But I
also cry tears of loss for our nation. We have lost one of our very best. People
of Paul Wellstone's stature cannot be replaced. But, we can begin to fill the
holes in our hearts and our souls with our own commiments to pick up the sword
of our fallen leader and carry on his mission to make
the world a better place. Thank you Paul and Sheila for your lifetime of good work. We are a better world for your efforts.
PAUL WELLSTONE, 1944-2002
For grassroots economic and social justice activists, there was never any doubt about the identity of their representative in Washington. No matter what state they lived in, the senator they counted on was the same man: Paul Wellstone.
But for the family-farm activists with whom Wellstone marched and rallied across the 1980s and 1990s and into the twenty-first century, the Minnesota Democrat was more than a representative. He was their champion. And the news of his death Friday in a Minnesota plane crash struck with all the force of a death in the family.
I know, because I had to deliver that news. Family farm activists from across the upper Midwest had gathered Friday morning for the annual rural life conference of the Churches' Center for Land and People, in Sinsinawa, Wisconsin. I had just finished delivering the keynote speech --- ironically, about the need for activists to go into politics --- when a colleague called with the "you'd better be sitting down." news. Sister Miriam Brown, O.P., the organizer of the conference and one of the most tireless crusaders for economic justice in rural America, and I talked for a few minutes about how to tell the crowd.
We knew the 150 people in the room well enough to understand that this news would change the tenor of the day. But we did not know just how much until I announced from the podium that Wellstone, his wife of thirty-nine years, Sheila, their daughter Marcia, and several campaign aides had been killed two hours earlier.
Cries of "No!" and "My God! My God!" filled the room, as grown men felt for tables to keep their balance, husbands and wives hugged one another and everyone began an unsuccessful struggle to choke back tears. The group gathered in a large circle. People wept in silence until, finally, a woman began to recite the Lord's Prayer for the son of Russian Jewish immigrants who had touched the lives and the hearts of solid Midwestern Catholic and Lutheran farmers who do not think of themselves as having many friends in Congress.
"He was our flagbearer," said Cathy Statz, education director for the Wisconsin Farmers Union. "There are plenty of people in Congress who vote right, but Paul did everything right. We didn't have to ask him, we didn't have to lobby him, he understood. It was like having one of us in Congress."
That was how Wellstone wanted it. "People have to believe you are on their side, that someone in the Senate is listening," the senator once told me. "If there is someone in Congress, maybe just one person, it gives them a sense that change is possible."
Wellstone's deep connection with progressive activists across the country was something that his colleagues noted again and again as they recalled the rare senator who was, himself, as much an activist as a politician. "He was the pied piper of modern politics --- so many people heard him and wanted to follow him in his fight," recalled Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, who is considering a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, just as Wellstone considered a similar run in 2000.
Mourning in St. Paul, where he had come to campaign for Wellstone's re-election, Senator Edward Kennedy hailed his fellow liberal. "Today, the nation lost its most passionate advocate for fairness and justice for all," Kennedy said of Wellstone, who was the No. 1 political target of the Bush Administration this year but had secured a lead in the polls after voting against authorizing the President to attack Iraq. "He had an intense passion and enormous ability to reach out, touch and improve the lives of the people he served so brilliantly."
For Wisconsin's Russ Feingold, the loss was doubly difficult. Wellstone and he were the truest mavericks in the current Senate, lonely dissenters not just from George W. Bush's conservative Republicanism but from the centrist compromises of their own Democratic Party. Yet, Wellstone was something more: an inspiration. Recalling that the Minnesotan won his seat in 1990 with a grassroots campaign that relied more on humor than money, Feingold, who was elected with a similar campaign two years later, said, "He showed me that it was possible for someone with very little money to get elected to the Senate."
