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<nettime> wellstone transformed digest [human being, wang]
nettime's_indigestive_system on Thu, 31 Oct 2002 07:20:47 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> wellstone transformed digest [human being, wang]

Re: <nettime> Wellstone transformed
     Dan Wang <danwang {AT} mindspring.com>
     human being <human {AT} electronetwork.org>

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Date: Wed, 30 Oct 2002 00:49:12 -0600
Subject: Re: <nettime> Wellstone transformed
From: Dan Wang <danwang {AT} mindspring.com>

Well, this much is true: Paul Wellstone didn't have the kind of protection
that other big-time politicians have. If somebody wanted to sabotage a
Democrat's campaign, his would be high on the list if only for reasons of
immunity from political revenge. Paul didn't have the deeply entrenched
powers on his side, nor was he owed much by any powerful interest. Also, to
feed the foul-play theories further--sabotaging the campaign would probably
require assassination because Paul was basically incorruptible on the
personal level. He just didn't have it in him to be sleazy.

Sabotage or not, he's gone. But the lessons remain, and those aren't being
talked about, either. So here are a few thoughts.

Something that the commentators and electoral analysts never quite
understood about Paul Wellstone, and still don't: he was at heart an

I was a student of his. For me and scores of his other former students, Paul
was the living embodiment of the grassroots tradition. Combine that with the
fact that he was an academic and what you get is a guy who made political
organizing an object of study and experimentation. If you got power, then
the experiment worked. If you didn't, then you tried something else.

Contrary to how the mass media has portrayed him, Paul was anything but an
idealistic lost liberal. Anything but na´ve. When talking politics (which is
what he was almost always talking), he used the word 'power' *all* the time.
He understood that politics is war by other means. He also knew there was an
army just waiting to be assembled for his side. He became more circumspect
with his terminology after he became a senator, but only because it was a
cosmetic requirement of the job.

His doctoral dissertation was, if I remember correctly, titled "The Black
Radicals: What Do They Want?", and was based on a lot of research conducted
in urban ghettos. His first book was titled "How the Rural Poor Got Power",
and was similarly based on firsthand contact and exchange with farmers
suffering foreclosure and the rural unemployed. Between the two works lay
his greatest talent, and for us the most valuable lesson--the man knew how
to talk and how to listen, how to build trust and friendship with people
from any socioeconomic or cultural group, how to learn from others, how to
give credit to others, how to see ordinary people as agents. People who,
with the right tactics, can exercise political power. By the time he chaired
Jesse Jackson's campaign in Minnesota in '88, Paul was already way beyond
the Rainbow Coalition, in terms of actual experience working with a true
cross section of the Left.

There was something incredibly anachronistic about Paul--the scrappy
neighborhood organizer who went national--but I would argue for revisiting
the ideas and subjects he taught. The basics, in times of acute crisis (like
right now), are still very relevant. What do we want? How do we get it? If
we don't get it, then we try something else.

He wasn't much for the mirror stage, the logocentrism of language, the
spectacularized society. But he knew the history of American protest and
organizing through and through, from the populist farmers to the suffragists
to the labor movements to the civil rights marchers to the sds-ers to the
grape boycotts to the anti-nuke groups to the sanctuary movement, and so on.
Because he identified with the most marginalized people, he firmly believed
that the consequences of political activism and organizing were almost
guaranteed to be better than inaction, even when things developed in
unforeseen ways. That's something to remember these days: enforced despair
is to be rebelled against, and optional despair is afforded to the

Organizing as experimentation. To conduct the successful experiment.
Political science in the best sense of the term.

The experiment Paul conducted using himself as the subject succeeded wildly.
Even in death, the confirmation of success is there. Why else would more
than 20,000 people attend a memorial service for a United States Senator, in
an age when ordinary people are more than likely tempted to celebrate when a
prominent politician goes down?

Dan w.

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Date: Wed, 30 Oct 2002 02:05:42 -0600
Subject: Re: <nettime> Wellstone transformed
From: human being <human {AT} electronetwork.org>

to add some thoughts to those Dan shares... i am
uncertain if the Wellstone memorial was shown on
national U.S. television- but if it was not- find
a videotape! get a tape and watch the 3+ hours of
it, if you have the chance, as it was an historic
moment in political opposition to reigning power
politics, through what i can only relate to those
earlier, smokey conventions in the 50s and 60s, in
which a chaotic element still seemed to exist in
the process (it was not as much a finite or closed
process, made-for-TV). or, even to descriptions of
earlier debates a hundred plus years ago, in which
people would openly debate ideas with a roomful of
persons, for hours on end. those versed in political
history/science may have better examples or correct
this notion if mistaken.

