Not long after Russ Feingold was elected to the United States Senate for his first term, several members of our Colombia Support Network Board went to meet him at his office, accompanied by future Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin and future Wisconsin State Representative Mark Pocan, at the time both members of the Dane County Board. Senator Feingold listened carefully to our concerns about the dramatic situation in our sister community of Apartado, even though he had no particular reason to be interested in Colombia, South America. Ever since that first meeting, Russ showed interest in our organization and supported our efforts to advance human rights in Colombia. He connected us to his staff members who assisted him in his role as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and made them available to us to listen to our concerns. And no matter how busy he was with the legislative process in Washington, he made time for us. He even invited us to meet with him personally in his local office on a Saturday morning, taking time to meet with us even as his signature McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill was being considered by Congress, to discuss the situation in Colombia and to hear from us what we felt our government should do to support the grass-roots community organizations which formed our CSN sister communities. He worried with us about the damage the militaristic focus of U.S. Government aid was causing to the Colombian people, and took very seriously our complaints about the harm that the coca crop spraying campaign, drenching peasants’ fields with high-strength Roundup Ultra herbicide which killed their staple food crops, sickened their animals and caused rashes in their children.
But Russ Feingold was much more than a sympathetic voice to CSN in the U. S. Senate. He was (and of course is) an honest, straightforward champion of the common man who speaks his mind, even where political expedience would suggest not doing so. His vote in the Senate against the Patriot Act, the only Senator to vote against this severely flawed legislation which undermined many of our basic civil liberties, was an unparalleled act of political courage. His stand against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his efforts to end U. S. military involvement in these conflicts, was emphatically right, even though his colleagues in Congress paid little attention to his efforts.
Russ Feingold always understood that he represented the people of Wisconsin. He held listening sessions each year in all 72 of Wisconsin’s counties, something no other politician we know of has tried. And at those sessions he listened carefully to the complaints and observations of those who attended, usually large in number. He eschewed campaign contributions from interest groups and refused to be co-opted by special interests or their lobbyists. (His successor in the Senate, Ron Johnson, on the other hand, hired a lobbyist as the chief of staff in his Washington office.)
A Rhodes Scholar, Russ brought an active intelligence to every problem and every issue. We in Wisconsin will greatly miss this. While Russ worked to protect the environment by controlling carbon emissions, his successor Ron Johnson foolishly doubts the reality of global warming, attributing environmental changes to sunspot activity.
CSN members all across our country, and numerous friends of CSN in Colombia have asked us how such an outstanding statesman could have been turned out of office by the voters of Wisconsin. Russ undoubtedly suffered from the anti-Democrat sentiments throughout this country, stoked by the Rush Limbaughs and Glenn Becks in the right-wing media. And he believed in the positive points of the health care reform legislation and defended his vote in favor of it even when popular sentiment, based upon ignorance of the effects of the law, opposed the legislation. He never took the route of political expediency, even if it meant he might not be re-elected to the Senate.
We are pleased that Senator Feingold has agreed to teach at Marquette University Law School, where he can demonstrate to students what it means to be an honorable man and impart his extensive knowledge and understanding of government to future generations. We at CSN wish him success in this new endeavor. But we fervently hope he will return to government, where we so greatly need him. We encourage you to write to Russ at the address shown below to tell him what he has meant to you and to our efforts on behalf of peace and justice.
JOHN I. LAUN