Paul Wellstone Quotes

The following is a compilation of quotes by Paul Wellstone, covering his years as a college teacher and U.S. senator.


"This is no time for timidity." ("Where are We Going?" an essay written in the early 1980s)

"We can remake the world daily." (Speech delivered to conference on rural poverty and strategies for social change; undated.)

"I'm short, I'm Jewish and I'm a liberal" (1999, in response to a reporter's question about why he might have a difficult time winning the presidency)

"Without trying, I'm different." (Undated)

"The future will not belong to those who sit on the sidelines. The future will not belong to the cynics. The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." (Frequently used quote)

"In the last analysis, politics is not predictions and politics is not observations. Politics is what we do. Politics is what we do, politics is what we create, by what we work for, by what we hope for and what we dare to imagine." (Frequently used quote)

"I dare to imagine a country where every child I hold in my hands, are all God's children, regardless of the color of their skin, regardless of whether they're boy or girl, regardless of religion, regardless of rich or poor, that every child I hold in my hands, will have the same chance to reach her full potential or his full potential. That is the goodness of our country. That is the essence of the American dream." (Frequently used quote)

"I have a strong body, I have a strong heart, I have a strong soul." (2001, announcing that he had a mild form of multiple sclerosis)

"I'm not making a decision I don't believe in." (2002, before voting against authorizing the use of force in Iraq)

"Marcia Timmel said, ‘I'm so small and the darkness is so great.' We must light a candle." (Speech to the Minnesota Nurses Association, October 23, 1985)

"Above and beyond the question of how to grow the economy there is a legitimate concern about how to grow the quality of our lives." (Tikkun magazine, August, 1998)

"Barrington Moore put it well: ‘Doing nothing remains the real form of mass action.'" (Speech delivered to an undated conference on rural poverty and strategies for social change.)

"I think the prophetic tradition of our [Jewish] faith is that to love God is to love justice." (Comments to reporter, undated)

"The idea of democracy has been stripped of it moral imperatives and come to denote hollowness and hypocrisy." (Essay titled, "The Case for Commitment," undated)

"People have to hear words that not only sound right but feel right. I think it's in part the economic message, but it's also in part a message about community, about who we are as a nation, about how to live a life in which you don't have to separate the life you live from the words you speak, be that in your relationship with your family, your community, your country or your world. I don't want to give an inch on a ‘family values' agenda..." (Tikkun magazine, August, 1998)

"I think we ought to remember what Emerson wrote - The true test of civilization is not the census or the size of the city or the crops, but the kind of man (and I'd add women) the country turns out. The kind of national goal we ought to be thinking about is way beyond national product - it is how do we as a nation help our children be the best kinds of people they could possibly be?" (Tikkun magazine, August, 1998)

Politics and civic engagement

"Our aims in political activism are not, and should not be, to create a perfect utopia. What we seek is more simply to improve the quality of human life while at the same time respecting the natural environment which sustains it: 'Not a heaven on earth but a better earth on earth.' This is not at all a timid agenda, far from it. The work ahead of us is enormous!" (Untitled essay from the 1980s)

"When too many Americans don't vote or participate, some see apathy and despair. I see disappointment and even outrage. And I believe that out of this frustration can come hope and action." (Speech to Grassroots Training Seminar, Iowa State University, July 11, 1998)

"I don't think politics has anything to do with left, right, or center. It has to do with trying to do right by people." (Frequently used quote)

"Our politics are our deepest form of expression: they mirror our past experiences and reflect our dreams and aspirations for the future." (Untitled and undated essay)

"Politics is not just about power and money games, politics can be about the improvement of people's lives, about lessening human suffering in our world and bringing about more peace and more justice." (Frequently used quote, esp. during 1990 campaign)

"The only way to change is to vote. People are responsible." (Speech delivered to an undated conference on rural poverty and strategies for social change.")

"As free citizens in a political democracy, we have a responsibility to be interested and involved in the affairs of the human community, be it at the local or the global level." (Untitled and undated essay)

"There is an elementary aspiration which undergirds the humane impulse in our history and our culture and binds us together as political activists. This is a simple, irreducible, indisputable aspiration. It is the ‘dream of justice' for a beloved community, in which the level of terror in people's lives is sharply reduced or maybe eliminated. It is the belief that extremes and excesses of inequality must be reduced so that each person is free to fully develop his or her full potential. This is why we take precious time out of our lives and give it to politics." (Speech to the Minnesota Nurses Association, October 23, 1985)

"We need a new kind of citizenship, so that we can see citizens as themselves earning the rank of patriot because of their involvement in their community affairs....We as a society need to be encouraging people to focus not just on individual wants but on serving the larger community." (Tikkun magazine, August, 1998)

Party politics

"I represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic party." (During his 2000 presidential exploratory campaign.)

