On May 29 the National Endowment for Democracy honored U.S. Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA) with the Democracy Service Medal. Accepting the Medal, Rep. Wolf focused on the courage of Chinese activists like those honored alongside him, acknowledging he was moved to be in their company.
“In face of China’s draconian assault on basic human liberty, millions of Chinese people continue to long for and courageously act in pursuit of freedom and basic human dignity,” he said. “These impulses are captured by the simultaneously tragic and inspiring biographies of this evening’s democracy award recipients.”
Several members of Congress joined NED in paying tribute to Rep. Wolf. Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) applauded Rep. Wolf’s ability to cross party lines on crucial human rights issues. Rep. McGovern said it had been a privilege to serve with Rep. Wolf, describing him as “a man with a tender heart but a spine of steel.”
Rep. Wolf’s dedication to rising above the Washington political fray was a common theme among his Congressional supporters. Congressman Joe Pitts (R-PA) lauded Rep. Wolf’s willingness to take political risks.
“For a member of Congress it’s very tempting to focus on issues that get you votes and raise you money,” Rep. Pitts said. “But Frank and I both have the same weakness: some of the things we really care about raise us no money, get us no votes, and get us no kudos from the folks back home.”
Vin Weber, vice chairman of NED’s Board and a former Congressman from Minnesota, recounted a trip to Beijing made by Rep. Wolf following the 2008 NED Democracy Award. That year, the award honored a group of lawyers battling religious persecution in China, most of whom had to be honored in absentia. Rep. Wolf’s efforts to seek out the recipients and present their awards in person were denied by authorities, but the “message of encouragement and solidarity that they sent to their fellow activists could not have been clearer or more reassuring,” Weber said.
“Frank has devoted himself to a cause truly larger than himself,” Weber said. “He is an example of democracy at its best, of government at its best, of the United States of America at its best.”
As the night wound down, the shadow of the Tiananmen Square anniversary remained strong. Rep. Wolf’s final words noted that a consciousness had been awakened that day 25 years ago. And, while the flame has flickered, he said, it has persisted in the face of darkness because of the remarkable activists fighting for democracy and freedom in China.
“Against all odds they have continued to battle Goliath,” he said. “And we know –we know – how that story ends.”