A young Somali woman lives with the memory of Paul Wellstone and is carrying out his legacy, though she never met him. When the plane crashed five years ago, she was a refugee in Kenya and had not yet begun her journey to the United States. Last spring she graduated from Wellstone High School and now attends the University of Minnesota. Having learned about Paul Wellstone at her high school, she is committed to making her own life an example of service and dedication to others.
A Native American lawyer working to help victims of domestic violence embodies the legacy of Sheila Wellstone. Though she never met Sheila and did not live in Minnesota at the time of the crash, she has been deeply affected by Sheila's example and work. Like Sheila, she knows that to remain silent when women are not safe in their homes is wrong in any culture and at any time. Every day she works to make a difference.
A military veteran, recently returned from Iraq, remembers a senator who had the courage to oppose this seemingly endless war, even when it might have cost him an election. He remembers that same senator as one who would never abandon the veterans who were called upon to fight, and he wonders if current representatives will act with the same courage and commitment to the troops as did Wellstone.
A longtime Republican congressman considers Paul Wellstone one of his closest friends and colleagues. He honors that friendship still by working for legislation that Paul once authored -- legislation that will finally end insurance discrimination against those who suffer from mental illness and addiction. He reflects often on a unique friendship that crossed political differences and was rooted in a common desire to do what is right for people in need.
Ordinary people of all races and backgrounds -- particularly young people -- are running for office, inspired by the courage and conviction of an audacious college professor who believed that "politics is not about money and power games, but indeed about the improvement of people's lives." They identify with the short guy with a big heart who exuded joy in public life and who believed fervently in a politics of hope. Like Paul, these new candidates are passionate about injustice, but they are exceedingly practical as well. As a result, they are winning their races, unseating incumbents and breathing new life into politics. More than 98 people who have been trained in the tradition of Paul Wellstone have sought and won political office.
Paul and Sheila Wellstone died five years ago today, but their spirit lives on in truly remarkable ways. They inspire and energize more people with each passing year. Yes, there are schools, hospitals, gardens and organizations named after them; books have been written and plays have been produced about their lives. But what is more important is that thousands of people are trying to emulate their example.
Oct. 25 is a deeply sad day for Minnesota and the country as we remember Paul and Sheila. But it is also a day to recognize that some people live lives so large that they never really die. Their example leads us on.
Pam Costain is a senior fellow at Wellstone Action and chairwoman of the Minneapolis School Board.
© 2007 Star Tribune