MINNEAPOLIS -- "We pay tribute to a leader -- a true DFL liberal..." shouted US Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, invoking the initials and the ideological tradition of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party to honor his fallen colleague, Senator Paul Wellstone.
The Iowan's battle yell drew the loudest cheers of a night filled with tears, laughter and passionate reflection on the legacy of the Minnesota senator Harkin described as "the soul of the Senate." The crowd of more than 20,000 that packed a University of Minnesota arena and an adjoining sports center rose in a foot-stomping, fist-pumping frenzy as Harkin continued: "That's right! A DFL liberal who constantly reminded those of us who are Democrats of the real center of gravity in our party -- the progressive grounding of our being: that everyone should be able to reach their whole potential in our society," Harkin bellowed as the crowd stood and cheered."
The official memorial service for Wellstone, his wife Sheila, daughter Marcia and campaign aides Will McLaughlin, Tom Lapic and Mary McEvoy -- who perished Friday in a plane crash on Minnesota's Iron Range -- was more a rally than a funeral. Busloads of Wellstone partisans from across the state poured into Minneapolis to share the memory of the man many of them had marched with, rallied with and campaigned with across two decades of struggle against conservatives in both the Republican and Democratic parties.
Most Americans had no idea where Eveleth, Minnesota, was until they saw the maps showing where Senator Paul Wellstone, his wife and daughter, three staffers and two pilots perished in a plane crash Friday.
Not so Bob Dylan.
A native of Hibbing, a city just 30 miles from Eveleth, the songwriter grew up as Robert Zimmerman on the northern Minnesota Iron Range where Wellstone was a populist hero to the Steelworkers and other trade unionists who continue to dominate the region's politics.
It's difficult to tell given what seems to be a mainstream media brownout of the emerging US peace movement, but this past Saturday saw the largest day of antiwar protests in this country since the Vietnam War era.
Hundreds of thousands of people came out nationwide to register their voices against an invasion of Iraq. Approximately 100,000 people turned out in Washington, DC, according to the Washington Post, with organizers putting the estimate closer to 200,000.
The largest protest outside of DC was in San Francisco, where roughly 75,000 folks participated in a march and rally featuring US Rep Barbara Lee, actor Amy Brenneman and folksinger Utah Phillips. Elsewhere around the country, 12,000 marched in St. Paul, Minn., 5,000 in Seattle, WA, 4,000 in Denver, CO, 2,000 in Spokane, WA, 2,000 in Augusta, Maine, 1,500 in both Madison, WI, and Kingston, NY, and 1,000 in Montpelier, Vermont--a town of 8,000--while 2,500 people in Taos, NM joined a march that ended up at the doorsteps of Donald Rumsfeld's summer house. This is in addition to countless smaller events in cities, towns and villages across America.
When initial reports of Senator Paul Wellstone's death reached Minnesota's Capitol in St. Paul, Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor Party leaders and activists immediately asked: "What about Sheila?"
The question was grounded in a mixture of human concern and political calculation. The human concern could be traced back to the fact that Sheila Ison Wellstone, the senator's wife of 39 years, seemed to maintain a personal friendship with everyone who had ever stuffed an envelope or walked a precinct for the DFL. The political calculation was an extension of that fact: People who knew Sheila and Paul Wellstone were well aware that Sheila was the Minnesota Democrat best suited to win the November 5 election and fill the senate seat left empty by her husband's death.
"You could talk to one and know you were talking to both," explained Sarah Stoesz, a former member of Wellstone's Senate staff who now serves as chief executive officer for Planned Parenthood of Minnesota and South Dakota. "They were fully coupled and united in a way that is very unusual in Washington."