Before his election to the Senate, Wellstone was a professor at Carlton College, in Northfield, Minnesota. Officially, he taught political science. Unofficially, he was referred to as "the professor of political activism." He created a course titled "Social Movements and Grassroots Organizing," and he taught by example. In the 1980s, Wellstone organized Minnesota campaign events for the Rev. Jesse Jackson's presidential campaigns, marched with striking Hormel workers in Austin, Minnesota, and was arrested while protesting at a bank that was foreclosing on farms.
That was when Denise O'Brien, an Atlantic, Iowa, farm activist, first heard of Wellstone. "I remember hearing about this professor in Minnesota who cared so much about what was happening to farmers that he was willing to get arrested with us," O'Brien said Friday. "That had a big impact on me. I always remembered that he had stood with us." O'Brien, who went on to become president of the National Family Farm Coalition, recalled how amazed she was when Wellstone was elected to the Senate.
"But, you know what, he never changed. He was always that guy I first heard about, the one who was willing to stand up for the farmers," she remembered. "When the black farmers from down South were marching to protest their treatment by the Department of Agriculture, he would march with them. When no one was paying attention to this current farm crisis, he organized the Rally for Rural America."
At that March 2000, rally, Wellstone delivered one of his trademark speeches, a fiery outburst of anger at agribusiness conglomerates mixed with faith that organizing and political activism could yet save family farmers. "When Wellstone got going, he was so passionate. He was like the old populists, the way he would tear into the corporations," recalled John Kinsman, the president of the Family Farm Defenders.
At the children's camp run by the National Farmers Union, Cathy Statz says, "We use the video of his speech to the Rally for Rural America to teach the boys and girls that there are people in politics you can really look up to, that there are people who speak for us."
Then Statz stopped herself. Tears formed in her eyes. "I can't believe he's dead," she said. "I can't imagine the Senate without him."
The emotions ran deep after the announcement of the senator's death. But the people gathered at Sinsinawa were activists in the Wellstone tradition. So after they had wiped away their tears, they gathered to hear a panel of farm activists discuss running for local office. Greg David, of rural Jefferson County, Wisconsin, got up to tell the story of how, after two losses, he was finally elected to the county board of supervisors.
His voice catching as he spoke, David concluded, "I think if Senator
Wellstone was here today, if he could speak to us, he would say: Don't be
afraid. Go out and run for public office. Put yourself in the contest. Running
for office, serving in office, that's a part of building our movement. Maybe we
didn't know before that it could be a form of activism, but we know that now.
Senator Wellstone showed us that."
Helen Waller, Montana Farmer
Natioanl Farm Action Campaign
PAUL WELLSTONE: A MAN
OF AND FOR THE PEOPLE
Senator Paul Wellstone was a man of and for the people. He was a bundle of contagious energy, driven by an uncompromising determination to do what was right and just for the common folks. In his work as a Senator, he voted his conscience and drew deeply from the values of a caring and gentle man.
Scores of the late Senator's colleagues from both sides of the aisle have risen to praise him as a man of principle --- and that he was. One described Paul as the "Soul of the Senate" He fashioned his political actions around his well defined populist principles --- never sacrificing principle to do the politically expedient!
Those in Congress who will miss his presence, will bring honor to his memory
by cultivating for themselves the very attributes that they found so worthy of
praise. Then, once again we Americans would be able to boast of a
government "of the people, by the people and for the people."
Dan McGuire, Policy Chairman
American Corn Growers Association
AS A DEMOCRAT PAUL WELLSTONE
DISPLAYED THE TRUE SOUL OF THE PARTY
As a Statesman, Senator Paul Wellstone was an honorable giant among
leaders. As a politician, Paul was a man of character, displaying honesty
and integrity when those traits seem in short supply. As a Democrat, Paul
proudly displayed the true soul of the party as a reminder to the world. As a
warrior for the people of Minnesota, for farmers and for all Americans Paul
stood toe-to-toe against corporate giants, willing to make the federal
government assume its proper role, as a referee to regulate the marketplace and reign in corporate power. As a good friend, Paul will be deeply missed. America and the World have lost one of the greatest leaders and heros of our time.
