“The future will not belong to those who sit on the sidelines. The future will not belong to the cynics. The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” -Paul Wellstone
Preface: I volunteered on Senator Paul Wellstone’s last Senate campaign. On the most recent anniversary of the plane crash that killed him, his wife and daughter, three staff members, and two pilots, I started writing up my thoughts and memories, but the sort-of-writers’-block I’ve been experiencing meant it languished in my drafts folder with so many of its kin. This week, I dragged it out as self-care, and as a place for me to place links on how to resist the regime that is now in place in the United States of America.
October 25, 2002
I left work early because there was nothing happening. I had a few errands to run, and then I thought I would stop by Headquarters and see if there was anything to do. Input data, stuff envelopes, box up a computer or two. I would be useful there. I was driving up Snelling Avenue to return some videos (back when we still did that sort of thing, kids). Snelling Avenue North near the state fair in Falcon Heights, Minnesota is Vegas for campaign signs because of its high traffic. I watched them flash past as I drove through the cold rain thinking, for certain, for the first time “We’re gonna win. We are going to win.” The numbers were looking good. Paul’s vote against the Resolution to Use Force in Iraq, timed to hurt those running for office, had defied the pervasive political sensibilities and given him the lead. People trusted him and understood him, whether they agreed with him or not, and that respect led to a jump in the polls.
“We are going to win.”
P.J. O’ Rourke was speaking on the National Press Club being broadcast on NPR, and his words about “pork” in recent federal government bills were ringing in my ears as I dropped off rented videos at Blockbuster and browsed for a few minutes. When I got back into the car, Gary Eichten, our Midday host on public radio, was speaking. “…no confirmed reports, but it appears that a small plane that was registered to the Wellstone campaign has crashed in northern Minnesota near Eveleth… it is not known at this time whether Senator Wellstone was aboard….”
No no no no no… please say no.
I headed down Larpenteur back to Snelling and back down the road. No. What are we supposed to do now? What am I supposed to do now? My cell phone rang, and it was my mother. She was crying; she was wondering what I was doing. Crying and driving and listening to the radio. She asked what I was going to do, and I said that I had been intending to go to Headquarters, but now I did not know what to do. She said I should go. So I did.
I drove past a small crowd of reporters gathered around the doors to the building, parked, and walked over. The press manager was talking to the reporters,; he went to stop me, took one look, and waved me in.
Inside Wellstone Campaign Headquarters was a feeling that had never been there. It was quiet; it was somber. People whispered and moved about as if in a trance. Some were crying, and no one really seemed to know what was going on. They were waiting; we were waiting. Hoping against hope, when we all knew the truth.
But I did not believe it until I looked up and saw Senator Ted Kennedy entering the room, followed by Walter Mondale and another man who, if he was not George McGovern, should play him in the film. They were all crying. They walked through the group of volunteers and staff, offering their condolences and hugging us in turn. This was real. But I felt like I was floating, dreaming a bad dream, and I would wake up.
No. No no no.
What are we supposed to do now?
Eventually, someone drove the green bus to Headquarters and parked it in the adjacent parking lot. We moved outside, and people started arriving, looking for a place to put their grief, to share in the sadness. Different dignitaries came to speak, including republican congressman Jim Ramstad, who had great respect for Paul Wellstone, as did many across the aisle. Someone in a car drove past, honking and shouting, “Ding Dong, the witch is dead.”
A vigil was organized at the State Capitol that night, and I went, standing off to the side, in a daze just like everyone else, unable to stop crying. Governor Jesse Ventura was standing in front of me, with his wife. He smoked away on a cigar, seeming unaffected by the scene. His wife turned around, saw me weeping, and handed me tissues and gave me a hug. She was sweet.
If you read Senator Al Franken’s book LIES and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, Chapter 25 entitled “‘This was NOT a Memorial to Paul Wellstone’: A Case Study in Right Wing Lies,” (Page 144 in the pdf), you get a pretty good idea about what happened next. People came to help out from across the country. The campaign split into two teams: those running the political side that still had a Senate race going on, and a team assembled to organize a public memorial. I told the volunteer coordinator that I was available for anything, from that date until Election Day. It didn’t take long for him to call me.
I came in to be the Gal Friday for the guy they brought in to run the memorial side of the operation. A lot of it is a blur. I remember once being told to go and find two more volunteers and to be standing RIGHT HERE ON THIS SPOT when he came back. I remember being scolded for not being ON THAT SPOT. I remember being in the room when discussions were held about who the Bush Administration would send to the memorial as a representative. Dick Cheney was ruled out hands down. (They sent Tommy Thompson.) I remember proofreading and arranging the layout for the program, though I was forbidden from making it look nicer. I remember running, carrying bags, down the empty halls of Williams Arena on the day of the memorial. I don’t remember what the goal was. I remember being outside in the crowds, helping guests get through, when then-Senator John Kerry walked up to the cameras and gave a statement.
When the memorial started, I sat with the staff, in the section next to the congressional delegation where the Clintons, Al Gore, and numerous other officials were sitting. I listened to the speakers, knowing full well that we had no idea what they were going to say, and during Rick Kahn’s speech, I knew that the republicans were going to do with it. I recognized Mr. Kahn’s speech for what it was, an honest and desperate outpouring of sincere grief that is still in the stages of shock and anger.
In the end, Vice President Mondale lost, and in no small part because of how the memorial was spun by the republicans and complicitly covered by the media (see Chapter 25, page 152-153 for Kellyanne Conway’s, yes, THAT Kellyanne Conway, part in the lies). Re-reading that chapter in Senator Franken’s book was an unfortunate reminder that more than fourteen years ago, the same machine with the same actors is in place, with some newer and even more terrifying individuals at the controls of the highest office in the land.
Like many of us, especially in Minnesota, I think about Paul Wellstone a lot. I think about what he would say when important things are happening in the country. I think about how he would be working to lift us up and how passionate he would be in his resistance. I think about his ardent love and respect for the country he worked so hard to improve. I only met him a handful of times during his last campaign, but he was a person with the rare ability to focus on each person he met. He connected, he listened, and he cared.
Senator Al Franken is carrying on Paul’s work, and we need to do the same. Stand up, keep fighting. Remind our elected officials that we are still here, and we are legion.
Write letters, send postcards, make phone calls, get to know your school board members, city councilors, mayors, and state legislators. Attend town halls (or demand them) and monthly meetings. Put these people in your contacts list on your phone. (House) (Senate)
Vote every year. Every goddamn year there is something on the ballot in your locality. November 7, 2017. November 6, 2018. Stand up for voters who are being intimidated and suppressed. Stand against policies that restrict voting access.
March in the streets.
Donate to non-profit organizations that are helping immigrants and refugees. Donate to groups protecting our environment and our public lands. Donate to groups protecting our civil liberties.
Be and Act Intersectional/ly.
Because we all do better when we all do better.
Below is a gathering of links for the resistance. I have not had a chance to read through each and make recommendations. Any input on them is welcome, as are other resources.