October 28, 2002 Special Newsletter
I would like to thank those of you who have emailed me or called in the last several days. Your notes and calls feel like a warm blanket around my shoulders. It is a very hard time for the state, for Silent Witness and for me personally. The Wellstones were friends as well as colleagues and we shared an enduring passion for eliminating domestic violence in this country. I have met very few people in public life who have had as much commitment to domestic violence reduction as Paul and Sheila. In fact in the last newsletter I reiterated how deep their commitment has been. Little did I know that would be a sort of eulogy for them both.
In another fitting eulogy, the Silent Witnesses will appear at the Wellstone's memorial service as a mute and powerful reminder of what they stood for in Minnesota and in this country. Most of the Senators as well as former President Clinton will be there so this will be a wonderful opportunity for the voices of the Silent Witness to be heard. We have made a new shield for an additional Witness with a special thank you to Paul and Sheila for their work in this initiative. Perhaps some of your who knew them would like to do the same. And we are already thinking of ways in which we can honor their memories within Silent Witness. More on that later, but if you have any ideas for us, we are eager to hear them.
One thing we can all do is this: On Tuesday at 6:30 (CST) when the Wellstone memorial service begins at Williams Arena (the basketball stadium on the University of Minnesota campus), we can all rededicate ourselves to the elimination of domestic violence in our country. We can pledge to make our local work more strategic, more impassioned, and more urgent. We can promise ourselves to heal abuse in our own lives. And we can pray for peace.
I wrote a tribute for the Minneapolis StarTribune to honor Paul and Sheila's work within the domestic violence movement. I share it with you in hopes that it will help all of us with our grieving. Keep up your good work. Do this work for yourself, for women, for your community, and now in memory of our most stalwart supporters, Senator Paul Wellstone and Sheila Wellstone.
Several years ago I sat with Sheila Wellstone and one of her staff members at a table in her Washington office while a reporter interviewed her about her role in the current domestic violence legislation Paul was developing. In the interview Sheila mentioned that one in four women has at least one incident of domestic violence in her lifetime. After the interview the reporter quietly told Sheila that she was the one in four at the table. Sheila spent the next twenty minutes talking with her personally and giving her support, resources and encouragement.
This was the essence of Sheila Wellstone.
Senator Paul and Sheila Wellstone worked relentlessly and successfully on legislation and programs to reduce domestic violence in our country. Their work was showcased recently in the Washington sniper case. The sniper's initial arrest was the result of a law Paul sponsored making it illegal for a domestic violence perpetrator to possess a firearm. This illustrates Paul and Sheila¹s work--on a grand scale.
But we all know that Paul and Sheila¹s gift was their work at the other end of the spectrum. It was on the local and personal level with people that the press likes to call ³little² people but whom most of us know as parts of ourselves. They worked on the issues that touch most of us, or our families - issues involving health, work, mental illness, recovery from addiction, children, farms, veterans, and domestic abuse.
My personal saga with the Wellstones began when Paul was first elected and they immediately contacted the Silent Witness National Initiative. A group of writers and artists had recently created an exhibit of twenty-seven red life-sized silhouettes representing the woman who were murdered in acts of domestic violence in Minnesota in one year. We formed a working relationship with them immediately and Sheila appeared with the exhibit so many times in the next few years that she became synonymous with Silent Witness.
In the fall of 1993 the Wellstones asked us to bring the Silent Witness exhibit to Washington to help pass ground-breaking legislation, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). We placed the entire exhibit in the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building as mute testimony to the tragedy of domestic violence in our country. Most of the senators passed through the exhibit on their way to the Capitol, reading several of the women¹s stories on the chest plates of the silhouettes. These women were more than statistics. They were mothers, sisters, daughters, corporate executives, day care workers, and teachers. Several senators told Paul that these stories moved them deeply because they made the issue of domestic violence so personal. Sheila personally escorted Tipper Gore (Al Gore was Vice President at the time) to the exhibit and Tipper told us that she would do anything she could to help us. Paul later told us that he felt the exhibit played an important role in passing the VAWA legislation.
A few years later, in October of 1997, Paul and Sheila were again central figures in the effort to end domestic violence. They hosted the March to End the Silence about Domestic Violence. We brought 1500 Silent Witness figures from all fifty states to Washington DC, and thousands of people, led by mournful bagpipers, silently escorted the silhouettes down the Mall to the nation¹s Capitol. Paul and Sheila marched with us even through Paul was in considerable physical pain. It was truly a grassroots effort and he couldn¹t miss it.
Paul served as the MC of the rally that day on the steps of the Capitol. He spoke cogently of the importance of the march and the eloquence and meaning brought so powerfully by the collective ³voices² of the Silent Witnesses. His passion about this issue was inspiring and he encouraged us to work relentlessly on our goal of zero domestic homicides of women by the year 2010. One of the young women activists attending the march commented to me how down-to-earth and accessible Paul and Sheila were and how motivated she was by their passion.
This involvement in grassroots social change was quintessential Paul and Sheila Wellstone.
Since 1994 the domestic homicide rates for women have fallen precipitously. We can all be proud of the work Paul and Sheila have accomplished on this issue. They have made a significant difference for our state and our country. And they have made a significant difference in my life. I will miss their commitment to Silent Witness and to the cause of eliminating domestic violence in the US. But I will miss them far more as colleagues and friends
This morning I was sitting in a chair looking out at the Mississippi River wearing a shawl that I made in Sheila's honor this week. It was so comforting to feel it on my shoulders that it felt like Sheila was there next to me. So I'd like to suggest that one way to honor Sheila is to knit Sheila's Shawls for family member of victims and/or others involved with Silent Witness (more on this in worldwide section of newsletter).
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