On this day in 2002, Paul and Sheila Wellstone, along with their daughter Marcia, three friends and two pilots, died in a crash that tore out our hearts.
Six days earlier they had all been at our house for a jam-packed celebratory fundraiser. Lines spilled out the doors, back and front, and people had brought him folksy gifts -- a loaf of baked bread, a customized T-shirt, a favorite book.
It was celebratory because also on this day five years ago Paul's poll numbers had spiked up six points, putting him safely ahead of Norm Coleman. It was the first poll taken after the "political suicide" of his 'no' vote on invading Iraq. And the rest is indeed history -- and what a sorry chapter it is. Please read on.
On the day they died the Star Trib called me and asked me to write about what the loss of Sheila meant to women. Sheila and I had worked together on various projects to end domestic violence and we were friends. At first I said I couldn't do it. I couldn't stop crying long enough to think or type. But then I thought of Sheila, and I pictured her in the heavens giving me a kick in the pants to get going, so I did. It wasn't great writing, but I got it in on a two hour deadline, and that's pretty much how my big-time "career" at the Strib was launched.
A year later I wrote the piece below. And I think I've written three or four op-eds about them since, at least so many that my editor cautioned me against writing myself into an all-Wellstone-all-the-time box. He was right, so I switched to the all-Bushco-all-the-time box.
Paul would have beaten Norm, and that would have made a difference, but in truth, not enough. His voice would have continued to ring out -- alone, and boy do we miss that voice, but with the Cheney et al putsch already underway, I doubt there's much that even St. Paul could have done. What a long dark stretch it's been.
Let's hope the light at the end of the tunnel isn't a train coming at us.
Published on Sunday, October 26, 2003 by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, formerly known as a newspaper.
"He's dead, get over it!" reads the bumper sticker seen around town in the state that once inspired the term "Minnesota Nice." The "he," of course, is Sen. Paul Wellstone, who died with his wife, daughter and colleagues in a fiery crash in the tamarack bogs of northern Minnesota one year ago this weekend.
Those who sport that withering sentiment, on their bumpers or in their hearts, don't deserve a further thought. But those who lost their lives do. We remember them, we mourn them -- and we know all too well that they are dead.
Veterans know it, from the absence of any voice in the Senate to question the shoddy treatment of our armed forces -- those serving heroically yet indefinitely in Iraq, those lying injured in substandard medical barracks back home, those facing pay cuts and reduced benefits for their sacrifices, those being buried at services their commander in chief has chosen not to attend.
Working people know it, when they see their benefits cut, their pay frozen, their pension funds depleted and their opportunities dead-ended by the loss of nearly 3 million jobs since President Bush took office.
Teachers know it, as they grapple with overcrowded classrooms, rigid and unfunded mandates and slashed "extras" like art, music and gym.
Families know it, when they suffer financial catastrophe because the insurance industry won't cover treatment for their mentally ill children.
Women and children know it, when they find that the programs that once offered them health and safety from domestic violence -- programs for which Paul and Sheila fought -- are no longer funded.
Voters know it, as they watch presidential contenders quibble
over who did or didn't oppose the war in Iraq, as Paul did with his courageous "no" vote in the final days of his toughest campaign.
Old-school Republicans -- and just about everyone else -- know it, when only a few bubbles of dissent swirl in the wake of a proposal to spend $87 billion more for a vague and bloated nation-building scheme in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Seniors, farmers, environmentalists, immigrants, firefighters, parole officers, nurses and parents know it -- as do, most of all, the surviving families of those who died.
But tragedy often begets action.
In just one year Wellstone Action, a nonprofit organization designed to educate and motivate people to get engaged in the grass-roots political process, has gotten off to a vigorous start, conducting Camp Wellstone training sessions across the nation.
The Sheila Wellstone Institute, a program of Wellstone Action, has been created by a broad coalition of domestic violence organizations. (The institute will hold its first national conference in Minneapolis on Nov. 13, with Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, a leader in efforts to end domestic violence in America, as the keynote speaker.)
"Carry It Forward," a documentary film about the Wellstones, is underway, being funded by hundreds of small neighborhood house parties all over Minnesota. It will be released in time to inspire voters to turn out in the 2004 election.
So about that bumper sticker: Yes, he's dead. But in these new projects, wrought of grief and gilded by love, the spirits of the dead live on.
As for getting over it? Sorry, not an option. If you really want to help, rip that nasty bumper sticker off your car and get to work.