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?

Capitol Police Observe MLK’s Birthday with an Episode of Racial Profiling

January 15, 2013, was the day Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. should have been celebrating his 84th birthday. (Was he really only 39 when he was assassinated? I was 11 at the time. I thought 39 was ancient then. Now it seems so very young.) January 15 was also the day of Scott Walker’s annual State of the State address, and the day a troubled young man, Kvon Smith, posted on Facebook that he was planning to bring Molotov cocktails to the Capitol.

Having received a heads-up about Smith’s plan, and having determined that it was a credible threat, the intrepid Capitol Police, those daring keepers of attendance for the Solidarity Sing Along, commendably notified the state police and, armed with a photo and their keen powers of observation, kept a sharp lookout for Smith.

Toward the end of the sing along, a horde of schoolchildren joined in singing “Solidarity Forever” in the rotunda (video). The video description says it was taken moments before the Capitol Police identified Smith, who was standing in the rotunda, just outside the frame of the video.

However, before that, another young man, Colin Bowden—who resembles Smith only insofar as he too is young, black, and male—was taken into custody by the Capitol Police. Bowden was handcuffed and detained without being told why.

However, state Department of Administration spokesperson Stephanie Marquis claimed that Bowden was taken into custody because he “had all the characteristics of Mr. Smith and was carrying a bag” (emphasis added).

Judge for yourself. Would you say that the young man on the left has “all the characteristics” of the young man on the right?

In a statement to friends and supporters on his Facebook page, Bowden had this to say about his experience:

I was told I am a spitting image of the person they thought called in a “serious threat.” This is something I was used to in Chicago, not Madison. … Perhaps the man in this picture looks like me. I doubt it, but I guess people who don’t know black people might mix us up. You see, when you get the wrong person because you’re looking at color before the facts, you risk losing actual perpetrators. If they had spent more time on investigating and trying to find the actual person instead of any ol’ black boy, they might’ve caught him sooner.

Indeed, while the Capitol Police were determining that Bowden was not Smith, the rotunda was full of people, many of them schoolchildren and one of them Kvon Smith, with his backpack. The Wisconsin State Journal reports: “Marquis said that Capitol Police and State Patrol officers were posted at all the Capitol entrances, and that Capitol Police officers immediately identified Smith when he entered the Capitol” (emphasis added).

Yet there’s no mention of why, if he was identified as soon as he entered the building, it wasn’t until he was all the way in the rotunda, surrounded by children and solidarity singers, that he was apprehended, or even why the building was still open when a credible bomb threat had been made.

It wasn’t until Smith’s backpack was taken outside to Wisconsin Avenue that part of the Capitol building was closed. The offices facing Wisconsin Avenue were evacuated, and the Wisconsin Avenue entrance to the Capitol was closed.

The following day, the Madison Fire Department confirmed that the liquids in Smith’s backpack were neither explosive nor flammable.

Had Smith’s backpack actually contained Molotov cocktails, had he acted quickly to ignite them in the rotunda, the misidentification of Bowden could easily have resulted in a terrible tragedy.

Nevertheless, the DOA issued a press release gloating that “Capitol Police protected hundreds of people in the state Capitol by apprehending and arresting Kvon Smith.” And the clearly self-satisfied DOA Secretary Mike Huebsch crowed: “A tragedy was avoided and our Capitol remains safe because of the actions of our officers yesterday.”

I wonder how safe Colin Bowden feels “because of the actions of our officers” on Tuesday. Or how overjoyed the parents of the children who thronged the rotunda feel about those same actions. And I’m sure Dr. King would have preferred that the Capitol Police mark the anniversary of his birth in a way that better reflected the values that he espoused.

I would venture that the Capitol Police “protected hundreds of people” Tuesday in the same way that they daily protect the citizens of Wisconsin from the nefarious noon-hour activities of the Solidarity Sing Along, especially the oh-so-hazardous banners.

