Thursday, January 03, 2008

Civic Engagement

It's a very cold morning, but I went down to the fire station. Senator Russ Feingold was holding a listening session, here in little old population 800 Blanchardville.

There were a few people in place when I arrived. By the time the session started there were over 100, including at 15-20 high school students who had taken the the school bus up from Monroe (good for that teacher!). I recognized a lot of neighbors, but as this was a session for the whole county there was a fair representation of out-of-towners.

I've reached a point in my life where I'm not particularly awed by public officials. (I've been rude to state assembly persons more than once.) But I did feel a certain kind a awe, because I respect Sen. Feingold so highly. I haven't always agreed with his votes on every issue, but I have always appreciated the intelligence and integrity with which he makes his choices. And he will always be a hero to me for standing up against the Iraq War and against the "Patriot" Act.
So I felt privileged to be there.

This wasn't an event with a preset agenda. The Senator took questions/comments and responded to them. These ranged from a request from the county sheriff for funding help, to concerns about the inadequacies of electronic voting systems, to farm issues, to veteran's concerns, to education issues to the budget deficit. The one statement that drew a general round of applause was an attendee's statement that we need to get out of Iraq, now. The one issue that was mentioned most was the increasing number of people who do not have access to health care coverage. The last speaker was a woman in tears, whose husband had just lost his job. She is diabetic, with $400 a month in expenses for medication and testing supplies, and she is scheduled for an operation. And she has no idea how they will pay for any of these things.

I appreciated the Senator's responses. Where he was familiar with an issue or involved with legislation he gave clear answers. Where he was less familiar, he said so. He stressed bi-partisanship and gave praise to politicians "across the aisle" where he felt it was due. But most of all, I felt that he was genuinely listening. It all felt a bit like democracy actually happening. Given the directions this country has been taking in the last few years, that was refreshing. All in all, the morning felt like a good way to start the new year.


Maxine said...

Russ seems like a pretty cool guy! And no doubt, is the smartest man in Washington too! Wish he were my senator.

Christine said...


Sounds like a good night for you. I wish either of my senators would do something like this. We haven't even been able to see either of them when we've been in DC, while they were there. And I'm not surprised, at least, at Feinstein's reticence, given how she's been voting lately. I think every senator should be required to do a public meeting like the one you attended. We all need to be reminded that this is supposed to be a democratic republic, not an imperial one.

Anonymous said...

Good for you for going. Feinstein is my hero, too, for voting against the Patriot Act way back when.

magnusmog said...

That makes me so grateful for the UK National Health Service.

Good to see there are US politicians speaking out against the war too. I went on the big march in Glasgow when the war was imminent and it still hurts me that the government I voted for went to war regardless of public opinion.