February 3, 2014
I was never going to be that person.
The most senior person on staff.
And yet here I am – 10 years, 1.2 million miles, and 384 trainings later – I’m that person for Wellstone Action.
Ten years ago I wasn’t even sure I wanted to work here. It was personal – I’d lost friends and comrades on the plane and nothing could bring them back. Working every day surrounded by this fact worried me. I suspect that I also feared we wouldn’t live up to Paul and Sheila’s legacy.
Little did I know when I finally did say ‘yes’ that I’d begin such a wonderfully wild, transformative ride. From grief sprung like a Phoenix immense hope.
In ten years, we’ve gone from a scrappy start-up in a small St. Paul office to the progressive movement’s largest and most effective capacity building center, with dozens of the best organizers and trainers spread across the country.
Add 60,000 alumni in all 50 states – over 600 progressive champions elected to public office – and partnerships with 350 frontline organizations helping change the world.
Not bad for ten years.
But for me the numbers only scratch the surface of what we’ve accomplished.
Our Wellstone Triangle – the cornerstone of our political framework – integrates grassroots organizing and electoral politics around a clear public policy agenda. In ten years this has gone from novel to widely accepted practice by tens of thousands of organizers and hundreds of organizations.
A doodle on a napkin one night nine years ago with my colleague Pam Costain reshaped our Wellstone ∆ into a new symbol – ∞ – representing continuous movement building power. At its center is the enduring long-term organizing work that makes possible shorter-term electoral and legislative wins. This doodle was one of the first configurations of integrated voter engagement work connecting c3 issue and c4 electoral organizing – now a widely adopted core strategy for building progressive movement power.
Ten years ago most progressives associated values-based politics with the Religious Right. Wellstone’s Politics of Conviction emphasized the importance of story and laying out a values choice in an authentic campaign narrative. Now even President Obama uses a choice we laid out over seven years ago: “we all do better when we all do better” versus “you’re on your own good luck!”
Ten years ago Camp Wellstone was our only training. While it continues to thrive, we’ve grown and evolved to connect more deeply with many of the progressive movement’s core communities.
Our Youth Leadership Pipeline connects young activists with movement organizations. Dozens of our trainers and alumni are now movement leaders; thousands of young activists have been trained on organizing.
We’re in the thick of the fight to keep our courts fair, beat back the attacks on workers, and protect every person’s right to vote and have their voices heard.
We’ve been at the center of developing intentional Candidate Pipelines in eight states; we intend to do even more to change the choices and elect progressive champions.
Ten years of memories are a lot, and as that person I could go on.
But it’s time to look forward.
Paul Wellstone taught me the story of the famous abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison who famously remarked that he was so “on fire” because “there are mountains of ice before us to melt.”
For ten years we’ve been “on fire” – much has been accomplished.
And there is still more to do.
I am looking forward to what comes next.