Back in the late 1990s, Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone and I spent a lot of late nights talking to each other on the phone. Let me explain that. At the time, I was teaching in Massachusetts – and my husband Bruce was teaching in Philadelphia. A lot of weeknights, I’d stay at the office working until 10, 11, midnight. I’d be sitting at the desk, and my phone would ring – and the voice on the other end would say, "Professor!!! What are you doing working at this hour?!?!" And I’d say, "Senator!!! What are you doing working at this hour?!?!" It was our own little Abbott and Costello routine.
Paul was calling because we were both digging in to the question – him as a senator, and me as a professor – of what was going wrong for working families in America and what we could do to help. At the time, the credit card companies were pushing a terrible bill that would make it harder for people who had hit hard times to file for bankruptcy. The credit card companies had money and power. And who was there to fight for a whole bunch of broke, desperate families? Paul. For Paul, it was always about the people.
Paul had that heart. Paul had that courage. And that’s why I’m not the only senator who considers him not just a hero, but a role model. We lost Paul 15 years ago today – and I think we all miss him even more than usual right now. Paul used to quote Marcia Timmel: "I’m so small," she said, "and the darkness is so great." Paul’s response: "Light a candle." Every time we fight to empower the powerless, they get stronger, and so do we: stronger for the next fight, and the next one, and the next one. So tonight, for Paul, light a candle. Share the flame. Keep it burning.