Why I Got Arrested in Madison

Because I’ve had enough of Scott Walker’s reactionary rule.

Because it’s ludicrous that you can carry a concealed weapon into the Wisconsin State Assembly gallery but you can’t take pictures with your cell phone or hold a sign. Because it’s insane that Republicans in the State Assembly are more afraid of free speech and accountability than they are of a bullet.

Because I believe in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Because I believe in Article 1, Section 3 and Article 1, Section 4 of
the Wisconsin state constitution, which guarantee us free speech and
assembly and the right to petition the government.

Because I believe in nonviolent civil disobedience to challenge unjust laws and policies.

Because I admire the nonviolent civil disobedience that many other Wisconsinites have been engaging in over the past nine months.

Because if we don’t stand up to Walker and the Fitzgeralds, there is no telling how far down the slope we’re all going to slide.

What Walker and these Republicans are doing to this state is astonishingly brazen. They are like a pack of Cheneys. They do not respect democracy. The people are a nuisance to them. So are the laws. All they care about is power, and grabbing everything they can—for themselves, and their corporate cronies—while they still have it.

Every day that it’s in session, the Republican-dominated legislature has been pushing through one retrograde bill after another.

This, on top of the vicious assault on workers’ rights that we saw this spring, and the illegal way they did it, without proper notice, and the sham of a state supreme court ruling that validated the bill, and the illegal shutting down of the capitol to the public, and the attack on public education, Medicaid, racial justice, and the environment, to name just a few.

There have been plenty of straws to break the back of many a badger. The one that broke my back was seeing people, over the past few weeks, being dragged away for merely holding a sign or taking a picture in the State Assembly gallery.

So Tuesday, some activists had called for “Concealed Camera Day,” and I went with a couple of my friends to participate—not as a journalist, but as a citizen. I printed out the words of the First Amendment, and Article 1, Sections 3 and 4, of the Wisconsin Constitution, and I taped them to my shirt.

About 60 of us gathered around 5:00 p.m. and waited until the gallery opened around 6:00, with proceedings beginning shortly after 6:30.

A young, well-dressed woman warned us that we couldn’t hold signs or take pictures and to put away our cameras and our phones.

Before I got arrested, I saw a man named Bart Munger get taken out of the gallery for silently holding a sign that said, “I Love Wisconsin.”

I saw a sixty-nine-year-old woman named Glenna Benjamin taken away for silently holding a sign that said, “Soon the Poor Will Have Nothing to Eat but the Rich.”

I saw other people being arrested for simply taking pictures. So I took pictures of them getting arrested for taking pictures, and for that I was arrested.

In all, 18 of us were booked.

Karen Tuerk was arrested for holding a sign that said “ALEC” and for waving five $1 bills in front of it. (ALEC stands for the American Legislative Exchange Council, a rightwing, corporate-financed group that drafts “model” bills for conservatives to ram through statehouses like ours.) Tuerk told me that a legislator had pointed her out from the floor of the Assembly and demanded that she be taken away.

I was not handcuffed. Many of the others were. I was arrested not by a state police officer or a capital police officer but by a warden from the DNR (Department of Natural Resources).

His name was Mackenzie Hannon, and he was as pleasant as could be.

I asked him whether he wouldn’t rather be at Devil’s Lake, one of our beautiful state parks, and he kind of shrugged.

I was charged with “Other Conduct Prohibited—Obstructing,” and I was let go after about a half hour.

I have a court date on November 18, where I will contest this charge as a violation of my rights under the Wisconsin and U.S. Constitutions.

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story "Poll Shows Americans Want to Redistribute the Wealth!"

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