Courage Prize Recipient, 2011

Russell Dana “Russ” Feingold has spent nearly three decades serving the people of Wisconsin, first as a State Senator from 1983 – 1993, then as a three-term U.S. Senator from 1993 until the end of 2010. Feingold was a different kind of legislator—more committed to progressive principles than to a party, an internationalist who opposed free-trade deals because they served multinational corporations rather than multinational communities, a stalwart defender of the Constitution whose commitment to civil liberties and belief that wars be declared by Congress led him to stand alone against presidents and colleagues. Feingold’s independence and rectitude were such that the most conservative member of the Senate, Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn, would mark the departure of the most progressive member by saying of the Wisconsin Democrat, “One man of great integrity [kept] his word and [held] to his values through every crisis and every vote.”

Born and raised in Wisconsin, Feingold attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford, where he earned another degree before attending law school at Harvard, from which he graduated with honors. After four years of practicing law Feingold began his next career as an elected public servant.

Feingold took the moniker “public servant” seriously. He took principled stands, even when it was politically unpopular. Through three terms in the U.S. Senate he managed to frustrate his allies nearly as often as he angered his opponents. During his career Feingold was a relentless opponent of capital punishment, a budget realist who returned hundreds of thousands of federal dollars his office had been given, a tireless fighter for American jobs, an advocate for veterans, and a defender of civil liberties. He voted on principle and against politics in opposing the PATRIOT Act, and most famously, was a champion of fair elections in which voters rather than donors decide the outcome. When he first ran for State Senate in 1982, Feingold painted his campaign promises on his garage door. He spent the next eighteen years keeping those promises.

Having been an attorney and an elected official, Feingold is now beginning his third career. As he recently told The Nation, “I have no intention of stepping out of public life.” And indeed he hasn’t. Feingold recently founded Progressives United, whose mission is, “Empower Americans to stand up against the exploding corporate influence in Washington, especially since the Citizens United decision; hold our representatives accountable to every constituent, regardless of economic class or insider access; and support national, state, and local candidates who stand up for our progressive ideals.”

In addition to The Ridenhour Prize for Courage, Senator Feingold has been awarded the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.