Who’s Unintimidated? A Tale of Two Books

I participate as often as I can in the Solidarity Sing Along, which has been singing songs of protest at the Wisconsin State Capitol every weekday from noon to 1 since March 11, 2011 (toward the end of that little uprising we had going on at the time). And many of you are no doubt aware that our ignominious governor, Scott Walker, has presidential aspirations, and like many such hopefuls he has written a book (with the help of a ghostwriter) titled “Unintimidated: A Governor’s Story and a Nation’s Challenge.”

According to the Wisconsin Gazette:

Gov. Scott Walker’s new book isn’t exactly a tell-all. In fact, it glosses over or leaves out many of the most important pieces in the story related to his successful drive to destroy public unions and his subsequent recall battle. …

“I’ve never met anyone who wants to be president more,” said U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat from Madison who served in the state Assembly during the union fight. “We knew the book was coming. We know he’s traveling all over the country. It would be nice if he put even a portion of that energy into creating jobs in Wisconsin.”

In fact, Walker is seldom even in Wisconsin, and when he is, he keeps his appearances brief and well guarded, lest he should suffer the indignity of being confronted by his singing detractors. Walker and the state Department of Administration have gone to great lengths to silence the singing and stifle dissent, all to no avail. As we like to sing, “Until that day when justice holds sway, we’re not going away!”

During July and August of this year, more than three hundred arrests were made by the Capitol Police: 350 citations were issued, and 16 criminal charges were filed. Those targeted were not only participants but even just observers and those photographing the sing alongs. Journalists, senior citizens, and teenagers were among the arrested. Handcuffs were used as well as “pain compliance” techniques, although the charges amounted to little more than traffic citations.

Arrest of CJ Terrell. Photo by Erin Proctor

The Progressive describes two of the arrests which were especially violent:

[The Capitol Police] used pain compliance on CJ Terrell to make him leave the rotunda after he was told he had been identified as a participant in an unlawful event. CJ was charged with obstruction and resisting arrest and released from jail a $701 bail later in the afternoon.

At the same time CJ was being arrested, Capitol Police tackled and drove to the ground his brother Damon, who was there to photograph arrests. Damon was charged with felony battery of a police officer and taken to jail.

Rather than discouraging participation, the violent crackdown induced more Wisconsinites to come to the capitol to show their support for the sing along. The day after the Terrell brothers were arrested, more than three hundred filled the capitol rotunda.

Last month, Walker “threw in the towel” in the words of Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive.

His administration settled a lawsuit with the ACLU of Wisconsin. As part of the agreement, protesters no longer need to have a permit to protest in the state capitol. All they have to do is notify the administration. Nor do they have to assume any liability, as they were required to do before.

In response to all the intimidation tactics and in anticipation of Walker’s soon-to-be published work of fiction, some of the thoroughly uncowed singing patriots have put together a photographic account of the Solidarity Sing Along, entitled “Unintimidated: Wisconsin Sings Truth to Power,” which is due to be published at the same time as the governor’s. Whereas Walker’s book oozes gubernatorial delusions and presidential pipe dreams, from the pages of this book emanate the people’s aspirations: for truth, fairness, and transparency, for responsive government of, by, and for the people.

Photo by Michael Matheson

Several extremely talented inveterate citizen photojournalists have photographed every single one of the Solidarity Sing Alongs, so there were literally thousands of photos to choose from. Ryan Wherley, a frequent SSA participant who has from time to time contributed to this blog, has supplied the text that accompanies the photographic account of the longest-running singing protest in history. Proceeds from sales of the book will go to the First Amendment Protection Fund to help defray court costs for the many who have been arrested standing up for free speech in the Wisconsin State Capitol. Don’t miss this opportunity to get this extraordinary account of the Solidarity Sing Along and to support free speech and freedom of assembly at the same time.

So, you tell me, who’s unintimidated in Wisconsin, and who’s been doing the intimidating?

