We take so much for granted. We lead our lives as if nothing will ever change. When tragedy strikes, we are shocked because the unthinkable has happened. We take so much for granted. We lead our lives as if nothing will ever change. When tragedy strikes, we are shocked because the unthinkable has happened. The plane crash that killed Senator Paul Wellstone, his family and five others, was a devastating personal and political event. So much was riding on that plane.
As the days passed following the terrible crash, we started to understand more fully who and what had been lost. Here was a man who had served twelve years in the United States Senate. We thought we knew a lot about him but we didn’t know enough.
Hugh Price, President of the National Urban League, captured this feeling in his weekly column, “To Be Equal”:
I had long thought I fully understood how valuable Paul Wellstone was --valuable to the forces of political progressivism, valuable to people who want to believe that the practice of politics still offers a chance to change things for the better for all Americans, valuable to those who like to see a politician who likes ordinary people. Now I’m beginning to think that as much as I appreciated him and respected him, I didn’t understand the half of it. Only now, as I read over the comments written to me by our staff who worked with him on legislation, and as I read the comments of media columnists and others who knew him, do I realize that American politics and American society have lost a great deal more than, for the moment, can be put down with precision in words.
We all saw the piece of Paul Wellstone that we needed to see. The piece that agreed with us on a political issue; the part that could help our cause; the part that could right a wrong for one of our community.
What we failed to grasp, until 20,000 people showed up for his memorial service, is that thousands of people saw Paul Wellstone as their champion, as their leader, as the one who would help their cause. One of the speakers at the memorial service was right when he said that Wellstone was the lobbyist for all the people who could never afford to be a special interest group.
In 2001, Senator Wellstone put his thoughts into a book, Conscience of a Liberal: Reclaiming the Compassionate Agenda, that gives a sense of the whole man. We all should take the time to read it and understand what motivated him.
One of the lasting memories that I will have of Senator Paul Wellstone is from the opening of the new Glover-Sudduth Center on Plymouth Avenue in October of 2001. He was one of very few public figures who braved an all-day downpour to attend the event. I will never forget him standing next to me and singing, from memory and with gusto, every single word of “Lift Every Voice And Sing”, the Black National Anthem.