Reflections one year after Wellstone’s death

APolitics is not about power. Politics is not about money. Politics is not about winning for the sake of winning. Politics is about the improvement of people’s lives. It’s about advancing the cause of peace and justice in our country and in our world. Politics is about doing well for people.
– Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn.

As I walked to class last week, this statement seemed undeniably true and inspiring, but it brought great sorrow to my heart. A year ago last Saturday, on Oct. 25, 2002, I walked out of my class at noon and turned on the radio to hear the news that Sen. Paul Wellstone had died in a plane crash.

Last Friday, I walked out of class at noon and saw striking workers. It seemed too fitting and tragic. If he were still alive, Wellstone would be right here on campus, not just taking publicity photos or trying to simply get press for votes. He would be right in there, and people who didn’t already know who he was never would have guessed he was a senator. He would just be another short guy talking (or in his case, yelling) in a crowd of striking workers.

Now, instead of seeing Wellstone, I see union people who appear less inspired, less rowdy and lack white-and-green buttons. But Wellstone is with them because they are living out his quote and taking politics into their own hands.

Wellstone defined grass-roots in all its glory. His remarkable victory in his first campaign proved that anyone who was honest and had good ideas could win. He made everyone feel like they were an important cog in the political world. This is something everyone should remember. Many times, young adults feel we have no say in anything that happens. However, you must remember that college students like us basically elected Jesse “the Body” Ventura as governor. It isn’t hard to be involved. You don’t even have to volunteer. All you have to do is make informed decisions.

Don’t vote for someone just because your parents do. Go online for an hour and find out which candidate supports what. Then, when you’re waiting for lecture to start, talk to your friends about what you found to get them involved. Most importantly, vote and try to get others to as well. The St. Paul Public Schools has school board elections coming up – are you going to vote? Recently, the school board made a decision concerning whether students should have to say the Pledge of Allegiance. If you have an opinion, you should vote. There are issues at all levels of politics that will affect you. If you take nothing else from Wellstone’s years of service to our state, at least vote and put the “people” back into politics.

Wellstone’s statement, especially when combined with the fact that I have lived a full year without him, makes me very sad. Wellstone had a way of connecting with everyone he spoke to. He had contagious energy and was a unique breed of person you just don’t really see anymore. Unfortunately, we might not see anyone like him again in our lifetime. This means that your kids might grow up in a world where they will never see a politician they feel they can connect with, trust and matter to.

Wellstone had the ability to make you always feel like he came to see you, like he was the lucky one. I just hope that I am wrong and that someday a Republican, Democrat, Green or Independent similar to Wellstone will run for office and remind us all how pure and wonderful politics can be when a real person is in charge.

As I walked by the striking workers on campus last week, I knew I had to do something, but I didn’t know what. Then I began thinking about how rough the 13 days after Wellstone’s death were. In public, it was filled with contorted propaganda about the memorial. However, for me and other people who supported his campaign, it was filled with other things.

It was filled with horror, panic and sorrow, but we realized we had to act. It was what Wellstone would have wanted. So in spite of the challenges, we grieved not by moping but by throwing ourselves into a new campaign. After the main memorial service and many other smaller memorials, I spent my grieving time making homemade lawn signs, standing in 30-degree weather and holding signs for hours. I talked to people in my classes about what was going on and acted in the most pure political way I could.

Now I realize I have the same need to grieve again. I feel that I have to try and get something of Wellstone’s message out again. I don’t care if you are liberal, conservative or moderate: Go out and get involved. Not only can we change the world around us, but we must in whatever ways we are able.

Frank Varro is a landscape architecture senior. He welcomes comments at [email protected]