Missouri Rural Crisis Center
PAUL WELLSTONE UNIQUE AMONG SENATORS,
UNDERSTOOD AND LENT SUPPORT
TO GRASSROOTS ORGANIZING
Family farmers in Minnesota and throughout the nation today lost a champion of economic justice in rural America when Senator Paul Wellstone was killed in a tragic airplane crash. Paul's wife Sheila died with him and six others in the crash.
Paul Wellstone gladly waded into the fight for justice because he knew it was right. Unlike nearly any other member of Congress, Wellstone understood and lent support to grassroots organizing, the only way that ordinary Americans have to impact the major decisions that affect their lives. Paul found the issues he championed the old-fashioned way --- democratically. He listened to the people.
Wellstone's leadership was of both the heart and the mind, and no voice was more effective, more genuine, and more enduring. Paul Wellstone stood with us on courthouse steps and Capitol steps in the 1980's, fighting against the foreclosures of family farms by the Farm Credit System, major insurance companies, and the banks --- and fighting for fair prices and fair treatment for family farms.
He stood with us in the past year, introducing the ban on corporate meatpacker ownership of livestock in the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee, and fighting hard and winning its passage on the Senate floor over the intense lobbying of corporate agribusiness and proponents of factory farms. He stood firm for the environment as well, becoming a champion of the Conservation Security Program in the 2002 Farm Bill and working to stop huge subsidies for factory farms.
Paul Wellstone was never afraid to speak truth to power. Most importantly, he was never afraid to help ordinary people build real political and economic power against the entrenched moneyed power of corporate America. Wellstone even shared this with family farmers and working people --- he did his work despite constant physical pain and long, long hours.
Paul Wellstone is gone, tragically and too soon. What remains is the commitment to the cause --- economic justice, environmental stewardship, long-term social change for the good of our communities and our nation. We will continue the good work in the spirit of Paul Wellstone. From the bottom of our hearts we thank him and thank Sheila Wellstone for their years of leadership and service.
We call on public officials in Minnesota to respond to this tragedy by
assuring that Paul's work is carried forward by whomever replaces him on the
ballot or by appointment.
MOURNING PAUL WELLSTONE,
CONSCIENCE OF AN INCREASINGLY
UNCONSCIONABLE U.S. SENATE
Today, the dream of America mourns.
Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash, together with his wife Sheila, and his daughter Marcia. We feel the stab of this loss, because Paul was always one of us; walking beside us in protests, leading us through his words and campaigns, teaching us of the world, and how it might be different.
Although Paul had been a senator for only twelve years, he was an inspiration all his life. His work as a teacher, at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, inflamed generations of students and teachers to fight for justice in America. When he ran for office in 1990, he was the only senator to unseat an incumbent. He did this not through vast campaign contributions, but through the seemingly forgotten art of grassroots organizing and mobilizing. By talking to us, by listening to us, by acting for us. Not for him the choleric negative television campaigns or the big ticket endorsement. Instead, he ran his campaign from the back of a schoolbus; "If you want to vote for me, give a dollar."
When in the Senate, he fought for the marginalized in U.S. society, for pensioner's rights, for healthcare for the poor, for the prosecution of trafficking in women, for a farm bill to protect small farmers from the predations of agribusiness, for schools in Minnesota, for the protection of the Arctic from Big Oil. He was the conscience of an increasingly unconscionable senate. When the conscience of the Senate resides in only one man, something is wrong with our society. Paul knew this --- "America has disappeared," he once said. And Paul spent his life trying to get it back. He lived the very best of lives, fighting the bravest of fights, putting into action Langston Hughes' words:
"Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!"
Our world won't be the same without him. In memoriam, Paul, our grief is a
cry for justice. Sometimes, the weight of the day is too much for prose to bear.
Senator Paul Wellstone stood up for the little guy, but he never had small
thoughts. He was tireless and unapologetic for championing the rights of working
men and women --- even when he stood alone, and he often did.