the memorial was expected to be something somber as
far as it might be expected, with three members of
one of the most unique politician's lost, in addition
to three staff. but that is not how it it went, from
beginning to end. if words could try to span what
the difference was, it was to begin with 'sounds of
blackness' playing live music, while regular citizens
and well-known politicians filed into the University
stadium, with heartfelt and good humored and quite
funny story telling and celebrations of memories,
and people, by relatives, to an ideological u-turn
from someone close to the Wellstone campaign who may
still be fighting for the next week's election, as if
he was fighting for his boss, wanting to win it and
by whatever means possible which torqued the night's
evenness into deeply distorted purposes for a memorial
(calling on Republican Senators to vote for Wellstone,
and basically, to stop the democratic process and give
Wellstone (umm, now Mondale, but 'Vote for Paul') the
election next tuesday. it was difficult to watch this
and yet in hindsight, anyone close to the campaign,
having lost their bosses, have to give a close personal
speech about them, and then continue to press-on in a
deeply embittered election fight- well, it is under-
standable and was smoothed over by a hail-mary recovery.

the reason this one Senator's memorial is worth writing
about for a global audience is that this was the first
formal coming together of forces deeply opposed to what
is going on in the United States of America today, not
in the short-term sense of quick-power, but in the sense
of the purpose of political power, the reason. and it was
this sense that goes far beyond rhetoric and soundbites,
and was successfully transmitted by live television, as
if it were a democratic process in itself. there was a
great civility, a good temperament, and, it was political
but almost entirely having nothing to do with parties or
political affiliations, but about ideas, dreams, wishes,
shared hopes, work to be done, relating, and organizing
communities. with lessons of values, education, justice,
and many other common sense goals and realties that tie
diverse peoples together, family, city, country, world.

there was a Kennedyesque coronation quality to the family
that survives, two sons who shared with joy and freedom
what has been gained, and created a sense of continuity,
and identification. so too, political staffers, and other
politicians in the state and federal branches present may
also find a renewed sense of connection, as the peoples
response to these events, and this night in particular,
demonstrated what is missing in the current political
system, and may be systemically missing, until changes
can be made to transform power, to work for the people.

to bring perspective, Iowa's Senator Harkin closed the
night with a raucous speech, bringing the audience to its
feet with hope and cheers and determination, to go beyond.
to not only make it through, but make politics anew. this
moment was one bridging the past (DFL-Liberal) with the
Clinton-era, and Al Gore's political realities, which in
hindsight may have less to do with Clinton being a menace
than with Leiberman's sympathies with Republican agendas.
there was something about a barn raising (not sure if this
is the most accurate term) or a dusty meeting in an old
meeting hall, to discuss politics for a people, that this
night reminded me of, iconic because in my lifetime
there has never been anything so 'real' in politics, as
post-assassination politics, most everything has seemed
much more scripted, made-for-TV, and reducing risks.

about Wellstone's earlier work, i first encountered his
work as a community organizer described in 'confrontation
on the prairie' [1] in which there was a rural revolt over
electrical rights-of-way for high-voltage pylons through
farmland. protests, tractors pulling down power towers,
national guard called out. Wellstone involved. this it
seemed may be related to his earlier political career,
maybe even 'power' itself, i don't know, but found out
after his death that he co-authored a book entitled:

  "Powerline: The First Battle of America's Energy War."

given the war, and energy-issues in particular, i always
wondered why Wellstone was quite about the connections,
but then again, being alone talking about such things
may not be a good thing for long-term survival, as none
in the Senate are vocally challenging the U.S. energy
policy to date (dependency on oil, nuclear energy, as
drafted prior to the War on Terror and 9/11, and un-
changed even though these are the #1 and #2 national
security threats, homeland included, that could be
changed for the betterment of everyone, if political
expediency were not foremost of political priorities).

another aspect which was especially interesting (to me
at least) is the aspect of community organizing, in
that like the memorial, there was an inclusiveness to
the event, everyone belonged, everyone was equal, and
the politics were about people, not of parties or of
some arcane issue so differentiated by strategists as
to make philosophical paradoxes look like bad jokes,
when trying to reverse engineer their soundbites back
onto the common sense issues of social and economic
justice, equality, freedom, pursuit of a common good.
this same aspect, pre-political, is also described by
Walter Gropius in a scope of total architecture, in
which it education is central to building, and if one
is to build a new architecture, it is suggested to
begin with organizing communities. this always struck
me as odd, until the internet aspect of portals made
independent community work more of a possibility. and
yet it directly relates to the realities of trying
to work with diverse groups of individuals for common
goals. and in a sense, it is political work, also. [2]

if anything, the loss of Senator Wellstone, and the
public reaction and action, both by citizens and by
official representatives, does give a real sense of
passion otherwise lacking, so much so that Harkin had
his suitcoat off and was waving his arm in a rousing
speech, bringing an audience to its feet, with a fire
in the bellies and minds of those experiencing what
was an unforgettable and most important evening, and
new day, in U.S. American politics. and that is, there
is a movement here, and it is only going to be growing.

to spring....

