A Minnesota man applied for and received a permit to sing in the Wisconsin State Capitol rotunda on Wednesday between noon and 1pm. The Department of Administration
characterized the permit on its website this way: “Solidarity Singers will sponsor a peaceful protest singing songs of solidarity on Wednesday, August 14, 2013 at noon on the ground and first floor Capitol Rotunda.” Nobody’s name was associated with the permit, and Capitol Police staff would not reveal it.
Regular participants of what has now become the traditional noontime Solidarity Sing Along at the Capitol routinely scan the Department of Administration’s website for other permitted activities happening at that time. If there is a permitted event, the event moves outside. Tuesday night people were surprised to see a permit taken out by a group called the “Solidarity Singers” for reasons similar to those that bring them out to sing every weekday.
Because most participants in the Sing Along strongly believe that they do not need a permit to exercise their first amendment rights in the traditional public forum of the rotunda, they refuse to sing under a permit. Therefore, the majority of people chose to sing outside Wednesday.
Here they were singing “Bring Back Wisconsin to Me.”
A dozen or so people chose to remain inside after ascertaining that the person who was granted the permit was not there. Irving Smith repeated the question, “Is there someone here who got a permit?” after the first four or five songs to give that person the opportunity to exercise his or her permitted activities. Nobody answered.
That individuals who regularly participate in tuneful political dissent at noon chose to sing in different locations today underscores the non-organized nature of the event.
This is a key point missed by those who think the group ought to just get a permit: There is no organization or individual to actually sign off on an application on behalf of everyone else who might be participating on any given day.
Wednesday’s permit brought that issue into sharp focus: The outdoor singers refused to have their activities covered by a permit taken out by an individual on their behalf.
The man who got the permit, Elliot Doran of St. Paul, was traveling to Madison and wanted to join the Sing Along with his sister and her friend who are also from out of state. Media reports from last week announcing that observers of the gathering were subject to arrest made him think he would be protecting himself and everybody else by taking out the permit.
What Doran didn’t understand is that the people who sing in the rotunda at noon do so to express dissent against a government that has taken away many fundamental rights or workers, women, low-income people, public school students, among many others. Participants in the gathering don’t necessarily agree on every policy issue, but they do agree on one thing: that their right to assemble and express political views is protected by the U.S. and Wisconsin Constitutions and should not require that the government against which they are dissenting should regulate their speech and assembly by an administrative permitting process.
Shortly before noon on Wednesday, Edward Kuharski of Madison was arrested for obstruction and resisting arrest for asking Capitol Police officer Mitch Steingraeber about who applied for the permit. He was taken to Dane County Jail and released after paying $600 in bail.
This brings to eight the number of misdemeanor charges leveled against people gathering at the capitol at noon since July 24, 2013. The Capitol Police have issued 223 citations that come with a $200.50 fine in that time period as well.
Last week people began receiving “long form” legal complaints authored by Assistant Attorneys General detailing multiple violations of the State of Wisconsin Administrative Code that occurred months ago. The complaint against Barton Munger contains 18 counts of chalking the sidewalk with a penalty of $500 for each incident stretching back months.
This intensified crackdown on and criminalization of political speech comes weeks before the fall legislative session begins, when more controversial bills concerning private school vouchers, women’s reproductive rights and restriction of voting rights are expected to be taken up by lawmakers. It seems that the Walker Administration is doing everything it thinks it can get away with to create a hostile environment for people to express their concerns publicly about these highly unpopular hot button policy issues.
Rebecca Kemble reports for The Progressive magazine and website. She also participates when she can in the Solidarity Sing Along.