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PHOTO: Jenna Pope Photography
Governor Scott Walker has repeatedly suppressed opposition or dissent in the Wisconsin State Capitol, and is allowing heavy-handed tactics to continue to be used against peaceful protestors.
Every weekday since the Winter/Spring 2011 protests against Walker’s Act 10, there has been an opportunity for Wisconsin citizens to air grievances within the Wisconsin State Capitol rotunda during an event dubbed the “Solidarity Sing Along”. With the exception of a few arrests and some unconstitutional Department of Administration rules, the daily event was left to peacefully exist.
That was until July 24
A little more than a week before Walker hosted the National Governor’s Association conference in Milwaukee, Walker attempted to do some housecleaning in preparation of the arrival of 22 governors (mostly Conservative) and with them, the national spotlight.
He started his clean-up efforts with clergy, seniors and veterans attending the daily Solidarity Sing Along.
By August 15, with the crackdown stretching into its third week, more than 120 people have been cited for singing in the Wisconsin Capitol. Most people cited were arrested in the Capitol rotunda while participating in, observing or covering the Solidarity Sing Along.
On August 5 and again on August 7, I was arrested for participating in the Solidarity Sing Along. One arrest was for a “no permit” violation, the other was for being part of an “unlawful assembly”.
The indignation of being arrested, handcuffed and detained for singing songs in protest of tyranny is indescribable.
To add literal insult to injury, during my second arrest, my wrists and arms were brutally twisted and handcuffed behind my back even after I explained how I was injured by hand cuffs during my first arrest two days prior.
The Capitol police refused to exercise discretion in accommodating the arthritis and fibromyalgia that restrict the range of motion in my joints. Instead of being handcuffed in the front so as to not cause further injury, I was nearly wrestled to the ground and then threatened with jail for “resisting” arrest.
The female officer who assisted in my arrest took the handcuffs off once I was in detention but threatened that the cuffs would “stay on” if I were arrested again.
View video of second my arrest (starting at 1:25) here courtesy of Greg Kinsley:
The gross infringements upon citizen rights in the Wisconsin State Capitol expand every day. In the past few weeks there have been almost daily examples of Walker’s gross overreach:
On August 6, a Wisconsin lawmaker was threatened with arrest simply for observing the Sing Along. The following day, Walker’s Department of Administration released a statement clarifying that observers of the Sing Along would not be arrested though they declined to elaborate on why the Capitol Police had been stating otherwise.
A mother observing the Sing Along with children in tow had been threatened by Capitol Police with a call to Child Protective Services (CPS) if the mother were arrested for participating. Another mother was indeed arrested, though CPS was not called and her child was allowed to stay by her side during her arrest and detainment.
On August 7, the day of my last arrest, visiting members, in town for an annual convention, were arrested and one jailed for being a “flight risk” after participating in the peaceful protest alongside their comrades who had been arrested the week before.
This past week alone has brought the arrest of two minors, including that of a 14-year-old I watched being handcuffed and detained for participating in the Solidarity Sing Along, several Sing Along regulars and an alderperson.
Last week, I also watched as a group of senior citizens calling themselves the “Raging Grannies” were surrounded, separated and arrested for singing.
One minute I am talking to a reporter, the next minute he is being hauled off to jail for “obstructing” the Capitol Police by taking pictures of senior citizens being arrested.
The Capitol Police, exercising without boundaries, reason or discretion are indiscriminate in their arrest and enforcement of their interpretation of the permit requirements.
Walker’s Department of Administration’s (DOA) permit requirements and the right to use the Capitol rotunda as a public forum is currently being challenged in US District Court by the ACLU.
The Walker DOA states that all the Solidarity Sing Along has to do is apply for a free permit and they’d be happy to approve the Sing Along’s use of the rotunda and stop the arrests.
What the DOA does not talk about is that this permit is not entirely free. With the permit comes liability for the cost of whatever police presence the DOA deems necessary and any injury or damage that may occur anywhere in the building during the permitted event. Participants in the Solidarity Sing Along contend that the permit requirements and liabilities are unconstitutional according to the Wisconsin Constitution, Article 4 Sec.9.
Walker appears to be taking aim at challenging not only Section 4 of the Wisconsin State Constitution but also Sec 3,The Right of the Press, as evidenced by the recent arrests of working press.
Walker may also take a shot at the Wisconsin police and firefighters’ unions by expanding ACT 10 union restrictions and essentially breaking the last of the state public unions. Despite the looming destruction of their own union by Walker’s hand, the Capitol Police continue to do Walker’s bidding by using tactics unsuitable for a violation that has no more weight or importance than a speeding ticket.
With the arrest of peaceful protestors, grandmothers, children and the press, the Koch-funded Governor is showing how far he is willing to go to stifle Wisconsin voices and is recklessly flexing his might against any and all opposition.
Scott Walker is likely a 2016 Republican Presidential candidate and as such, he is a sign of the direction to come and the shape our country may take if a Republican is elected President. The implication of allowing these infringements of our rights to stand may be setting the stage for further constitutional rights violations to take hold, not just in Conservative states but possibly across the entire country. And, as an English friend once told me, “As America goes,so goes the world.”
Please help the Solidarity Sing Along stand up to the unlawful infringement upon First Amendment rights. Go to http://solidaritysingalong.org/