[1] excerpt:
source * Days of Rage: Minnesota Farmers Fight First Battle of  
America's Energy War. General Assembly to Stop the Powerline. Manifesto  
commemorating the 1st Annual Powerline Protest Reunion & Celebration,  
August 16, 1981. 1k or 7k, 2091, .M6, C664 (17.8) Pamphlet found in the  
archives of the Minnesota Historical Library.
source: Trouble on the Land: Confrontation on the Prairie. Paul David  
Wellstone and Lamont Tarbox. December 1977. The Progressive. (17.9)  
pp.41-43, #227016. found in the archives of the Minnesota Historical  

First, the "energy wars" that erupted in the 1970s between Minnesota  
farming communities and both PUBLIC cooperative and PRIVATE ELECTRICAL  
utilities sparked a nationwide debate on ELECTRICAL POWER.

For example, in Lowry, Minnesota, a community group named "General  
Assembly to Stop the Powerline" organized to stop a POWERLINE  
right-of-way crossing through their rural farmland. A "total tactic"  
was used: demonstrations were staged, protest letters were written to  
STATE representatives, but the POWER plans still moved ahead;  
foundations and building materials were destroyed, and tractors pulled  
down dozens of TRANSMISSION TOWERs as they were erected; finally the  
State police was called in, people were arrested, and the POWERPLANTs  
and POWERLINEs were finally constructed and made operational.

 From their 1981 manifesto, the community states its experience:

"We survive. We were not stopped when we were repeatedly and shamefully  
betrayed by the politicians... We continue to endure the injuries  
inflicted by a parade of incompetent bureaucrats acting in collusion  
with the utilities. We were not defeated when callous judges kept  
deciding that the time and money of the power companies were more  
important than truth, and even more important than the law. The  
combined brute force of the FBI, the BCA, the State and local police  
and private armies hired by the utilities has not been strong enough to  
destroy us. And we have survived the lies, the threats and  
intimidations and deceits, and the arrogant destruction brought upon us  
by the power companies themselves. The line went into commercial  
operation two years ago, and we are still survivors! That has never  
happened before...

"We shall continue to survive as an organized opposition to this  
powerline until those responsible for this powerline learn to behave  
with a healthy respect for our values, and until the proper authorities  
have taken appropriate action to rectify this untenable situation in  
which we find ourselves entrapped

." (17.8)

This event was repeated all over communities in the rest of the United  
States of AMERICA. And another battle of POWER between utilities and  
Minnesota farmers eventually made its impact in national politics when  
a political science professor at Carleton College, now Senator Paul  
Wellstone, wrote an article about this "Confrontation on the Prairie"  
detailing farmers' fears of a POWERLINE right-of-way:

"[Farmers] fear the massive electrical current will cause significant  
chemical reactions in the air around the line, creating dangerously  
high concentrations of ozone. They also have other worries: Large  
pieces of equipment, buildings, and fences may have to be grounded to  
prevent a build-up of static electricity and to keep current from  
jumping from the line to the ground. Advanced irrigation systems may be  
rendered useless, and aeriel spraying may have to be curtailed. The  
towers may enhance the risk of serious accidents whenever heavy  
machinery is used. The line may create a noticeable noise that bothers  
livestock, and decrease the value of the farmlands. And the farmers are  
deeply disturbed about the way the utilities have tried to steam-roller  
permission to construct the line from local and state officials." (17.9)

Through the organization and protest by communities of farmers and  
citizens, in the name of their 'sacred trust with the land', several  
POWERLINEs were not built, but many more POWERLINEs and POWERPLANTs to  
fuel THE GRID were eventually built as planned, regardless of local  


[2] excerpt from a thesis which samples gropius' ideas
and recontextualizes them, as follows...

We propose that achieving the general knowledge and holistic "composite  
mind" Gropius envisions will result from rationally understanding  
relation to ARCHITECTURE. (107) Ultimately this leads to Gropius'  
belief in democratic, ground-up planning of communities and  
ARCHITECTURAL knowledge. In these newly developing core "community  
centers" our ARCHITECTURAL planning begins:

"[P]articipation is the key word in planning. Participation sharpens  
individual responsibility, the prime factor in making a community  
coherent, in developing group vision and pride in the self-created  
environment. Such educational conception would put book knowledge in  
its right place, as an auxillary only to experience in action, which  
alone can lead to constructive attitudes and habits of thought." (109)

Similarly, ARCHITECTs need to design "community centers" within  
CYBERSPACE, such as Internet COMPUTER NETWORK websites, to facilitate  
the creation of a democratic community from the ground up.

In closing Gropius concludes that "an architect or planner worth the  
name must have a very broad and comprehensive vision to achieve a true  
synthesis of a future community. This we might call "total  
architecture." " (110)

the public energy network
democratic energy policy by and for humans worldwide

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