Shall Never Be Abridged

On Sunday, the Wisconsin State Journal featured an article by Nico Savidge with the headline “Tighter rules for Capitol protests not unlike many other states’.” On seeing this headline, my first reaction naturally was “Oh, well then, that makes it okay.” Not. The headline in Monday’s Pierce County Herald (Ellsworth, Wisconsin) read “Protesters at the State Capitol have it great compared to other statehouses.” Be sure to tell that to my buddy Will.

Will Gruber being arrested for disorderly conduct on Monday,
September 24, 2012, as he was leaving the Solidarity Sing Along
at the Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo by Leslie Amsterdam.

Tighter rules on protests inside the Wisconsin State Capitol have angered demonstrators and raised civil liberties concerns. But the state is in good company when it comes to regulating speech—especially loud or highly visible speech—in the seat of state government.

Good company?!?! You’re kidding, right? That would be like hearing from your doctor that, like you, half the people on your block have cancer, so, since you’re in such good company, no worries! Or, like you, half the people at your workplace are losing their jobs, so at least you’re not alone, right?

I have no idea where the “especially loud or highly visible speech” comes in, as this nicety is not addressed elsewhere in the article.

Wisconsin Department of Administration spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis said the results of the [State Journal] survey show that Wisconsin’s requirements are reasonable and “much more generous” than those in other states.

This is kind of like saying that since the restrictions in your cell block are so much looser than those in the one next door, you should quit complaining. Notice also that Marquis was commenting on the State Journal’s survey before it was published. It’s enough to make one wonder where DOA public relations ends and the Wisconsin State Journal begins.

And this nugget of wisdom from Ms. Marquis: “The permitting process is there to make sure that everyone has a voice, and that everyone can use the Capitol.” Thank you so much for caring that everyone has a voice and that everyone can use the Capitol. However, it’s not “the permitting process” that does that, Ms. Marquis. The U.S. Constitution and the Wisconsin state constitution—they do that.

Soon after Erwin took over as chief, however, he said he would enforce the permit requirement. Erwin has lived up to that promise, with Capitol police issuing 23 citations for violations of Capitol rules regarding signs and permits in just one week earlier this month.

Au contraire, Chief Erwin has not lived up to that promise. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but the majority of the citations issued have not mentioned the lack of a permit. For the most part, they have to do with “obstruction,” although obstruction of what is not altogether clear. More to the point, the Capitol’s singing citizens continue singing, every weekday at noon. So far, the Solidarity Sing Along has obtained not a single permit. And since Erwin’s crackdown, our numbers have expanded as concerns about infringement of the right to free speech have grown.

Chief Erwin has said, “There is a time and place for free speech, and we reserve the right to regulate that a little bit. We just have to keep it civil and people don’t need to be threatened.”

No, your job, Chief Erwin, is not to regulate our free speech, not even “a little bit.” You see, as soon as you do that, it isn’t free anymore. Your job is to protect our right to free speech. And if anyone is doing a piss-poor job of “keeping it civil and making sure people don’t feel threatened,” it’s the Capitol Police, not the singing citizens in the Rotunda.

As of this writing there have been 467 consecutive weekday Solidarity Sing Alongs at the State Capitol. Whenever other groups have wanted to use the Rotunda, the Sing Along has graciously taken itself outside, even in the most inclement weather, rather than restrict or interfere with others’ access. But to hear Erwin and Marquis, you’d think it was the singing citizens who are making things difficult at the Capitol.

A little reminder for Nico Savidge, the State Journal, Chief Erwin, and Ms. Marquis:

Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is generally understood as a guarantee of the right to free speech for every U.S. citizen. To “abridge” here means to diminish, to curtail, to reduce in extent. There is no caveat that says it’s okay to “regulate that a little bit.” Because of the First Amendment, the right to free speech in this country is unassailable, undiminishable, unabridgable. It is sacrosanct. Without it, we are merely cogs in the great corporate machine that is consuming us all. This is not about a minor inconvenience. This is about something absolutely fundamental to what it means to be a U.S. citizen. It’s worth fighting for, and some brave and great souls have said—and demonstrated—that it’s worth dying for.

