Wellstone as Well-Spring

MAILANDER MUSINGS - Ten years ago this week, a group of neighbors in Los Feliz and Silver Lake, aged seven to seventy-five, prepared to spend early Friday evening out.

The group wished to remain anonymous and to keep their actions to the neighbor level.  It included an artist whose work hung in museums around the world.  An actor who had played comic parts on shows like Seinfeld and Desperate Housewives.  A writer whose work had appeared in publications from coast to coast and abroad.

The neighbors had seen the Bush Administration move American troops into Afghanistan and felt certain that war with Iraq was imminent as well.  Their plan was to stand with signs all around the crazy three-way intersection of Hollywood, Sunset, Virgil, and Hillhurst and encourage motorists to honk if they opposed the coming war.

I have emulsion-generated photos: "No war for oil" one sign said.  Another: "How many lives per gallon?" "Iraq: Inspect Don't Invade." "Peace is Patriotic."  "Health Care Yes Warfare No."  "Use the UN not Bombs."  "Question the War."

And one said, "God Bless Senator Wellstone."

Even as the peace activists prepared their signs that October 25, progressive Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, caught in yet another ferocious battle for re-election in 2002, was suddenly killed in a plane crash that very morning, along with his wife, daughter, two staffers, and three others.

Before Obama, Wellstone was the most accomplished community organizer to come to official power in America.  Through the 1970s, Wellstone organized on causes tied to human rights, labor, affordable healthcare, and farmer relief.  Derided as "Senator Welfare" by Republican opponents after acceding office in 1991, Wellstone became one of the nation's leading progressive voices in the eleven years he served the Senate.

The Bush Administration offered to send Vice President Cheney, then masterminding the Iraq War and everything else Wellstone stood against, to attend Wellstone's memorial service, but the family declined.  Governor Jesse Ventura stormed out of the "partisan foot-stomp" event.

Democrats lost ground a few days later in Bush's first midterm election, in which the Senate (in part thanks to the loss of Wellstone's seat) shifted from Democratic to Republican control ; the war the neighbors feared indeed came in the spring; Bush dressed up as a fighter pilot and declared "Mission Accomplished" by May.

Of course, the mission wasn't accomplished any more than passenger Bush knew how to land the S-3B Viking onto the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, sitting easily within presidential helicopter range of San Diego.  And of course, enough Democratic Senators had already signed onto the Iraq War Resolution on October 11, a scant two weeks earlier, to give Bush what he had wanted: a chance to go to war against his father's old nemesis.

Senator Wellstone was one of 23 Senators voting against the War Resolution; and those who gathered at the crazy corner in east Hollywood on October 25 and for dozens of Fridays after were there in large measure because of him--whether they knew it or not.

The subsequent ten years have only seen an escalation in the stridency with which American political movements take to their causes.  

Bush's war lasted throughout the bulk of the years.  The progressive movement found immediate full-voiced apologists in Howard Dean, in organizations like Move On, in web publications like Daily Kos, and ultimately in President Barack Obama himself--who also had been organizing anti-war protests in 2002, in advance of being elected a Senator from Illinois.  

As the war droned on, the country invented more and more elaborate schemes to pay for it, leading to the economic catastrophe of the second term of the Bush Administration.  Obama ran just as much against Bush as he did against his actual opponent.  Changes in healthcare came to pass, though whether or not they will stick remains a question.

Culturally, the emulsion has given way to cellphone snaps, even as books cede ground to Kindles and iPads.  Websites and blogs supplanted newspapers and social media have nearly supplanted both again.  It became possible to produce oneself in any medium for a fraction of the cost of what a Kennedy could do it for in the 1960's.  

And the neighbors who gathered at the bewildering confluence of Hollywood, Sunset, Virgil and Hillhurst, who only asked motorists to honk their horns to show unity with their cause, and also, very quietly, to mourn the loss of Senator Wellstone, are still artists, and actors, and writers, and still looking for opportunities to bring attention to the greater cause of peace in our time.

(Joseph Mailander is a writer, an LA observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He is also the author of New World Triptych and The Plasma of Terror. Mailander blogs at www.josephmailander.com.)

Vol 10 Issue 86
Pub: Oct 26, 2012