Update: Colin Bowden has started a petition on Change.org demanding an end to racial profiling in the Wisconsin State Capitol. Please sign the petition and ask others to as well.

# # #
Thanks to Judith Detert-Moriarty for her photo of Colin Bowden. The photo of Kvon Smith was obtained from the public portion of his Facebook profile. Thanks to Arthur Kohl-Riggs for the video of Kvon Smith’s arrest.

Why We Sing

As an ever-more-deeply-invested participant in the Solidarity Sing Along, I’ve been thinking lately about why we sing, why we’ve chosen this particular form of expression. Just what’s going on here? Why do we keep coming back? What exactly are we accomplishing?

I don’t think of what we do as protest, because it’s so much more than that. Certainly there are plenty of things going on in our state worthy of protest. But our singing is also a communal affirmation of our hopes, our values, our longing for justice, truth, and democracy. Communal singing is a vital part of building social movements: the civil rights movement, the labor movement, the Singing Revolution in Estonia, the effort to end apartheid in South Africa.

Building and re-envisioning the Wisconsin Uprising is what we’re up to, whether we realize it or not. The Sing Along is an effective answer to those who cry “Educate! Agitate! Organize!” We learn from and educate each other in the song lyrics we write and rewrite and in the announcements we make between songs. Chief Erwin’s crackdown is a pretty good indication that we’re successfully agitating. And the ease with which we make friends and fortify our connections with each other at the Sing Along is a strong indicator that there’s a lot of organizing going on.

Something magical happens when we sing. It knits our hearts together and strengthens our resolve. It builds community. Since the disaster visited upon Wisconsin on June 5 of this year, singing together has helped to heal broken hearts, stir up flagging spirits, and refocus energies. Given the communal nature of what we do, I asked the citizen singers why they sing and got some amazing responses, which were so good that it seems right to just share them rather than attempt to distill and paraphrase them.

One person directed me to the story of the Singing Revolution of Estonia, which the State of World Liberty Project lists as the freest country in the world:

Estonia finally won its freedom following the 1987–1991 Singing Revolution, in which Estonians gathered night after night, singing national songs and hymns banned by the Soviets and listening to rock music. When the Soviets attempted to quell the revolution, the Estonians used their bodies to shield radio and TV stations from being attacked by tanks. The revolution ended without any bloodshed, with one-fifth of the population having participated at some point. It marks one of the greatest triumphs of the power of liberty over authoritarianism in history.

If singing together can drive out the foreign occupier, what can it do in Wisconsin? Our communal singing is a cauldron of creative, collective empowerment potent enough to make tyrants tremble.

Another citizen singer recommended an article by Solidarity Sing Along friend Billy Bragg about Norwegians singing the song “Children of the Rainbow” in response to the mass killings by Anders Breivik this past spring.

Singing a song together is a powerful social experience, as anyone who has ever been to a rock concert can testify. However, if the song you are singing is not just a celebration of love, if the lyric seeks to make a point to people that you consider to be the opposition, then the sense of bonding is heightened. Think of a football crowd whose team have just taken the lead singing in unison a song aimed at their rivals.

Protest music has a similar unifying effect. When the majority of an audience sing along with a song attacking the government, critics dismiss such behaviour as “preaching to the converted.” While it may be true that those singing share a political outlook with both the performer and one another, the experience goes much deeper than simply affirming one’s beliefs. For someone who exists in an environment where their political views are in a minority, immersing themselves in an audience who are singing songs that articulate those views can be inspirational. To find yourself among other people in your town who share your views—people whose existence you may not have been aware of—offers a sense of social solidarity unavailable in internet chatrooms.”

Billy Bragg visited the Solidarity Sing Along on July 10, 2012.
Photo by Matty O’Dea.

In response to my query about why we sing, one participant posted the lyrics to a song by American songwriter and political activist Malvina Reynolds called—oddly enough—“Sing Along.” Makes perfect sense when you think about it. This is the language we use to speak to each other.