Jason Louise Huberty, who has received several citations thus far, holds a banner in the State Capitol on Friday, September 21, 2012. Lisa Wells, his partner, who has also received multiple citations, stands next to him with a sign that says “2nd Floor, 1st Amendment.” The banner hangs just above a bust of progressive hero Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette. Standing next to it is Dawn Henke, the disabled veteran who collapsed as the Capitol Police attempted to arrest her on September 14, 2012. Photo by Jenna Pope.

Moreover, Wisconsin isn’t just another state, and the Wisconsin State Capitol isn’t just another statehouse. Our state has a celebrated history of being a bastion of progressivism, a beacon in the dark night of assaults on civil rights. Our state constitution reaffirms and strengthens the rights guaranteed in the U.S. Bill of Rights.

The right of the people peaceably to assemble, to consult for the common good, and to petition the government, or any department thereof, shall never be abridged. (Article 4, Section 1, emphasis added!)

Furthermore, the National Register of Historic Places has this to say about the Wisconsin State Capitol:

Whereas some statehouses are maintained apart from the urban fabric, the Wisconsin Capitol Rotunda functions, both literally and symbolically, as a city center and is fully utilized as a public space to which all have claim.

Just because civil rights, and specifically free speech, are eroding all over the country does not mean that we should be content for them to erode here in Wisconsin. Those who acted to attach the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and those who framed the Wisconsin State Constitution well understood that free speech is absolutely essential and fundamental to a free people.

“What Were You Arrested For, Kid?”

I shake my head every time I think of Wisconsin Capitol Police Chief Erwin’s heavy-handed crackdown on the singing citizens in the Capitol. Before Erwin began arbitrarily handing out citations, we were a small, stalwart, ragtag bunch. I couldn’t make it every weekday, so for a while I came once a week; then when my schedule eased up a bit, I came two or three times a week.

My main motivation was to bolster my resolve in light of the disheartening results of the recall. Especially for the months of June and July, I felt like if I didn’t keep singing, I might succumb to a full-blown case of political malaise and election fatigue. Every time we sang Holly Near’s “We Are Gentle, Angry People,” I knew that in truth we were singing for our lives, for our hearts to be uplifted, for our courage and resolve to return, for our focus to shift to new ways of resisting the Walker regime.

Enter newbie Chief “The-military-prepares-you-to-be-a-great-leader” Erwin and his crackdown. The right-wing Wisconsin Reporter quoted him on September 10, the day before the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks: “And so we have a group of people that come here, and last week they were holding signs and they are part of this group that, for lack of a better word, are terrorizing people at this Capitol.”

“Terrorizing people”? Really? Chief Erwin, we’re holding signs and banners and singing. And you call that “terrorizing”? It’s a pity you lack a better word. We’d be happy to supply you with a few: citizens, constituents, Wisconsinites, singers.

A few of us have been handcuffed, arrested, issued citations, sent to jail; some were visited by the Capitol Police at home or at work; others found citations in their mailboxes. One of us collapsed as five police officers converged on her as she left the building. Members of the press and an ACLU observer have been harassed and threatened by the Capitol Police.

On September 12 several Wisconsin lawmakers sent a letter to DOA Secretary Mike Heubsch, asserting that “the Capitol police’s response to individuals peacefully protesting is now verging on ridiculous.” And yesterday the Madison Professional Police Officers Association (MPPOA) and the Dane County Deputy Sheriffs Association (DCDSA) issued a press release:

We have been watching with alarm the recent developments at the Wisconsin State Capitol. In recent weeks, the Department of Administration (DOA) and the leadership within the Capitol Police have commenced enforcement action against peaceful protesters coming to the Capitol. Officers have been ordered to arrest and cite protesters whose only offense is the silent carrying of a sign. Other protesters have been cited for gathering for the “Solidarity Sing-along,” a non-violent group of citizens who sing every day over the noon hour. The Solidarity Singers have been particularly cognizant of the needs of other groups who also want to utilize the Capitol, and frequently relocate outside the Capitol to be respectful of those needs. They are now being cited for assembly at the Capitol without a permit.

