Nearly eight years after the plane crash that killed him, today I am traveling to Minneapolis to give an informal talk and lead a discussion about the books I was exposed to in the two courses I took with Paul Wellstone in 1986-87. This is happening in an art context, at the Walker, as a Red76 Pop-up Book Academy. Far from the political sphere. But maybe not, and there again is a lesson learned from Paul: no matter what we do, or who we are, politics matters because it is about people’s lives.
Needless to say, reviewing some of the books I still have after all these years, I am reminded again of Paul, his impact on my life, and my memories of him in the classroom. Also of Marcia Wellstone. She was about the same age as my Carleton cohort and conveniently was home in Northfield for a few days over the time I took her dad’s Social Movements and Protest Politics course. She sat in with us for one week of lectures.
Revisiting the books and what I can remember of the reading lists reminds me of the lively discussions that took place in nearly every Wellstone class period. For a young person curious about the world, trying to map my politics and find my activist self, those times were a gift for which I will be eternally grateful.
I hope some people who knew Paul will be at the event. One of the lasting pleasures of having known Paul is meeting other people who somehow knew him, or knew of him, and in either experience continue to find inspiration in the person he was. If it happens, I know there’s a good chance that together we’ll grieve a little, smile a lot, argue, get righteous, and share a spirit…and be full of life, just as Paul always was.
I never saved a syllabus from the classes. One of these days I'll have to dig in that direction; there must be some out there. From memory (and my bookshelves) here are some of the books were assigned:
Capitalism and Freedom, Milton Friedman
Losing Ground: American Social Policy 1950-1980, Charles Murray
The New Politics of Inequality, Thomas Byrne Edsall
Power and Powerlessness: Quiescence and Rebellion in an Appalachian Valley, John Gaventa
Who Spoke Up: American Protest Against the War in Vietnam, 1963-1975, Nancy Zaroulis and Gerald Sullivan
The Whole World is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the Left, Todd Gitlin
Poor People’s Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail, Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward
The Populist Moment: A Short History of the Agrarian Revolt in America, Lawrence Goodwyn
A Passion for Equality: George Wiley and the Movement, Nick Kotz and Mary Lynn Kotz