I get butterflies in my stomach whenever I start to sing,
And when I’m at a microphone I shake like anything,
But if you’ll sing along with me I’ll holler right out loud,
‘Cause I’m awf’ly nervous lonesome, but I’m swell when I’m a crowd.

Sing along, sing along!
And just sing “la la la la la” if you don’t know the song.
You’ll quickly learn the music, you’ll find yourself a word,
‘Cause when we sing together we’ll be heard.

Oh, when I need a raise in pay and have to ask my boss,
If I go see him by myself I’m just a total loss,
But if we go together I’ll do my part right pretty,
Cause I’m awf’ly nervous lonesome but I make a fine committee.

My congressman’s important, he hobnobs with big biz,
He soon forgets the guys and gals who put him where he is.
I’ll just write him a letter to tell him what we need,
With a hundred thousand signatures why even he can read.

Oh, life is full of problems, the world’s a funny place,
I sometimes wonder why the heck I join’d the human race,
But when we work together, it all seems right and true,
I’m an awful nothing by myself but I’m okay with you.

Callen Harty: [Singing in the Capitol] is a way to remind the legislators and the general population that there are still many citizens unhappy over the direction of the state. … It is a joyous and peaceful way to protest. Instead of yelling at enemies, instead of physical violence, instead of anything negative, it is a positive and beautiful way to find community and to share hurt and hope in a constructive and creative way. … Singing is a peaceful and joyous way to express what’s in our hearts.♦ ♦ ♦Kimberly Sprecher: I sing because it helps to relieve frustration. It is an outlet for our voices to be heard when no one is listening!♦ ♦ ♦Chaous Riddle: I sing because it not only is a very peaceful way to protest, but it also helps vent the anger and frustration that builds up every day. And you feel like your voice is finally being heard. We know they are not listening, but you do know they hear us. Chants can easily be ignored, but singing and music cannot.♦ ♦ ♦Chris Taylor: Sounds silly, but one reason is (not the most important) It helps my sinus allergy symptoms. Singing is good for my health.

Freedom of speech is so precious. Singing about it releases stress and allows me to remain calm. I sing at home now (never did before). However, not sure if the cat likes it.♦ ♦ ♦Joanne Juhnke: Singing is transcendent, collective, joyful. Singing lifts us beyond our individual selves and reminds us how much we need one another. Singing brings an element of peace to a situation fraught with conflict. When we join to sing the harmonies of “Solidarity Forever,” we’re a peaceful choir, in no danger whatsoever of becoming a mob. Song makes us strong, in ways that Walker and Huebsch and Erwin do not comprehend.♦ ♦ ♦Sue Breckenridge: I’m really shy, so singing with a group gives me the opportunity to express myself alongside others of like mind. Just coming to the Capitol and standing on the floor with others is actually a pretty big step out of my usual comfort zone. I don’t have a great voice myself, but when you’re with a group, it all sounds good.♦ ♦ ♦
Paula Mohan: Singing means creating community by taking part in an activity in which each person contributes and we create something beautiful. I think we all feel better after we participate in a sing-along. So much positive energy comes from it—it uplifts us all.♦ ♦ ♦Janet Stonecipher: Per William Congreve (1697):

Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.

Music is one way to express peace and peaceful intent—and it can create trust and sometimes sway people to your point of view. Songs tell stories too. My companion singers automatically become part of me and, I believe, I become part of them as our voices join and blend, creating community and connection. … It boils down, at times, to a very simple equation for me: when I am singing in peace and love with my companion singers, completely befuddling the people with guns and power who can’t figure out what to do with us, how can I keep from singing?♦ ♦ ♦Brooke Nicole: I have not participated in the singing, but … no matter what language and no matter what country and no matter what human cause, singing together conveys peace and power. Not many actions can carry those two messages simultaneously.

