WHITE BEAR LAKE, Minn., June 28 — Cheryl Kozicky, a single mother of two nearly grown boys who parlayed her general equivalency diploma into a job as a business analyst at a bank, was trying to explain how she had ended up here in a three-day immersion camp in community organizing.
"It was when I heard on the news about the plane crash," said Ms. Kozicky, 38. "When I heard on the radio, that power pushed me. I haven't stopped since."
No details are necessary in this crowd. Many of the political novices assembled in a community college lecture hall this weekend for the inaugural "Camp Wellstone" were similarly moved by the Oct. 25, 2002, crash that killed Senator Paul Wellstone, Democrat of Minnesota, along with his wife, his daughter, three political aides and two pilots.
Jessica Helle-Morrisey, left, on Saturday at Camp Wellstone. Ange Renel, right, wore her heart on her back. (NYT Photo/Bill Alkofer)
In the eight months since his death in the denouement of a close campaign, Mr. Wellstone, a political science professor who became the Senate's most outspoken liberal in his two terms, has been enshrined as a martyr for the beleaguered left wing of the Democratic Party.
His trademark green campaign stickers with the exclamation point, if fading, remain a common sight in certain parking lots, now joined by look-alikes declaring, "We are all Wellstone," and asking, in an echo of the evangelical mantra, "What would Wellstone do?"
Dozens of scholarships and awards have been renamed for him and his wife, Sheila, along with schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul, a domestic violence shelter in Bloomington, Minn., and a highway in the northern reaches of the state. His books are all in reprints.
Now, Wellstone's two surviving sons and longtime campaign manager, fueled by $400,000 in donations by 8,000 former campaign contributors, are trying to channel all that energy into something concrete.
This weekend's camp, with 110 attendees paying $35 each to cover meals, is the first of nine planned in several states through year's end; starting in 2004, the organizers expect to run as many as 20 Camp Wellstones each year.
"It's not just about Wellstone, thinking about him in the past, remembering him," explained Jeff Blodgett, a student of Mr. Wellstone's at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., who ran his three Senate campaigns and now is executive director of the nonprofit Wellstone Action!, the camps' sponsor. "It's thinking about how he and others practiced politics with success."
Mr. Blodgett added: "We're grieving his loss; we're also grieving the loss to politics. The Wellstone name is a rallying point for people who want to see the political action he practiced and taught continue."
Camp Wellstone is the newest in a recent genre of intensive political workshops run by both political parties, as well as groups like Emily's List and 21st Century Democrats. A foundation based in San Francisco recently started Emerge, a nine-month training program for women who ponder running for president. The nonpartisan Center for Campaign Leadership offers two-day seminars to young people interested in public service in hopes of making campaigns more ethical and thus raising voter confidence.
Though officially nonpartisan, Camp Wellstone is unabashedly liberal, or, in its preferred parlance, "progressive." The "other" candidate in curriculum materials is always a Republican. Photos of Nixon bring snickers; of Mandela, cheers.
Mr. Wellstone is not just an inspiration, but a constant presence. After quoting extensively from his speeches and writings in the opening session, Mr. Blodgett cued up a video to let the man himself explain.
At the end of a session on how to write a campaign plan, Heather Booth, a political consultant, offered her energetic but admittedly imprecise impression, waving her arms wildly, à la Wellstone, and shouting, "Keep on organizing, keep on fighting, keep on organizing, keep on fighting — until we win!"
In addition to attending lectures from political professionals, campers confronted a series of exercises: creating, in 20 minutes, a two-minute campaign commercial for a city council slate in Charleston, W.Va.; planning a crisis press conference to respond to allegations that a candidate is a slumlord or lied about his military experience; knocking door to door to door.
Camp, which cost $20,000 to run, was divided into three tracks. The would-be candidates had 25 minutes to draft a one-minute stump speech, while future hacks drew up a $145,000 budget for a congressional campaign and those who aspired to community activism lobbied faux legislators.
Among those on the candidate track were Tammy Pust, who is running for mayor of Roseville, a St. Paul suburb, this fall; several people who had already won and lost elections for local school boards or the state legislature; and many like Marty Schoen, 43, who introduced himself to the group by saying: "I will be running for something. I have no idea what or when."
The other tracks included seasoned protesters and novices like Ms. Kozicky, who trolls the Radicalendar on the Internet but has yet to really choose a cause. There were dabblers like Cory Springhorn, 30, who shook Mr. Wellstone's hand at a hair salon shortly after his first election to the Senate, in 1990.
Mr. Springhorn, who works for a nonprofit group dealing with developmental disabilities, also remembers vividly his second encounter with Mr. Wellstone, at an election-night party in 2000.
"I said, `Thanks, senator, for all you've done,' " Mr. Springhorn recalled. "He said, `No, thanks for all you've done.' I figured I better come this weekend and actually do something to be thanked for."
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company