10 years ago this month our nation lost some inspiring fighters for progressive values when Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN), his wife Sheila, his daughter Marcia, three campaign staffers, and their two pilots died in a plane crash on a cold, dreary day in Minnesota. To ardent supporters of working people, labor unions, social justice, and the belief that government can and must be used to improve the lives of everyday people, the loss of Paul and Sheila was truly heart wrenching. But we also know that Paul and Sheila would have believed that the best way to honor their legacy would be to carry on the fight for the progressive values that they, and we, hold dear.
In honor of Paul, Sheila, and their legacy, below is the post that we wrote on the eighth anniversary of Paul’s death, and which still holds true today. We also urge our readers to share a tribute to the Wellstones at the memorial page that has been set up by Wellstone Action. And please check out this tribute to Paul and Sheila written by WP contributor Joanne Boyer, who included a profile of Paul in her book Wisdom of Progressive Voices.
In Memory of Paul Wellstone
We here at Winning Progressive are not the type to have political heroes. While there are many political candidates that we proudly support because they share the views we believe in or because they are significantly better than the alternative, we realize that all politicians are humans and, therefore, flawed. In addition, politicians work in a system that is flooded with well-funded interests and that requires compromise to get things done. As such, we realize that we can often only get progress out if we politically force our elected officials to aggressively support our interests. In short, even our favorite political leaders are bound to let us down on occasion, just as we are sometimes let down by our friends or relatives. Therefore, even as we strongly support various candidates, we recognize that raising a politician to hero status places unrealistic expectations on that person.
Having said that, there are some political leaders who we hold in especially high esteem. One such leader is Paul Wellstone, the former Democratic U.S. Senator from Minnesota, who tragically died eight years ago today. Senator Wellstone was first elected in 1990, and quickly became a leading progressive in the Senate for his willingness to strongly and eloquently stand up for progressive causes even when they were not politically popular. Senator Wellstone was re-elected in 1996, and died eleven days before election day in 2002 when he was running for a third term.
Senator Wellstone holds a place close to our hearts because of his willingness to proudly stand up for the under-represented and to stay true to his progressive values even at the risk of losing votes, and for the time and dedication he put into building a true grassroots campaign model that continues to this day with trainings run by Wellstone Action, which works to develop future progressive leaders. At a time when the Senate and House are increasingly dominated by massive amounts of corporate cash and politicians who rely mainly on television advertising for their campaigns, the values and tactics of Senator Wellstone are sorely missed to this day.
We’d like to close with the below video of Senator Wellstone announcing his opposition to the Iraq War in October 2002. Only a couple weeks before his death, Senator Wellstone gave this speech in the midst of a tough re-election campaign and at a time when the proposal to invade Iraq had strong public support. Senator Wellstone could have easily gone with the political winds (as many Democrats who should have known better did) and voted for the Iraq War. Instead, he stood up for his beliefs and cast his vote against the war.
As we work to push our representatives to support our progressive values, we could do a lot worse than urging them to follow the example set by Senator Wellstone.
Here’s the video: