Dubbed “Ferguson to Madison,” the rally drew striking social parallels between the two cities.
As the unethical and possibly illegal behavior of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and his administration comes under public scrutiny with the release of documents relating to the first John Doe investigation, the creativity of citizens who have maintained a three-year vigil in the Wisconsin State Capitol against Walker's policies has flourished.
This week, veteran protester Genie Ogden installed a display/information table on the first floor of the Capitol rotunda offering information about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its influence on Wisconsin state government.
The ALEC display. Photo: Rebecca Kemble.
Small in size -- about 4' x 4' -- but large in the depth and breadth of the information it presents, this exhibit is a beautiful representation of the grassroots, homespun political activism that has taken root and grown in the building since February 2011. That's when Walker revealed his true colors as a lap dog to corporate interests by introducing a bill that has devastated public sector labor unions.
At the center of Ogden's ALEC display is a miniature diorama of the Capitol with a hunk of cheese on top, surrounded by palm trees and protest signs on toothpicks stuck into green and gold playdough.
The playdough diorama. Photo: Rebecca Kemble.
It's an homage to the days when tens of thousands of people occupied the Capitol for weeks, routinely marching around the building in support of workers rights as Fox News made every effort to depict them as "violent protesters," using a video shot in California showing two men arguing, with palm trees in the background.
Underneath and around this tableau are posters written with black and red sharpies that describe ALEC, name its corporate and Wisconsin legislative members, list its task forces and some of the model legislation the group pushes upon state legislatures. Atop one of the posters is a quote from Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, from an invitation-only roundtable discussion in 2013 on tax reform in Beloit, where she told the exclusive audience of business owners: "We want to know how we can love you more!" There is also a stack of ALEC fact sheets on the table for people to take away.
The ALEC exhibit is just one example of how people incensed by the takeover of state government by profiteers use the Capitol building to express their grievances and educate others. The daily Solidarity Sing Along hasn't skipped a beat -- or a day -- since March 11, 2011. Through clever, witty lyrics about the latest Republican outrage, these singers have been a constant thorn in the side of the Walker administration.
In response to the Sing Along, Walker attempted to restrict access to the Capitol through new administrative rules that require groups to ask permission to gather in the rotunda. Last summer the Capitol Police were directed to arrest anyone who defied these rules, resulting in nearly 400 citations. Many of those citations have now been dismissed as unconstitutional by Dane County judges.
Last week Walker's Department of Administration legal counsel held a statutorily required public hearing on the latest version of these rules. Two dozen people showed up to speak out against them. While most read the lawyer the riot act over how the rules were unconstitutional and practically unenforceable, protester Greg Gordon was a bit more creative in showing his disdain. His three-minute rebuttal was delivered as a stand-up comedy routine that lampooned the rules, the police who enforce them, and the recently released emails from the John Doe 1 investigation.
As part of the prosecution of the nearly 400 cases of singing without a permit last summer, the Department of Justice required that defendants provide proof of service of court documents to the co-chairs of the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules.
On Valentines Day, when defendants attempted to serve court documents enclosed in Valentines envelopes on Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa), co-chair of that joint committee (and national co-chair of ALEC), her chief of staff, Dean Cady, refused to accept service, hit the panic button under his desk, and called the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms.
Several Capitol Police officers responded to the call.
Last year another of Vukmir's staffers, Jason Rostan, chased and knocked down a process server who was acting on behalf of the Center for Media and Democracy, which filed an open records request for communications between Sen. Vukmir and ALEC.
Videographers were on hand to record the most recent incident, and Jim Murray has since produced a parody worthy of Weird Al Yankovic of Eminem's "The Real Slim Shady" entitled "The Real Dean Cady."
Opposing the Walker administration isn't all just fun and games though. Yesterday, a blog post on Daily Kos by stalwart Capitol protester Giles Goat Boy had a real world effect. He spotted an email among one of the 28,000 John Doe emails that led to John J. Schulze, Jr., one of Walker's cronies, losing his job as chief legal counsel for the state Department of Transportation.
Schulze, a long-time Republican political operative who has managed to occupy top jobs in various government agencies for the last decade, included a fake press release promoting the legalization of prostitution in Wisconsin for welfare recipients. He then bragged about what a funny dude he was to have sent the message over his official state email account. That was just one of the many glimpses into the dark side of the culture that Walker's campaign team operated in.
Walker's greatest asset may be his ability to get other people to do his dirty work. As he eyes a run for President in 2016, it is more important than ever for Walker to appear moderate and inoffensive to the general public. But no matter what he says at this point, or how many questions he refuses to answer, the truth is that Walker attained his current position thanks to the actions of his corrupt, misogynistic and racist campaign staff.
Without them, he is nowhere.
Featured photo: Flickr user Kara Harms, creative commons licensed.