Today Chief Erwin whined his response: “It’s unfortunate that these associations would issue a statement about Capitol Police actions without ever contacting us. Our officers would never judge another police department’s enforcement without knowing the facts of the situation.”

It’s difficult to feel much sympathy if Chief Erwin believes his voice isn’t being heard and his input isn’t being sought. One of the singing citizens posted this today on Facebook in response to Erwin’s complaint:

The WPPOA (Wisconsin Professional Protest Organizers Association) issued the following response to Chief Erwin’s reply to the MPPOA’s criticism:

“It’s unfortunate that the new Chief would issue multiple statements about Citizen actions without ever contacting one of them (and ignoring multiple Citizen requests to meet with him). These Citizens would never judge any Capitol Police officer, including the Chief, except by their words and actions towards us. The facts in the present situation are beyond dispute. He is a complete asshole. Complete.”

Well now, I have to confess, I’m still grateful to the chief for revitalizing our daily citizen sing along. Whereas before I was content to show up two or three days a week to console myself with song, now I can’t bear to miss a day of singing for free speech in the land of the free. My hackles are up. “You can stand me up at the gates of hell, but I won’t back down.”

What you see here is an up-close look at the sign on the front of my scoot, along with my Chief Erwin mask, and my fist raised in solidarity. Above that is a heart balloon that was released accidentally today. The offender has already received a citation for an unpermitted “Display and Decoration (Release of balloon)” 2.07(2). Two Capitol Police officers were kind enough to deliver the citations in person to the woman’s home. Photo by Leslie Amsterdam

I stand in solidarity with my ticketed friends. Those citations belong to all of us, because we are all doing the same thing. We are, after all, singing about solidarity every day. The idea is not just to sing it, but do it. If you’d like to stand in solidarity with us, there are two things you can do:

1. Donate to the Legal Defense Fund (hosted by the Madison Infoshop), which since 1997 has been used to support those who have had their rights violated. Checks can be made to “Legal Defense Fund,” c/o Madison Infoshop, 1019 Williamson St. #B, Madison WI 53703. Please put “Capitol Protest” in the memo line. For more information, call 608-262-9036.

2. Join us on Friday from 5 to 6pm on the steps of the Dane County Courthouse for the Capitol Citation Speak-Out and Fundraiser Rally. The rally will feature speakers from the ACLU of Wisconsin and the National Lawyers Guild. We also hope to hear from some of those who were unconstitutionally cited and, of course, you, should you choose to make your voice heard!

I continue to wait for the knock on the door and look for a registered letter containing a pink citation or two in the mail. So far, nothing—even though I have done the same as my friends who have been arrested, cited, and chased down in the Capitol, at home, and at work.

But I’m ready. Bring it. In my head, I can hear Arlo Guthrie’s voice asking: “What were you arrested for, kid?” And I said, “Singin’.”

Thank you, Chief Erwin!

Thanks to Chief Erwin and his saber rattling, more than two hundred sign-wielding singers showed up today to sing in the People’s House.

As we have often done, we began by reading Article 1, Section 4, of the Wisconsin state constitution:

State Rep. Chris Taylor showed up and told us that she met with Chief Erwin and someone from the Department of Administration this morning. After they refused to give her specific information on what behavior is and isn’t acceptable in the Capitol building, they walked out of the meeting.

Rep. Peter Barca today posted a letter Rep. Taylor sent to Chief Erwin after the meeting regarding her still-unanswered questions:

When I asked about the specific conditions you were considering in determining whether an individual needed a permit or when making an arrest, you stated that these determinations were being made on a “case-by-case basis” and refused to articulate specific factors that would be considered. Instead, you and Ms. Coomer [from the DOA] recommended that anyone considering holding a sign call the Capitol police to inquire whether a permit would be needed. This gives me grave concern that the public is not being provided adequate notice about what conduct you are prohibiting and under what specific legal authority you are acting. Further, this subjective manner of making permitting and arrest determinations can easily lead to abuse, with the result being that constitutionally protected political speech is being improperly silenced.

