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By Jessica Mason and Matthew Rothschild
Thursday afternoon, a group of 75 Wisconsin protesters gathered in the capitol to give Gov. Scott Walker an earful and to commemorate the one-year anniversary of his crackdown on free speech.
A huge banner, with the words “We Are Still Here,” hung from the balcony.
Another banner said, “Indict Walker.” And additional sign referred to the John Doe investigation dogging the governor for alleged illegal campaign coordination with outside groups.
A large sign with the word “Unintimidated” was on display behind the podium, playing off the title of Walker’s campaign book.
One speaker, Ryan Wherley, denounced Walker for several of his policies. “This day is about the arrests, but it is far more than that,” said Wherley. He mentioned Walker’s bending of environmental regulations to grant a mine permit to an out of state company in the Penokee Hills, and he mentioned Walker’s cutbacks to BadgerCare and his attacks on Planned Parenthood and contraception coverage.
“We’re here to provide a voice for the people who cannot be here,” he said.
The protesters sang the songs they’ve been singing every weekday in the capitol for the last three and a half years, including a rousing rendition of “Scotty, we’re not going away,” with its coda: “Till that day when justice is done, we’re not going away.”
Bruce Fealk, one of the speakers, saluted the 338 protesters who had been arrested for exercising their free speech rights in the capitol in 2013. “It was pretty appalling watching all of my friends get arrested,” he said to the crowd, which consisted of many of those who had gotten arrested. He said he had spoken with some capitol police officers, who told him they were just following orders.
“It’s OK to disobey an illegal order,” he said, which was met with massive applause.
That theme rang out. The singers sang “Have You Been to Jail for Justice” and “We Shall Not Be Moved,” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?”
The Dane County sheriff, David Mahoney, who had shown solidarity with the protesters during the crackdown, came to the event.
“Welcome to your house,” Sheriff Mahoney said. “I do want to thank you for your dedication. You did what was right. I wish you well, and keep it going.”
The protest ended, in usual fashion, with a rousing rendition of “Solidarity Forever.”
Photos by Leslie Peterson