Rabbi Michael Lerner
The Tikkun Community
TRIBUTE TO PAUL WELLSTONE
"HE WAS A MENSCH AMONG
A SENATE FILLED WITH MICE"
Our hearts are breaking from the loss of Paul Wellstone.
The death of U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone in a plane crash is a tragedy and a deep personal loss for us at Tikkun. Paul was a beautiful human being and a principled Jewish progressive.
He was a frequent contributor to Tikkun Magazine and a person who stood with us in our commitment to Middle East peace. In 1991 Senator Wellstone was the keynote speaker at the Tikkun Conference in Jerusalem in support of the Israeli peace movement.
In our frequent conversations with him, Paul consistently articulated a vision of hope that affirmed the best in Judaism and the best in the secular humanist traditions. He stood with Tikkun and with the progressive voices in American politics in public, when many others would only whisper to us privately that they agreed with us but dared not say so publicly.
He was a mensch among a Senate filled with mice.
Paul Wellstone was one of most principled and decent people to ever enter American politics. He was one of the very few elected officlals who remained true to his principles and who was not corrupted by the need to appeal to the rich and the powerful.
And he retained a fundamental humanity and modesty that few have been able to sustain in public life.
Paul was proud of his Jewish identity, but unlike the many who cowtowed to the Jewish establishment, Paul spoke out as a progressive and a critic of Israeli policy. He was a quintessential Tikkun Jew.
May his memory be a blessing, zichrono livracha.
May his life be an inspiration for all of us.
May his soul be bound in the bond of eternal life.
Kay Redfield Jamison, Professor of Psychiatry
John Hopkins School of Medicine
A PASSIONATE AND PRINCIPLED MAN
I had the privilege to work closely with Sen. Paul Wellstone (Dem.-Minnesota) and the great pleasure to call him my friend. His death is a terrible loss to Minnesota, to our country and to anyone who knew him.
It would be impossible to say how much Mr. Wellstone did to bring fairness to an unfair health system and to try to obtain parity for those who suffer from mental illness. He was a passionate and principled man, exuberant beyond reckoning and deeply caring. He filled any room he was in with his infectious energy, and he elevated ideas and beliefs to a level too seldom seen.
He will be deeply missed, not only by those who knew him, but also by the
tens of millions who did not but were the beneficiaries of his intelligence and
Bill Holm, Poet and Essayist
New York Times Op-Ed
A LIBERAL WITH A WRESTLER'S STANCE
Paul Wellstone was an unlikely politician in a place like Minnesota --- land of walleyes, cornfields and phlegmatic Scandinavians. He was an urban Jew, son of immigrants, a college professor at the fanciest of Minnesota's private colleges. And, probably worst of all for his non-talkative constituents, he was a passionate orator, a skilled rouser of rabble over issues he loved and an unapologetic populist liberal.
How did this man, who was killed [Friday] in a plane crash in northern Minnesota, ever manage a triumphantly successful political career in which even many Republicans and conservative Christians quietly scribbled the Wellstone X on their ballots, hoping their neighbors wouldn't catch them behaving like lefties?
When I gave readings of poetry and essays, I often shared a podium with Senator Wellstone at various rural conventions and political gatherings. It was a remarkable experience, and I learned very well to precede rather than follow him. He worked a house as well as Hubert Humphrey ever did.
I remember a Farmers Union convention in St. Paul: Paul Wellstone, a pugnacious 5-foot-5, stood at the dais between the Farmers Union chairman and me, both 6-foot-5 Scandinavians.
"It's nice to join my Norwegian cousins here in St. Paul," he said. He then proceeded in 20 minutes to bring the audience cheering to its feet. If this had been a monarchy, the farmers would have crowned him. I was next, with a few small and sensitive rural poems. I had a sinking feeling that a master had bested me.
Whatever Paul's height, he was one of the largest men I ever met. He filled rooms when he entered them. Size in a public man is an interior, not an exterior quality. Paul charmed --- and sometimes persuaded --- even those hostile to his unashamed liberal ideas by listening with great courtesy and attention to unfriendly questions. He answered without dissembling, without backing down from his own principles, but with a civil regard for the dignity of the questioner.
