A University of Minnesota event held to honor Paul Wellstone on Sunday featured remarks from two congressional leaders.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., spoke at the University about the late Sen. Paul Wellstone and the current state of the Democratic Party.
The event, titled “The Democratic Party at a Crossroads: The Wellstone Way and Economic Populism,” marked the 15-year anniversary of the plane crash that killed Wellstone, his wife Sheila, his daughter Marcia and three others. The event focused on Wellstone’s unique approach to politics, with speakers suggesting the current Democratic Party could use some of the “Wellstone way” in today’s political climate.
“It is a gift to spend time around people who knew Paul Wellstone so very well, and who worked with him and were inspired by him,” Warren said. “It means that all of us get a chance to feel his energy again.”
Warren highlighted her late-night phone calls with Wellstone, in which she was moved by the way he always put people first.
“We were looking and trying to figure out what was going wrong with working families in America, and what we could do about it,” she said.
Wellstone was the senator who fought for everyday Americans, Warren said.
“Every time we fight to empower the powerless, they get stronger and we get stronger,” she said.
Warren also expressed concern over rising economic inequalities, the struggle of rising bankruptcies within middle-class families in the 1980s and targeted predatory practices of credit card companies.
Ellison, deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee, was interviewed by Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
Ellison answered questions about the current state of the Democratic Party during the talk.
“The Democratic Party, right now, will be strengthened, edified and be more dynamic and responsive if it can adapt itself to the new reality,” Ellison said. “People desperately want to have a country that works for working people of all colors, and we’ve got to accommodate that.”
In an interview, Jacobs said the Democratic Party needs to relate its platform to students in order to inspire enthusiasm for the future.
“The Democratic Party is a party that fights over the national anthem, or they fight over the kind of cultural issues that don’t connect with everyday needs of lots of students,” Jacobs said. “I think the onus is on Democrats. What do they have that students could get excited about, get charged up about?”
Also in attendance was former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, who took Wellstone’s place on the 2002 ticket after the plane crash.
Mondale began his political activism at the University after transferring from Macalester College. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in political science in 1951.
“Young people can do [the Wellstone Way] more than anybody else,” Mondale said in an interview. “[Students] can get involved and make a difference as young people. Get started.”