We Have Mountains to Melt

Below is an excerpt from a speech delivered by the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) at the Shadow Convention in Los Angeles on Aug. 13, 1999. Wellstone, his wife, daughter, three campaign aides and two pilots were killed in a plane crash Oct. 25, see story, p. 18.

I was, this past week, on the north side of Minneapolis. It was a low-income, African American community, among the highest concentration of poverty in the United States. Eleven-year-old, Kevin Brewer was in Cottage Park at 10 p.m. He shouldn’t have been there. His mom was working two jobs and his aunt was taking care of him — he shouldn’t have been there alone. There was a group of men, 20 men playing dice, and somebody got angry. This three-block area, by the way, it’s a war zone. You’ve got drug dealers everywhere. You’ve got one gang that controls the trade and makes a lot of money. And there was gunfire … and they killed that 11-year-old boy. He was shot four times. It was the bullet in the chest that cost him his life.

I’m not just a father. I’m a Jewish grandpa. I cannot accept the death of an 11-year-old child anywhere in the United States. And I’ll tell you something, these communities … we ought to be making a difference. The people there, they’ve got a lot of dignity. I went to his service, it was so moving. There was dignity. There was strength. And everybody mourned for their child. But I don’t see why, with this booming economy and as well as we’re doing, we can’t make sure that these neighborhoods, and that these small children, are safe. I don’t know why we don’t have affordable housing, why we don’t have good child care, why we don’t have jobs for people that can work at decent wages. We can do better….

How can it be that with record economic performance and record-low levels of unemployment, that Republicans — and too many Democrats — still tell us we can’t afford to provide a good education for every child, we can’t have health security for every citizen, and that we should tolerate a set of social arrangements that allow children to be the most poverty-stricken group of people in the United States? If you want real welfare reform, focus on a good education, good health care and a good job. If you want to reduce poverty, focus on a good education, good health care and a good job. If you want to have a stable middle class, focus on a good education, good health care and a good job….

And yes, if you want to reduce this violence, the truth of the matter is this — we ought to shout this truth from the mountaintop — we can build a million new prisons, we will fill them all up, but we will never stop this cycle of violence unless we invest in the health and the skills and the intellect and the character of our children….

It’s a heartbreak to me … I’m the son of a Jewish immigrant from the Ukraine. My father fled persecution. I love this country. And it breaks my heart when I talk to people and they say to me, both parties are controlled by the same investors and heavy hitters…. And when they say to me, if you pay you play and if you don’t pay you can’t play, there’s so much disillusionment. So many people who now believe that their concerns are of little concern in the corridors of power in Washington, D.C.

I’m tired of waiting. It’s time for us to find our own voice, to do our own organizing, to push forward on reform, to push forward on the economic justice issues, and to make the United States the good country.

Wendell Phillips, speaking in the 1840s, condemned slavery as a moral outrage. When he finished speaking, a friend came up to him and asked, "Wendell, why are you so on fire?"

My favorite quote from history: Wendell looked at his friend, and he said, "Brother, I’m on fire because I have mountains of ice before me to melt."

We have mountains of ice before us

to melt.

Thank you. Thank you, everybody. Stay strong! Stay strong! Stay strong!