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Convocation: Paul Wellstone - Education and Empowerment

Created 28 February 1992; Published 8 November 2005

By Philip Stark

Paul Wellstone speaks about grassroots organizing and his experiences in the senate. He includes anecdotes from his careeer as a Political Science Professor at Carleton College as well as from his political career. The convocation speech is entitled "Education and Empowerment."

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Transcript

Paul Wellstone Convocation - "Education and Empowerment"


February 28, 1992

Part 1:

Introduction by Elliot Weisgill:

Senator Wellstone grew up in Arlington Virginia. He was an Atlantic Coast wrestling champion at the University of North Carolina. In 1963, he married his wife Sheila. They are parents of a daughter and two sons. Came to Carleton in 1969 as professor of Political Science, and held that position till 1990. Author of ‘How the rural poor got poorer: the narrative of a grassroots organizer’ and co-author of ‘Power line: the first battle of America’s energy war’ and numerous columns.

Paul Wellstone:

Was appointed by the majority leader to go to Rio Summit. Would not have become such an important figure in environmental issues if not for Norm Weig (?)
Education is an important issue, so are children. “When historians are finished analyzing the decade of the 80s the ultimate indictment, and I can think of many indictments, will be the ways in which we abandoned the children and devalued the work of the adults who work with young children.”

-We’ve been sleepwalking through history.

Part 2:

Question: “Why do you think about the politics the way you think about politics?” What shapes their viewpoint?
Einstein: “The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake and the almost passionate love for justice and the strong desire for personal independence: these are the features of the Jewish tradition that make me thank my lucky stars that I belong to it.”
He was at the University of North Carolina during the civil rights movement and how that was ‘his baptism to politics’. To write, to speak and to make a difference in the lives of people; to make grassroots change in communities.
-Alternative education
-Reminisce about Carleton College.
Incident about his parents: His parents had Parkinson’s. His wife and he felt it would be nice if a couple of students could help them out, so he wrote a letter to the students. The next day 145 students wrote back and said they would be willing to helping out. It made teaching at Carleton so worthwhile.


Part 3:

1989: he decided to run for the US Senate race
The influence of television in politics: there’s got to be another way to conduct politics in the country.
His ads were made by amateurs, but they made people smile.
Experience in the senate: made his maiden speech on the war. (Gulf War?)
He has the highest poll rating in MN in his career and George Bush has the worst poll rating in his career.

Part 4:

Pleasant surprise about being in the senate; the personal relations. Love the institution even when I struggle with it. Personal relationships have been easy.
Unpleasant surprise: Things are made to grind even slower than he had anticipated. If you are impatient you have to keep pushing.
Filibuster on the energy bill: building coalition on the inside and on the outside and understanding the rules. Mike Ebstein (?) has been in the senate for 20 years and knows the senate like the back of his hand.
Travelled in Elbow Lake in Western MN: met with more than 200 people, heard stories that echoed, “Can you help me?” Heard people’s problems. Disturbing statistics about the situation of health and education in the USA.

Part 5:

Window Phillips: “I’m on fire because I have mountains of ice before me to melt’
The country is going to move from the politics of private interest to the politics of public interest. This is going to be the politics of the 90s.
Politics is not predictions of observations. It is what we do. It is what we create.
Question about worsening recession and how it affects environmental issues.

Part 6:

People running for office are from time to time talking about issues. Kerry has a healthcare plan. Investment led economic recovery. Take a page out of grassroots organizing.

Supporting small business interests. Caucuses: you can pass resolutions; get involved in an interesting way. Urge people to go to caucuses. Primaries are oversold.

Part 7:

Question about America’s international relations.
Answer using incident when student asked a question of a speaker that went against the grain of what the speaker said. Speaker had the power to put the student under and he thought it was the most ill behaved thing to do.

Quotes Robert Reisch (?), economist, on US relations with Japan, and the pacific rim: about good debt and bad debt. “Good businesses will go into debt if they know that investment will lead to new technologies and more productivity five or ten years down the line and Japan has done it and the US needs to do it.

Question about President Bush being largely responsible for building up arms in Middle East and why has this not been picked up by politicians.
Answer: You get preoccupied with many other things. Something really tragic about the war is that we still have no idea how many Iraqis or Kurdish people died, but we do know that they had less to do with keeping Saddam Hussein in power than the US shipping Saddam the arms.

Part 8:

Clarence Thomas’ quote about police brutality. (Before Anita Hill came around)
-Something about upturning Roe v. Wade and how it will take away certain fundamental rights from citizens.

Question: Northern State Power and proposal for above ground storage of radio active material.
Answer: Oppose the proposal if two conditions, which he outlines, are not met. Concerned about the above ground proposal.

Ends by thanking everybody.

Some rights reserved. Carleton College licenses this work under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.

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