Wednesday, October 25, 2006

October 25

Today is the fourth anniversary of the plane crash that killed Paul Wellstone, Sheila Wellstone, Marcia Wellstone, Tom Lapic, Will McLaughlin and Mary McEvoy as well as the two pilots. Some were friends and coworkers of mine, people with whom I shared jokes, work, and laughter. Many were and are sources of inspiration. And, especially for Paul and Sheila these weren't just people whom one deems inspirational because they've died. Paul would be no less an inspiration to me were he sitting in St. Paul doing a crossword puzzle. He was an inspiration in his life, not just a man elevated to that status by an untimely death.

It's always a bit of a tough day for me. I remember where I was, what I was doing, the momements that came after and it's a natural day for me to think of where my life is and where it's heading. For the past four years it's been a vaguely religious holiday, not in the sense that I elevate those people or that moment to something beyond the regular, but rather that I take the day to think about my life, to think about my choices, to think about fate and fortune and my friends. It's a day on which to be thankful, contemplative, and most of all a day on which to rededicate myself to action on issues of justice and democracy. It's a day to remember what's worth fighting for.

It's a day, though not the only day, when I choose to reread Tom Harkin's speech from Paul's memorial. I've excerpted parts here below. If anyone wants the full speech I can email it or post it in the comments.

He was my best friend in the Senate.

But, in truth, Paul Wellstone was one of those rare souls who so many saw as their best friend. He had a powerful authenticity that made a miner in the Iron Range know he was as important to Paul as the President of the United States.

He never had to proclaim his decency. It shone forth in great acts of political courage and small acts of human kindness. He never had to say he cared.
The hard-working folks he cared about most didn’t have lobbyists or influence. But they had Paul Wellstone. And he truly was their best friend.
Paul may have talked a lot, but he meant every word. He showed the way to lead is by following your conscience.

And when injustice was proposed, or unfairness was advancing, or selfishness was on the march, Paul would go into battle and he did not care if he was the only one. He may have suffered from a bad back, but he had a spine of steel.

Everyone called him Paul. Not just his colleagues, but staff and citizens alike. He wouldn’t have it any other way. No one ever wore the title of “Senator” better – or used it less.
Paul was the soul of the Senate. Sometimes he cast votes that even some of his friends disagreed with on war or on welfare. But when he did, he was the mirror in which we, his colleagues, looked at ourselves and searched our own hearts.
Paul Wellstone didn’t just dare to imagine a better America – he helped build it.

Because of what he did, family farmers will have a better future. Because of what he demanded, mental illness will someday soon be treated equally in our health care system. And because of who he married – and because of Sheila’s passionate charge – more women and children will find safe harbor from the scourge of domestic abuse.

Paul was a hopeful man. Green was his color. The color of springtime. The color of hope. And the color of that bus he climbed aboard 12 years ago as he set out on his way to a better America. But Paul never meant it to be a solo voyage. He wanted us all on board. Now we must continue Paul’s journey for justice.

So tonight, I ask you: Will you stand up and join together and board that bus?

For Paul Wellstone, will you stand up and keep fighting for better wages for those who mop our floors and clean our bathrooms; for those who take care of our elderly, nurse the sick, teach our kids, and reach out to the homeless?

For Sheila, will you stand up and keep fighting for our families so women and children will be safe from domestic abuse?

For Paul, will you stand up and keep fighting for cleaner air and cleaner water – to protect the environment for our children and our future? For Paul, will you stand up and keep fighting for peace, understanding, and an end to exploitation of women and children around the world? For Paul, will you stand up and keep fighting to end discrimination based on race, gender, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation? For Paul, will you stand up and keep fighting for the poor, the homeless, those left on the roadside of life?

Let’s get on that green bus together. Let’s keep moving to a better America. Let’s stand up and keep fighting – and keep saying yes. For justice. For hope. For life.
For Paul.

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