I didn’t know what to expect before I went to Sen. Russ Feingold’s listening session in Fond du Lac this morning, but all early indications warrant immense confidence that progressive activists in general and Get Fisa Right in particular can leverage these for impressive results. My experience this morning has made me supremely confident that our goals for the “GFR Heart Sen. Feingold” campaign are entirely reachable, and I think it will be a boon not only for our work but for the progressive movement in general if we take advantage of these!
First things first—-a recap of what these listening sessions are like. Sen. Feingold pledged upon his first senatorial run to hold open meetings in all 72 counties in Wisconsin every single year. This must be quite the strain on him, yet this strain did not seem to mitigate the utility of these open meetings as he went beyond the call of duty (and over the time limit) to ensure that he answered EVERY SINGLE QUESTION posed to him.
At the beginning of the session he mentioned that it was a particularly large crowd, which I was very surprised to hear as there were maybe 50-100 people there. The general small town feel of this event helped make it an incredibly welcoming environment for every day citizens to pose questions to him, which I am quite proud to say that I was able to do. This dynamic will make it eminently easy (at least relative to other politicians) to achieve our goal of getting “a better understanding of the situation in Congress and Senator Feingold’s strategy” as we can simply ask him directly. In fact, at this very meeting the senator was adamant in his support for Sen. Leahy’s efforts to establish a Truth Commission designed to investigate Bush administration abuses including “the use of torture, warrantless wiretapping, extraordinary rendition, and executive override of laws.” However, I firmly believe that we could use these meetings to ask extremely detailed questions that our media would not think to ask him both about how these proceedings will move forward and what we can to do help.
Furthermore, I was even more surprised to see the lack of media attention that was present for this rare sort of opportunity for every day citizens to hob nob with the powerful. There was only 1 (!) media member there that I could see, and they merely filmed a 30 second clip in the back of the room at the beginning and then held a short interview after it ended. This was completely unexpected for me as the invite for this listening session specifically cited how he would be available to meet with the media, which apparently no one else decided to take advantage of. In fact, I felt somewhat self-conscious considering I was the only one holding a video camera, and I had these feelings confirmed when his Administrative Director came up to me to ask what I planned to use the video for. Her approach was entirely unthreatening and, in fact, she gave me her card specifically so I could contact her to discuss my plans (and I’ll be looking to the comments section of this thread for ideas!).
The dynamic of these completely underutilized consistent opportunities for media outlets to produce video interviews with him could be an easy answer for our goal of getting “Sen Feingold to make a video on “what it means to get FISA right”.” Plus, considering what a hit this short Open Left produced FISA video with him was, I think these videos could become major drivers of traffic to the blog and to the causes we are pushing if only because there seem to be so few of these—bringing us to yet another goal of getting “blog and media attention, at least at the local and state level, and hopefully nationally as well.”
The potential for a campaign designed to take advantage of these listening sessions is massive! They will make it easy for us to “introduce ourselves to Senator Feingold” and ideally will put us on path to getting “a working relationship in place” for GFR. After the experience I have had today I firmly believe we need to resolutely back our most ambitious goal for this campaign of pilotting “techniques that we can use as part of a 50-state strategy” as we will never have a better opportuntiy to guage what kind of citizen activism and participation will be most warmly received and most beneficial for politicians.
All in all, it was quite the gratifying experience and I plan on going to many more of these. I am already rapidly thinking up next steps we can take, and I am looking forward to discussing how we can best do this both for the short and the long term!