Rep. Taylor also expressed gratitude that there are still courts that will act to protect citizens’ freedom of speech. She held up a copy of this week’s court ruling by Dane County Judge Frank Remington stating that § Adm. 2.07(2), prohibiting displays (under which the recent citations were issued), doesn’t apply to handheld signs, but rather only to freestanding exhibits.

Photo by Karen Kinsley

The atmosphere today was boisterous and jovial—it’s always great to see so many of our friends gathered together in the People’s House. But there was also a serious side to our signs and our singing and our presence. We highly value our right to free speech, and we’re willing to defend it when it’s threatened. The Capitol police have a duty to uphold the law, the law that guarantees that “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, to consult for the common good, to petition the government, or any department thereof, shall never be abridged.”

So thank you again, Chief Erwin, for providing us with this occasion to sing with our friends in the People’s House, for reminding us of how precious our rights to free speech and free assembly are. Thank you for the opportunity to remind you, Governor Walker, and the people of Wisconsin that we’re still here. We’re still exercising our right to free speech, assembly, and petition. And we’re not going away anytime soon.

# # #
Don’t miss the Progressive‘s take on today’s triumphant sing along.

Paying the Price for Free Speech

I have half-joked for decades that one of the items on my bucket list is to be arrested for civil disobedience. The civil rights movement and the anti-war protests happened while I was safely ensconced in junior high and high school. I got to college in time to see one lone streaker torpedo across campus. There I was, already a dyed-in-the-wool folkie, just in time to wave the glory days of folk music good-bye. I felt cheated.

Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders . . . and millions have been killed because of this obedience. . . . Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves . . . [and] the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem. —Howard Zinn

Hah! Little did I know that my timing was not so bad after all. Here I am—yes, a little worn around the edges—smack-dab in the middle of the Wisconsin Uprising, singing my heart out with the Solidarity Sing Along as many times a week as I can. There are some days I can feel the resonance so strongly that I begin to suspect that this is the moment I was born for and have been preparing for since those disappointingly quiet days in college.

The Solidarity Sing Along began the day after an illegal vote was taken in the Wisconsin State Senate to pass a bill destroying the rights of working people. Participants in the spontaneous event understood that their voices were no longer being heard or acknowledged through the formal political structures of the state. They were determined to not be silenced, however, and have continued to voice their opinions on the political issues of the day every single weekday for nearly eighteen months. —Rebecca Kemble, The Progressive Magazine

And now there’s serious trouble afoot. The new chief of the Capitol Police, David Erwin, is cracking down on free speech in the Capitol. Twelve practitioners of free speech have been arrested arrests have been made so far for holding signs without a permit.

If you have to ask permission from the government to protest the government, you don’t really have the right to protest the government!!! The federal and state constitutions are all the permits we need. —sign seen in the capitol this week

So today Friday September 7th at noon we’re singing, again, for free speech, for our friends who have been arrested and fined, for our rights and yours, for the rights of our children. We’re singing because freedom of speech is absolutely fundamental to democracy. Without it we are no more than cogs in the machine—no voice, no power, no access.

An unjust law is itself a species of violence. Arrest for its breach is more so. —Mahatma Gandhi

Most of us will likely gather inside the rotunda, but a few may also gather outside under the tree on Carroll Street (south of the Lady Forward statue) as we have done on Fridays since June. Please come join us! Bring a friend! We’re asking for as much participation from our friends and fellow citizens as possible. Free speech needs you.

Attorneys affiliated with the Madison National Lawyers Guild stand ready to defend anyone who suffers arrest as the result of over-zealous enforcement of the Capitol access policy. Anyone who does suffer such an arrest should not argue with officers or even converse with them about their protest actions. Instead, protesters should do nothing more than ask officers why they are being arrested, ask what the charges are, immediately demand to speak to an attorney, and, if arraigned, plead not guilty. If possible, the protesters should notify someone who is not being arrested that they are being placed in custody so that this individual can contact the protest coordinator of the Madison National Lawyers Guild at 608-352-0138. The coordinator will then attempt to find legal representation for the person who has been arrested. —Madison chapter of the National Lawyers Guild

As you did in February and March last year, come prepared to resist provocation and intimidation peaceably. It’s critically important to our cause that our conduct be above reproach.

