I was arrested for singing at the Wisconsin State Capitol yesterday. You might wonder how that’s possible. Well, let me back up about two and a half years to February 2011. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker “dropped the bomb” on February 11, 2011 by announcing a last-second, 144-page budget “repair” bill that would get rid of collective bargaining for public workers, among other things. This resulted in unprecedented protests where we occupied our State Capitol for three weeks, and anywhere from 10,00 to 200,000 people were gathered there for days on end. Below is a photo I took during the initial protests:
Exactly a month after the budget repair bill was introduced, a small group of people held a sing along at the Capitol, singing songs of resistance to protest Walker and his administration. This turned in to a daily occurrence, happening every weekday from noon to 1pm, and it became known as the Solidarity Sing Along.
In December of 2011, the Capitol Access Policy was changed to say that groups of four or more people who wish to gather at the Capitol to promote a cause must obtain a permit before doing so, although they never acted upon this new policy. This recently lead to a federal lawsuit where U.S. District Judge William Conley issued a preliminary injunction stating that no group of fewer than 20 people can be required to get a permit for Capitol access. Although he did not rule that they COULD require groups of more than 20 people to get a permit, on July 24th, 2013, the Capitol Police began declaring the daily sing along an “unlawful assembly”, saying that any participants are subject to arrest.
Now, some people ask why the Solidarity Sing Along doesn’t just apply for a permit. First of all, the sing along is not an official organization or group. It’s comprised of individual citizens who choose to come sing at the Capitol on any given weekday during the noon hour. This means that no one is in charge, so no one has the authority to take out a permit. Second of all, the access policy was also changed to require the permit-holder to pay for any extra police officers that they deem necessary, and they can also be charged for any damages during the permitted time, which could also include damages done by counter-protesters. We do not trust them to not make up charges, causing the permit-holder to pay an unnecessary amount of money.
Lastly, and most important of all, is that we should not be required to ask the Walker administration, “Oh, pretty please, may we protest you?” In fact, the First Amendment of the US Constitution “prohibits the making of any law… abridging the freedom of speech,… interfering with the right to peaceably assemble…” Also, Article 1 Section 4 of the Wisconsin Constitution states that “The right of the people peaceably to assemble, to consult for the common good, and to petition the government, or any department thereof, shall never be abridged.” Having to ask the government to protest the government clearly violates those rights.
I also want to add that participants of the Solidarity Sing Along have done everything they can in order to be respectful of the building, and of others who obtain permits in the Capitol rotunda for various reasons (typically for weddings, high school band/choir performances, etc.) Whenever there is a permitted event during the noon hour, they move the sing along outdoors, even when it’s cold and snowy outside.
Although our activity is protected under both the First Amendment of the US Constitution AND Article 1 Section 4 of the Wisconsin Constitution, there have been over 150 arrests made during the Solidarity Sing Along since July 24th. Capitol police officers have been arresting, handcuffing, and giving $200.50 citations for a violation of “no permit” to participants.
Yesterday, I was arrested, along with 22 other people who were at the Capitol during the sing along, while I was singing and holding a sign. Although I typically don’t hold a sign because I am a photographer (it’s hard to hold a sign while you have a camera in your hands), yesterday I was holding a sign that I had made to show solidarity with the activists in Turkey, where I recently returned from. The sign said, “From Wisconsin to Turkey, Faşizme karşı omuz omuza. (Shoulder to shoulder against fascism)”, which is one of the more popular chants of the Turkish resistance.
Throughout most of the sing along, I was running around taking photos of others being arrested, but about 5 minutes before 1pm, I decided to hold up my sign and just sing with the others. I am well-known by many of the Capitol police officers because I have been arrested by them for civil disobedience in the past, so when they saw me “participating” instead of simply documenting, it took them less than five minutes to target me and put me in handcuffs.
Video by Nicole Desautels:
Now, my ticket may say it was for a violation of “no permit”, but I don’t believe that. The Solidarity Sing Along had been going on for two and a half years without being required to have a permit. Why, after such a long time, would they decide to now arrest people for not having a permit, even when the Capitol access policy had been changed a year and a half ago to require a permit for groups of four or more people? The sing along hasn’t made any changes to how it’s run. Everything they’re doing now, they have been doing all along. So, if the participants of the sing along have actually been doing something that was a ticket-able offense, why would they wait two and a half years to arrest them?
Clearly, this doesn’t add up. My belief is that Walker and the legislators are sick of hearing the people sing. They’re sick of having citizens come to the Capitol every weekday and voice their opposition to the current administration in creative, peaceful, and respectful ways. They know that these people are doing nothing wrong, but they also didn’t expect people to be coming back, day after day, for two and a half years.
So, yesterday, I was arrested, along with my freedom-fighting brothers and sisters of Wisconsin, for singing songs of resistance in the State Capitol.
Legal fees are adding up for these defenders of free speech. If you wish to make a donation, you can do so by clicking here.