And he had the politician's great gift: an amazing memory for names. I saw him once pluck a vote with this gift. He answered questions for 45 minutes in a room full of ordinary citizens whom he'd never seen before. He began his last answer this way: "Your question reminds me of Mary's concern." Mary, in the back row, was 45 minutes ago. Mary, likely a rock-ribbed Republican, blushed a little and smiled. One more vote.
Even those who continued to disagree with Paul did not question the sincerity of his idealism. He was sometimes attacked for naïveté (as in his brave vote against authorizing the president to go to war with Iraq), but never for dishonesty. He voted, as he spoke, from the heart.
It's often forgotten that Paul, nearing 60 with a bad back and a respectable batch of grandchildren whom he treasured, began his rise in the world with a college wrestling scholarship. His working-class parents had no money for school, so wrestling earned him a doctorate.
He preserved a wrestler's sensibility in both his academic and political life. In 1998 I met Paul at a reception at the Governor's Mansion just before Jesse Ventura, a professional wrestler by trade, first occupied that house. How curious, I told Paul, that the two most interesting politicians in Minnesota at the moment should both be wrestlers. He replied with a wry smile: "But I'm a real one."
He thought himself an athlete, not an entertainer, and I suspect he saw his whole political life in that metaphor. He wrestled with the power of big money, military adventurism and penny-pinching against the poor. He meant to fight fair, but he meant to win.
Not only Minnesota, but the whole country will feel the absence of his voice and his bravely combative spirit. We say with Walt Whitman: Salud, Camerado. We look for you again under our boot-soles.
Bill Holm, a poet and essayist, teaches at Southwest State University. His
most recent book is Eccentric Islands: Travels Real and Imaginary.
Peggy Noonan, Contributing Editor
Wall Street Journal
PAUL WELLSTONE: AN APPRECIATION
A GOOD GUY DIES AN UNTIMELY DEATH
Liberals don't appreciate conservatives enough. Conservatives don't appreciate liberals enough either. Here's an appreciation of Paul Wellstone, who died a few hours ago in the middle of a great battle in the heart of the great democracy.
I met him only once, in Washington, in 1996. I wish I'd taken notes and could refer to them now. We met in the halls of the Senate, introduced by a mutual acquaintance, and what I remember is Wellstone was funny and modest and shy, and I thought: Good guy. It was an instinctive response, an instinctive read, and I trusted it.
A few minutes ago on CNN, Candy Crowley, a reporter one of whose gifts is an obvious sense of humanity toward those she covers, said that Wellstone was "a pure liberal" --- meaning he wasn't kidding; his liberalism wasn't a jacket he put on in the morning to fool the rubes and powers --- he meant it.
He seemed to be a politician who was not a cynic, who was not poll driven, who was not in it just for the enjoyments of power. He operated from belief. And as beliefs do, his sometimes cost him. It's possible, perhaps likely, that his belief that an American invasion of Iraq was wrong was costing him in Minnesota, his state, which he was furiously stumping, hop-scotching over the snow banks in a chartered plane, in an effort to hold on to his Senate seat.
It's good to have men and women of belief in Congress. It's tragic to lose one. It's amazing to live in a time when these Allen Drury-type Advise and Consent plot twists yank the drama of the coming election off its predictable tracks. And it seems to me more and more in our country that we're getting these dramatic and unpredictable and novelistic plot changes, whatever that means and for whatever it's worth.
But here's what I really want to say. Democracy requires warriors. It requires leaders. It requires people who will go out there and fight for their vision of a better country in a better world. It requires men and women who will go into politics, and who will, in going into politics, in a way lose their lives. Or lose the relaxed enjoyment of daily life.