When it gets down to having to use violence, then you are playing the system’s game. The establishment will irritate you: pull your beard, flick your face to make you fight. Because once they’ve got you violent, then they know how to handle you. The only thing they don’t know how to handle is non-violence and humor.” —John Lennon


We’re also hoping for a large turnout on Monday. And we’ll continue every weekday at noon until Wisconsin gets better. (For news on whether we’re singing inside or out, check the Solidarity Sing Along Facebook page). We’re in this for the long haul. We’re not going away.

We are gentle, angry people, and we are singing, singing for our lives. —Holly Near

Nobody Buys DOA Disinformation at Wisconsin Capitol

About 30-50 people gathered in the Capitol building’s basement this morning to question Chief Tubbs and a Department of Administration rep. on a new policy that will — among other things — force protesters at Wisconsin’s Capitol building to pay for additional law enforcement and treat groups of 4 or more people as “rallies”. DOA’s Deputy Secretary Chris Schoenherr asserted repeatedly he is not an attorney and could not answer legal questions about policy. Answers from Tubbs and Schoenherr were usually variations on the following:
1- “I’m not going to respond to a hypothetical situation.”
2- “The policy is based on Chapter 2 in the administrative code. Our legal team believes it is defendable.”

Brian S. asked about the “hypothetical” on everybody’s mind:
“”Let’s say that whenever the implementation date is, that there are 150 singers in the rotunda, are you prepared to make 150 arrests if those people do not voluntarily comply?”
Tubbs: I’m not going to respond to a hypothetical
Brian S.: It is not a hypothetical.
Tubbs: We will evaluate that situation. I am not going to give up the ability we have as a law enforcement agency to professionally deal with a situation that could be questionable.” The Solidarity Sing Along group has been singing at noon every weekday at the Capitol since March 11. Song leader Chris Reeder has made it clear the group is not going to get a permit to “exercise our free speech rights”.

One of the “hypotheticals” posed by Katy R. was: “If I want to bring 3 members of my family to see the holiday tree – if we have the same sentiment that we want to express at the same time – is that going to turn this into a rally?”

Schoenherr replied, “It is a practical matter. That’s something we’ll have to work out on an individual basis… If you want to just have your family here and say ‘God bless America’ that would be OK.

I think Schoenherr has no clue how disturbing that comment sounded.

Greg P. used Schoenherr’s comment to frame the perilous state that DOA’s policy puts free speech in:
“.. it would be so easy for these procedures to be selectively enforced. You said before if people want to come to the Christmas tree lighting and say “God bless America” that would be OK. But that’s a problem. What if people want to come to the Christmas tree lighting and say “God damn America”. – – those are equivalent things and if you enforce this on people that say “God damn America” and not “God bless America”, that is a serious problem”.

Assembly Representative Chris Taylor said that the DOA’s restricted Capitol policy is at the top of her constituents’ minds. She said, “..it really seems to be we are imposing a fee on people’s exercise of their constitutional rights if we’re going to say you have to pay to participate in a large gathering. Then we’re saying in order to express yourself politically, you’re going to have to pay to do that and I don’t know how you all are going to get around some really settled constitutional provisions.”

The response to Rep. Taylor: Answer #2.

Ed K. expressed outright anger for charging for protest: “This is a user fee. We get a policy that’s raising taxes on specific people making use of this building. That’s objectionable. It’s against all of the history of this state…” He added that the public should see what account the money would go to and what would be done with it.”

Ed K. requested both a copy of the previous policy on protests and a base line of regular staffing – such as what might be learned by studying a year’s worth of Capitol officer time sheets. His 2nd request was rebuffed by Tubbs who said that he could not give that information out for security reasons.

Tim R. asked a key question on timing:
“I don’t believe that the question of ‘Why now?’ has been answered adequately at all. You would forgive us all for concluding that this governor will not countenance any dissent. He will not countenance free speech. I recall him saying some months ago ‘Oh the solidarity singers. Those are 20 teachers. Who cares.’ Well it is more than 20 teachers. There’s a lot of people there. It seems to me it is rubbing him the wrong way and THAT is why we are getting this policy and I would like an answer to that.”

DOA disinformation capitol education

The official answer to this “Why now?” question was given already, but it was just so weak, nobody accepted it. Schoenherr said DOA changed the policy now because (1) DOA didn’t believe it had 1 document to answer the public’s questions on permits and (2) There is a precedent set with the status of a lawsuit filed by Ben Masel.

Leslie A. brought files on 3 lawsuits to the meeting. They originated with the late Ben Masel and established that Wisconsinites do not need a permit for assembly in the Capitol or on the Capitol grounds and do not need a permit for an amplification device. She said ” … Are you suggesting that you’re going to require people to get a permit when it’s not required? When it’s settled law? … Is DOA suggesting that they are going to violate settled law in order to conduct an illegal permit process and they will require us to sue the DOA yet again which is at taxpayer expense for the DOA to defend it?”

In reply Chief Tubbs asserted that the largest protests this year were under permits. Tubbs said, “..let me be clear: the permits are not new.”

I made a quick call to Jeff Scott Olsen, an expert in constitutional law who served for decades as attorney for the late constitutional activist Ben Masel. He said Leslie was referencing a lawsuit which challenges the constitutionality of DOA-issued permits to assemble at the Capitol. The filing was amended to substitute the organization NORML for Ben in September. He said that around that time Wisconsin’s Assistant Attorney General Maria Lazar told him DOA was going to replace existing regulations in October or November of this year. Olsen said he will work on fighting the DOA case ASAP now that new procedures are out, but he can not pinpoint when his 1st legal action will take place.

After listening to about 1 hour of non-answer answers on DOA’s policy this morning, I thought I may as well give it a shot. I asked, “Do you think that these procedural changes are in line with the principles of democracy?” I got answer # 2 from Schoenherr.

From behind me Jenna Pope shot back at Schoenherr, “You realize that by saying this over and over again it doesn’t make it true.”

The new DOA policy is set to go into effect on Saturday December 17. According to WNPJ, the sponsor of the singing group, Monday, December 19th will be the first day the Solidarity Sing-Along will be subject to the new policy. You can keep up to date with the Solidarity Sing Along group through their facebook page.

More images from the disinformation session are at the blue cheddar facebook page.

Link to highlights of the 22 page policy and a PDF copy.

The ACLU write-up: DOA Information Session on Protest Permit/Liability Scheme Leaves Citizens with More Questions

Brian Standing’s WORT FM report on this event is in this audio news report.

Samantha Masterton: “I was arrested for taking pictures”


This is written by Samantha Masterton and has appeared in the Wausau Daily Herald:

On Nov. 1, the first day it was legal to carry concealed guns in Wisconsin, I was arrested.

I had traveled to Madison to participate in Concealed Camera Day, an organized protest against concealed carry and the unconstitutionality of Assembly gallery rules. I carried my camera into the Assembly gallery, quietly snapped pictures, and was promptly arrested.

Two of the many rules of the Assembly gallery are the prohibition of photography and signs. Although these rules have been in place for some years, it is only recently that they are being challenged. I have been watching with increasing horror as illegal arrests have been perpetrated against peaceful citizens who were photographing or holding signs in the gallery.

People have been arrested for displaying copies of the U.S. Constitution. Pictures of apple pie, Ronald Reagan and Mother Teresa have been grounds for arrest. One man was arrested for wearing a cross made of paper and tied around his neck with a piece of yarn. The cross was considered a sign because it had words on it: “For God so loved the world.” These arrests enrage me.

Gov. Scott Walker has called special sessions of the Legislature in which public debate is essentially eliminated. The doors of the Capitol are routinely illegally locked during Assembly and Senate sessions, severely limiting citizen access. Walker’s administration has held public meetings in spaces too small to comfortably accommodate all who wish to speak.