Singing like you all do is a powerful display of togetherness and organization, of rationality and emotion. It is a way to make your message heard in a way that is virtually unable to be criticized successfully. Anyone threatened by singing is suspect in most cultures. Sure, you can demonize someone holding a sign and shouting, but trying to demonize someone making beautiful noise is rarely effective. It is an avenue of communication which most people cherish. Music is a protective shell for powerful messages. It is the thread of humanity on display, and I, for one, am so thankful for every single day that the Solidarity Singers do it.♦ ♦ ♦Jonathan Rosenblum: First and foremost, I sing because every day the civil right of association and expression at work is denied is another day in exile. We sing as exiles from our House, in our House, and under the oak tree at our House. We sing also for those exiled from their voice. (Which is not to say that we will stop singing when we are home again.)♦ ♦ ♦Felix Bunke: Music and song have played a huge role in political and social movements throughout history as a way to convey the message, lift spirits, and build bonds within the group. Woody Guthrie’s famous saying on his guitar, “This machine kills fascists,” testifies that song is a way to communicate with people who don’t necessarily read, and it spreads the message that way.

Of course, there’s also the proud Wobbly (Industrial Workers of the World, or IWW) tradition of song, especially with the famous “little red songbooks,” many of which (including “Solidarity Forever”) are rewritten lyrics for tunes that the Salvation Army would play when they were trying to drown out Wobblies while they were “soapboxing,” trying to talk with workers and organize—so, with the new lyrics, they were still able to be heard, as they sung the lyrics along with the Salvation Army’s “accompaniment”! The IWW have played a huge role in the struggle for freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association.♦ ♦ ♦Matthew Schauenburg: Singing is a good way to expend energy in a positive and peaceful way, as opposed to just strangling the heck out of Walker.♦ ♦ ♦
Margit Moses: I sing because it saves my sanity to know that there are others who care passionately about what has been done to us. My office is quite progressive, on the whole, but the general attitude is that the pendulum swings, and swings back. I want to grab that pendulum and make it swing back. So I sing. It may be a very small thing, but I do believe that we matter. Every added body, every voice, makes some difference. Sing on . . .♦ ♦ ♦Vicki Lee Solomon-Mcclain: Singing is good for calming the soul and reminding us that everything will be all right someday, even if it doesn’t feel right now.♦ ♦ ♦Judith Dietert-Moriarty:

A pamphlet, no matter how good, is never read more than once. But a song is learned by heart and repeated over and over.