Politicians live lives of constant movement and effort, lives in which days are broken up into pieces that don't always cohere --- up at five, first breakfast at 6:30, run all day, on the plane, on the bus, into the van, to the fund-raiser, to the speech, to the dinner for the union supporter, to the late-night meeting with reporters; and don't forget to sound confident, to have the facts, to seem engaged. The exhaustion of constant extroverting; the fatigue of the modern politician. The only good reason to live like that is the desire to pull forward and push into being your vision of How Things Ought to Be. Those who do it for other reasons --- well, as George Orwell said, they wind up with the faces they deserve.
It takes commitment and hunger to live a political life. But when the person living it brings other qualities --- a sincerity, a seriousness of purpose, a respect for the meaning of things--and when it is accompanied by a personal style of natural modesty twinned with political confidence, well, it's a moving thing to see. It's inspiring. It reminds you that there are good people in politics. And modern democracies need all the reminders they can get.
When conservatives disagree with liberals, and they're certain the liberal they're disagreeing with is merely cynical, merely playing the numbers, merely playing politics, it's a souring experience. When liberals disagree with conservatives and they're sure the conservative they're disagreeing with is motivated by meanness or malice, it's an embittering experience.
But when you disagree with someone on politics and you know the person you're disagreeing with isn't cynical or mean but well meaning and ardent and serious --- well, that isn't souring or embittering. That's democracy, the best of democracy, what democracy ought to be about.
Paul Wellstone was a good guy. His friend Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, spoke at some length this afternoon about his "caring and belief." When tough old Pat Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, spoke of Wellstone this afternoon on CNN, he began to weep. And when Pete Domenici, tough old Republican of New Mexico, followed Mr. Leahy on CNN, he too began to weep, and had to beg off the interview.
Senators ain't sissies. They can be one cold crew. But Wellstone touched them in a way that was special, and that I think had something to do with democracy, and those who grace it.
It's sad to lose a good man. Good for America for raising him; good for Minnesota for raising him to the Senate; good for Wellstone for being motivated by belief and the desire to make our country better.
Peggy Noonan is a contributing editor of The Wall Street Journal.
Her most recent book was When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald
Reagan, (Viking Penguin).
A STATEMENT FROM PAUL WELLSTONE'S STAFF
October 26, 2002: Yesterday morning Senator Paul Wellstone, Sheila Wellstone, and Marcia Wellstone, along with Will McLaughlin, Tom Lapic, and Mary McEvoy of our campaign staff were traveling on a plane flown by Captains Richard Conroy and Michael Guess in northern Minnesota. The Department of Transportation confirmed that the identification number on the tail of the plane that went down southeast of Eveleth, Minnesota matched the serial number of Senator Wellstone's plane. There were no survivors.
We are shocked and saddened by this horrible news. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of those who were on the plane.
This is an unspeakable loss of a leader and mentor we loved, and of friends and colleagues who were dear to us. The overwhelming number of messages we have received since the crash is a tribute to the kind of person Paul was: a passionate visionary who never gave up hope that we could make the world a better place for everyone; a committed fighter for social justice who gave a voice to the voiceless; a man with a huge heart who lit up a room --- and the hearts of others when he walked in.
He was a man who valued others for who they were not where they came from, or what they wore, or their position or social status. We who had the privilege of working with him are confident that he will be remembered as he lived every day --- as a champion for people.
We will miss Paul and Sheila and our friends and colleagues dearly. And we will remember them, fittingly, by picking up their banner and holding it high, in our work and in our lives.
for Senator Paul and Sheila Wellstone,
Marcia Wellstone Markuson,
Tom Lapic, Mary McEvoy,
and Will McLaughlin
A memorial service has been scheduled for Tuesday evening at 6:30 p.m. at Williams Arena at the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis Campus) 1925 University Avenue SE Minneapolis. The service will be a celebration of the lives of Senator Paul and Sheila Wellstone, Marcia Wellstone Markuson, Tom Lapic, Mary McEvoy, and Will McLaughlin.
NOTE: Some have enquired about memorials. In lieu of flowers or other memorials, the Wellstone family asks that any memorial contributions be made to the Wellstone Foundation, which is being established to further their family's social justice legacy.