Government transparency, public discourse and debate should be nonpartisan issues. These issues and the trampling of our First Amendment rights have put me in such an agitated state that I took a day off from work to make the trek to Madison and risk arrest.

The Assembly session on Nov. 1 began around 6:30 p.m. Upon entering the single gallery that was open (another barrier to citizen involvement), I was handed a small slip of paper listing the gallery rules. On the lighted information board across the room, I clearly saw the admonishment, “Please follow all posted rules.” I took a picture of the sign.

One of the pages quickly told me to put my camera away, and I refused, stating that it was my right to take pictures.

It was only a matter of minutes later, when I was quietly photographing the arrest of another protester, that I was approached by two police officers and was asked to leave the gallery with them. I did not resist.

The officers escorted me down the hall and handcuffed me. I was told I was under arrest for breaking the Assembly rules. I repeatedly asked what law I had broken. The charge ended up being for “other conduct prohibited – obstruction” with an attached fine of $205.50.

I was taken, flanked by the officers, to a basement cafeteria and a makeshift processing center where I sat, still handcuffed, while I was written a citation. Other arrestees filtered in, each flanked by two officers, who ranged in demeanor from embarrassed to angry.

It was all over in a matter of 15 minutes. The handcuffs were taken off, I was handed my citation, and I was told that I could not re-enter the Assembly gallery that night. All told, eighteen people were arrested.

Many of these arrests were captured on video. One of the best is on YouTube under the title “Police State – Concealed Cameras in the Wisconsin Capitol.” My arrest is at the two-minute mark.

All of the previous citations for holding signs or photographing meetings have been dismissed, and I expect that mine will be dismissed, as well. I expect no other negative repercussions to come from my arrest. It was a farce, honestly, and I do not feel as if I did anything noble or heroic.

All I did was refuse to comply with what I feel is an illegal rule that is in direct violation of the Wisconsin and United States Constitutions and of Wisconsin statutes. Statute 19.90 states, “Whenever a governmental body holds a meeting in open session, the body shall make a reasonable effort to accommodate any person desiring to record, film or photograph the meeting.”

And I will refuse to comply again, if need be. “The First Amendment,” said one of the signs in the gallery, “Use it or lose it.”

A day without rights in the Wisconsin State Assembly

Video and text below are from Arthur Kohl-Riggs. Keep up with developments on this story at Arthur’s facebook page Shit Scott Walker is Doing to My State

Backup link to video-A day without rights in the Wisconsin State Assembly

Originally a video very similar to this one was posted on youtube but WisEye reported reported the video for copyright infringement within the first 48 hours of it being online. Some change were made to the original video but this is pretty much it.

Wisconsin has a LAW S.S. 19.90 which states “Whenever a governmental body holds a meeting in open session, the body shall make a reasonable effort to accommodate any person desiring to record, film or photograph the meeting.”

Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 13, Sections 241 and 242 of the U.S. Code, conspiracy to deprive a citizen of statutory and constitutional rights using official authority under color of law.

Seems pretty straightforward, but the Assembly has a “rule” which bans any and all cameras from the gallery.

Also there was a recent US circuit court case about filming police where they ruled that citizens have the right to film public officials while in a public space, while they are serving in their public capacity and also included: “Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest,”

It seems pretty straight forward, but not in Wisconsin with the Fitz’s in charge. People were dragged out of the gallery using pain compliance and handcuffs simply for SILENTLY HOLDING A CAMERA DURING AN OPEN MEETING.

Ben Masel, constitutional activisit, has passed on. Remember Ben Masel.

Ben came to Madison by way of the largest mass arrest in U.S. history in Washington D.C. on May Day 1970. He was locked up with about 100 UW Madison students.  They were there to protest the Vietnam War.

“I’d heard good things about the town and so I decided to throw a college application in and ..there weren’t that many schools that took me.”

[from an interview with Sly of WTDY. online here.]

Ben was infamous enough for me to know a good deal about him before meeting him early last fall.

We talked for some time at the Netroots Wisconsin gathering put Continue reading