"The problem with party politics is that people get involved every two or four years and that is it. In the meantime, the legislature and Minnesota politics are on a separate track." (Letter to Rainbow Coalition members, 1980s)

"We must regain our vision and hope and move our country forward on an agenda of peace and justice." (Letter to DFL party activists in support of his campaign for Democratic National Committee member, April 24, 1984)

"We can and must move U.S. politics forward by means of committed participation." (Letter to DFL party activists in support of his campaign for Democratic National Committee member, April 24, 1984)

"The Democratic Party has lost much of it credibility with working class and low-income people. It retards progress toward presenting a genuine alternative." (Essay entitled "Commentary on Electoral Strategy," co-authored with Tom O'Connell, undated)

The 1982 race for state auditor

"I was talking about no nukes, the farm crisis. People said that wasn't stuff that a state auditor was supposed to be talking about. Maybe they were right." (Undated, speaking of his failed 1982 bid for state auditor)

On organizing:

"Successful organizing is not built on self-interest but rather on dignity and a sense of purpose." ("Rationality, Self-Interest and Community Organizing," academic paper, date unknown)

"Successful organizing is based on the recognition that people get organized because they, too, have a vision." ("Rationality, Self-Interest and Community Organizing," academic paper, date unknown)

"Organizers need to be careful and make a rigorous analysis of just what people are capable of doing." (Speech delivered to an undated conference on rural poverty and strategies for social change.)

"There is a major ingredient missing from our perception of how changes are brought about; that ingredient is power." (Proposal for research grant to study rural poverty, 1976)

"What makes community organizing especially attractive is the faith it places in the ability of the poor to make decisions for themselves." (Proposal for research grant to study rural poverty, 1976)

"I emphasize self-esteem, self-confidence, and dignity, not as an ideal, but as a real test of community organization. Without leadership development, community organizations do not have staying power." (Proposal for research grant to study rural poverty, 1976)

"When one strips away the rhetoric, the typical organizing strategy for working with the poor is: 1) Poor people will only respond to tangible, material inducements 2) The organizer must offer concrete benefits to enlist and sustain their participation, 3) It is very difficult to motivate the people and demands on the leadership should be minimal, 4) The organizer will have to make crucial decisions about goals and tactics. This model....creates serious problems." ("Rationality, Self-Interest and Community Organizing," academic paper, date unknown)

Economic Justice

"What the poor, the weak, and the inarticulate desperately require is power, organization, and a sense of identity and purpose, not rarefied advice of political scientists." (Essay titled, "The Case for Commitment," undated)

"The American polity is infected with a serious imbalance of power between elites and masses, a power which is the principal threat to our democracy." (Essay titled, "The Case for Commitment," undated)

"We must remember that for many, many women, work does not represent liberation, modernization, or market success. Most women are not upper income professionals and certainly not executives of large corporations and banks; most women work in the expanding low-wage service sector of our economy." (Speech to the Minnesota Nurses Association, October 23, 1985)

Teaching and Education

"I saw as a teacher how, if you take that spark of learning that those children have, and you ignite it, you can take a child from any background to a lifetime of creativity and accomplishment. But if you snuff out that spark of learning, it is the cruelest and most shortsighted thing a nation can do. Too many children see that spark of learning snuffed out." (Speech to Grassroots Training Seminar, Iowa State University, July 11, 1998)

The following quotes are from an academic essay titled, "The Case For Commitment," (undated):

"Knowledge must come to inform the very fiber of a person's being in order for it to free him to live a life of his own." "The first task in teaching is to bring to consciousness what the students already believe by virtue of their personal experiences about themselves and society."

"One goal of teaching, a goal that works towards students forming their own intellectual commitments to help them be autonomous, fully participating members of a democratic community, is that we must bring our students to formulate their own questions and to fashion their own conceptual tools."

"The best way to encourage students to engage in the rather painful activity of probing the soundness of their own thinking is for the teacher to engage openly in a process of questioning and self-doubt."

"We must use the skills and insights we possess as political scientists to assist students in gaining an awareness of their position in the world, an awareness of the forces that impinge on and shape their lives, and an awareness of the scope of political perspectives and goals open to them."

"If a teacher does not involve himself, his values, his commitments, in the course of discussion, why should the students?"

"Education and democracy have the same goal: the fullest possible development of human capabilities."