Yes we did and yes we can

Ten years ago this month I was having lunch with my family in the Stanford University cafeteria when my sister joined us to tell me that Paul Wellstone, his wife Sheila, and their daughter Marcia had been killed in a plane crash.

I hung my head and stared into my soup and to this day what I remember most about that moment was how deliberately quiet it was, and how deliberately quiet it stayed: A moment of shared spontaneous silence born of respect, sadness and a solemn if inarticulate vow to keep fighting the good fight that everyone at that lunch table shared with a man of peace whom the first President Bush once called a “chickens**.”

That night I went to a club in downtown San Francisco to hear my friend Mason Jennings, and the same silence took hold backstage when I clumsily greeted the great songwriter before the show with talk of our shared Minnesota loss. That night on stage, Mason talked eloquently about Wellstone and ended up writing the beautiful tribute, “The Ballad of Paul and Sheila.” 

The next year on the anniversary of Wellstone’s death, he played it as part of Wellstone World Music Day, a one-day party that thousands of musicians and songwriters in 78 cities across the world took part in. I’m still amazed it happened, and I’m still amazed at what can happen. Wellstone World Music Day started with one email, sent to 100 friends, and many times before and since I’ve seen how wildfire-fast an idea and the winds of change can move. 

Of late, when the noise of this political season has gotten too dim-witted and loud, I try to remember WWMD and that political parties are also coalitions of people coming together to do good. Refreshingly, in terms of exemplary coalition-building, this year in Minnesota we’ve been lucky witnesses to history, as an impressive groundswell of arts, business, labor, nonprofit and faith organizations of every denomination under Minnesotans United For All Families (mnunited.org) have joined together to stand up against the anti-gay marriage amendment. 

It’s been inspiring to see firsthand the passion, commitment and tireless hours these folks have put in toward the cause. And it’s no stretch to say that students of social activism from here on out will go to school on how, in 2011 and 2012, these disparate groups of “Homosotans” (thank you, Out Front Minnesota) stood up to the big bully bishops of the Catholic Church, woe unto their anti-Jesus souls. 

Sunday morning at a Vote No fundraiser in Bryn Mawr, Mayor Rybak was wise in his remarks about how the process itself — massive networking toward changing minds and defeating the amendment — has the potential to push the area’s collective thought envelope. Acknowledging that the time and money spent on the campaign has been something of an annoying if necessary evil, Rybak suggested that, in addition to the fruits of the victory itself, “you don’t know what dam could break.”

He’s right, of course, as anyone with a working knowledge of butterfly effects and energy transference can testify. The truth is, all that good hard work of the past year has the potential to manifest into a new day of communication and compassion, and on Nov. 7 Minnesota could be celebrating an exciting new future for all concerned, birthed by a decisive and historic blow against ignorance and bigotry.

Let’s do this. Let’s be part of something. Vote No.

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet.