by Tamara Baker
Oct. 25, 2002 -- SAINT PAUL, MINNESOTA (APJP) -- I still can't believe it. I know it's true, but I still can't believe it.
This is just how I felt the morning of September 11, 2001.
It's how I'm feeling right now.
Paul Wellstone, Giant of the Senate, the Comeback Kid, the man who showed that old-fashioned organization and pounding the pavement can still win elections, the man who stood up to the callous corporate right wing, is dead. He died, along with his beloved wife, Sheila, their daughter, three campaign staffers and the two pilots, in a plane crash Friday morning, just south of Eveleth, Minnesota, up in the fabled "Iron Range."
No sooner had the news hit the airwaves than the tributes started rolling in, and from all over, and the most unlikely people. Wellstone was the Senate's most fiery liberal Democrat, yet Republicans like Pete Domenici and Jim Ramstad (who often shared a commuter plane with Wellstone) were reduced to tears Friday as they talked of the man whose politics they didn't often share, but whose courage and honor they respected.
But in the end, the most telling tributes to Minnesota's senior senator were from the people for whom he fought the hardest: the everyday, "unimportant" folks like you and me.
At four in the afternoon I was sitting in the car driving to my parents' house, switching back and forth between local NPR affiliate KNOW and local CBS affiliate WCCO, when WCCO mentioned in passing that a 6:00 PM candlelight vigil had been hastily planned for the State Capitol Rotunda in Saint Paul. I wasn't able to change my plans to attend, but thousands of other people did -- so many that the organizers had to hold it outside of the Rotunda, on the Capitol grounds. And this despite the miserable wet cold of the coldest October in recent memory.
Similar spontaneous gatherings and tributes sprung up everywhere. Paul's campaign office on University Avenue immediately became a magnet for the grieving -- and, as I type this at 11:00 PM at night, throngs are still there, stationed outside in the freezing drizzle, communing with Paul's spirit and with each other.
Even in the conservative town of Lindstrom, not far from my parents' house, there was a small candlelight gathering. It was in the little town park on Highway 8, under the statue of Vilhelm Moberg, a famous Swedish author with ties to the town. I saw the people with their green-and-white "Wellstone!" signs, rolled down my window, and waved. The people smiled, and waved back -- they were mourning Paul, yes, but they were also about keeping the faith, and keeping alive the energy and the optimism and the pureness of spirit that Paul Wellstone embodied.
Paul Wellstone stood five feet five inches in his stocking feet, a trait that caused many persons to underestimate his energy and effectiveness. But in terms of moral fiber, bravery and honor, he stands tall as one of America's true giants.
ISSN No. 1523-1690