—Joe Hill, American organizer and songwriter

Throughout history the arts have always bloomed during times of strife and struggle, and our time is no different. The joyful and creative “noise” of song brings people of all walks of life together in a peaceful, compassionate action when they might not otherwise participate in a more forceful protest. Music is a common language and understood by every culture. Poets show us a way to reach the attention of power via our consciences, hearts, and souls instead of more challenging, direct, and often, confrontational, action. When a singer shares their voice, a different level of unity prevails, and joined voices do speak fearlessly to power.
—Another singer at home via Ustream with my computer listening when I’m unable to be in the rotunda♦ ♦ ♦Callen Harty: We humans like to sing. There is an elemental draw to joining together in song, and music has been part of protests for as long as there have been protests. Those in power know how dangerous art can be, and they do what they can to quash it. But the Solidarity Sing Along will not be moved. They will not stop carrying their message directly to the heart of our government. The singers know that music can move the masses. It can convey a message in ways that nothing else can. It can get a message through to hardened hearts in a way that simple words cannot.♦ ♦ ♦Anonymous: We sing to express our humanity.♦ ♦ ♦Linda Roberson: We sing to witness. We are the embodiment of human decency in Wisconsin: the people who respect the right of all citizens to enjoy basic freedoms and have access to food, education, and health care so they can be productive members of a just society. We sing to celebrate the creative and progressive spirit that characterizes Wisconsin citizens. We sing so that the people in power will never forget that we are here and we cannot be silenced.♦ ♦ ♦Sue Nelson: For me singing is second to being a peaceful presence at Our House. I feel the calling to be there when I can. I appreciate the great minds that have given us so many powerful, fun and humorous songs. I love singing too and, they say, singing is good for your heart. What’s not to like? Oh, uh, Erwin…♦ ♦ ♦
Thomas J. Mertz: Some of my earliest memories are from early 1960s Open Housing marches and the freedom songs were part of that. Prior to the occupation, and the Solidarity Sings, it wasn’t very often that those memories of song and community were refreshed. Now, there is a chance five days a week. I know many, but not all of the regular singers, but who knows who doesn’t matter, because when singing together the many are one. Over the last year+ I would try to come by and sing two to three times a month. It always lifted the spirit up. Since the recent crackdown, I’ve been singing two to three a week. I think the Solidarity Sing Along and what it is creating are important in ways that I’m not sure we’ll understand until years from now. Meanwhile, I feel good about being among the creators.♦ ♦ ♦Linda Rolnick: Singing brings up memories of the civil rights movement, when the protesters and demonstrators would sing as part of their action. Singing has a long action history that goes back to slavery as a way of giving voice to what is in your heart, but in a manner that is often accepted as civil. That is why I sing.♦ ♦ ♦Sarah Niemann Hammer: I live in Fort Atkinson and don’t get to come sing as much as I’d like to, but when I’m feeling beat down and I come sing, it gives me hope. I always leave feeling as though my “save the world” batteries have been recharged. That’s why I sing. And the times my kids weren’t in school and they joined me, they loved it!!♦ ♦ ♦Susan Cohen: I self-medicate with songs when ever I feel down. I sing because it makes me feel good; there is lots of positive energy in a group sing. There is a sense of shared purpose and an egalitarian-type negotiation that happens when people sing in a group.♦ ♦ ♦Anonymous: I sing because it keeps me sane (mostly, I think.) And because it’s fun!♦ ♦ ♦David Rolnick: When I was eight, the Jim Crow governator of Mississippi, Ross Barnett, came to speak at the state college in La Crosse (now UW-L). My dad, a historian, went in to audit the speech. My mom, my lil’ sis, and I walked around outside in a circle with a church group, I think, Mom holding a picket sign, and all of us singing. I remember “We Shall Overcome.” (No permits, Dave.) In Mom’s memory. ♥

During the first Gulf War, when we were living near Delavan, we used to drive up to Madison for war protests. One time, a small group left our signs at the door, as the police politely requested (those were the days, my friends!), and had a moment of silence inside, on the first floor. One woman began singing “We Shall Overcome” spontaneously (you paying attention, Dave?), all dozen or so of us joined in.

One day in about March 2011, marching around Our House like I owned it (Dave?), I heard “Gentle People.” I went back to the rotunda, and started singing along. No one stopped me, or asked for my permit. A couple smiles. Sometimes you’ll still see me getting a little leaky around the eyes when we sing that one.

It’s good exercise. It’s a nice anchor to the retired days when I’m not working out of town. But most of all, besides bringing cherished memories to life, It’s all of you.♦ ♦ ♦
Rick Rumpel: I’m from Watertown, and Linda and I make the Sing Along when we can. Singing makes our hearts soar. Like a Red Heart Helium Balloon. We come to sing because the people’s work is not over.

Linda Rumpel: To add to what Rick said, we also try to make it to the Sing Along whenever we can to show our support for the people who are there every day.♦ ♦ ♦Wendi Kent: My husband and I chose his offer from UW Madison because we knew we wanted to start a family. Great schools, his starting package, and safety were our priorities. We found out we were pregnant six days after we moved here.

At four months pregnant, the primary reasons we decided to make Madison our home were trampled. We learned of pay cuts before he had even started teaching, insurance co-pay increases before we’d even begun to use it, millions of dollars in cuts to schools, and more. The anger I felt, that we had been “tricked” into accepting the position here over others, was immense.

