Beth Stockbridge’s political awakening came courtesy of the Chicago machine and Al Franken. “When I moved to Chicago I was pretty shocked by how corrupt the politics are,” says Stockbridge, who’s 26. Then this fall her husband saw Franken speak in Skokie, and she learned about a group devoted to furthering the progressive causes championed by the late senator Paul Wellstone. On Thursday, February 5, she and more than 650 other volunteers nationwide are holding informal discussions of Wellstone’s 2002 book The Conscience of a Liberal in cafes, libraries, and their living rooms. “My apartment can only hold, like, eight people,” says Stockbridge. “I don’t know if I even have eight chairs.”

The discussions–formally dubbed the “Wellstone Civic Dialogue Project”–are the brainchild of Wellstone Action!, a Minnesota-based nonprofit. “We expected maybe 1 to 200 [discussion groups], but we got 600,” says Pam Costain, the group’s director of education and advocacy. “It says to us that there is a great desire for real political conversation and community among progressives, an interest in policy issues that are away from the party system.”

A self-proclaimed news junkie and the daughter of politically conscious parents, Stockbridge had never worked for a political organization or cause before she cracked Wellstone’s book last month. After she finished it, she signed on with Barack Obama’s senate campaign.

“It would inspire a lot of people to work for a campaign they care about,” she says. “Even if it’s Bush, I don’t care.” She pauses. “Well, yeah, I would care.”

For more information on Wellstone Action! and to register for the Wellstone Civic Dialogue Project see

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Carleton College News Bureau.