I felt helpless for nine more months during the pregnancy and recovery. It felt terrible. I hated that feeling and I still have that feeling some today, but singing, when we can make it, is the greatest way to feel like I am not completely helpless. I have a voice in the rotunda. Walker might not listen to it, but at least he has to hear it.♦ ♦ ♦Tom Robson: Although we don’t get down there often anymore (we’re planning to be there on Friday), being a part of the singers has been therapy. During the worst of the worst times in this war, standing with “our people” with tears in our eyes, singing at the top of our voices (because nobody cares how bad I am), gave us strength and a feeling of oneness during times that this administration was trying so hard to divide us. As Mary Ellen said, I often get one of the songs we sing “stuck in my head,” and instead of the usual frustration trying to get a song out of my head, it gives me a feeling of unity with all you guys, wherever I may be.♦ ♦ ♦Anonymous: I sing because I believe that the energy we put out in the universe by singing does have a positive effect on the causes we sing about. It keeps the energy moving in a way nothing else can.♦ ♦ ♦Anonymous: I sing because singing is more powerful than yelling. I sing because it’s hard to sing and cry at the same time. I sing because it is a magical thing that happens when people stand on the diamonds in the floor of the rotunda. I sing because even one voice in our Capitol is powerful, and hundreds together can be heard throughout the building. I sing because I love the people I sing with. I sing because I believe it’s working.♦ ♦ ♦Mary Watrud: I sing so my children will be enjoying their freedom of speech long after I am gone. I sing because nothing is more therapeutic than singing your guts out for an hour in the middle of the day with dedicated, thoughtful, inspiring, creative people. I’ve been “singing for my life” since last winter, and now I see my Solidarity Sing Along brothers and sisters everywhere I go. That has had a positive effect on my life—a constant reminder that the good people of the Sing Along are everywhere you look.♦ ♦ ♦Ella Fitzgerald: The only thing better than singing is more singing.

Callen Harty: I sing because the spirit moves me.
I sing for those who have no voice.
I sing so those in power hear the people who give them power.
I sing because I have a song.
I sing because I have words and notes to share.
I sing to open myself to the heavens.
I sing to hear echoes of justice.
I sing to taste the sound of freedom on my tongue.
I sing for the love of my brothers and sisters.
I sing because I must.
I sing a song of love.♦ ♦ ♦Arlo Guthrie: If you want to end war and stuff, you gotta sing loud.♦ ♦ ♦Come sing with us! Weekdays from noon until 1pm. Mondays through Thursdays, unless there’s a scheduled event, we sing in the Capitol rotunda. On Fridays we sing outside the Capitol, by what has come to be known as the Solidarity Tree (on Carroll Street, just southeast of the Lady Forward statue at the intersection of Mifflin, State, and Carroll Streets).

Come celebrate with us! On Monday, November 5, we’ll be celebrating our 500th Solidarity Sing Along at 7pm at the High Noon Saloon, 701A E. Washington Ave., Madison.

If you’d like a copy of the Solidarity Sing Along songbook, you can request one by sending a message to the Solidarity Sing Along Facebook page.# # #“Educate Agitate Organize” by Ricardo Levins Morales. “Rise Up” photo by Erica Case, with added text by Worley Dervish. Thanks to Classical Music Humor for the “Music Sets Us Free” image, and thanks to Rebecca Kemble for bringing it to my attention.

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.

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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

Resistance Is Essential

Three weeks have gone by, and finally I’ve figured out what I think. I know, I know. I’m slow to process such things. There were many who would gladly have digested the experience for me, but I resisted. This was big. Huge even. I had to figure it out for myself, even if it took me, well, a few weeks.

First, I’m furious. Second, if I had it all to do over again, I would. Gladly. And I hope you would too.

Of course, I’m still furious at the Fitzwalker weasels for all the damage they’re doing to our beloved state. But I’m also furious that Obama tweeted his “support” in the eleventh hour, that the DNC’s idea of “support” was to come to Wisconsin to squeeze more money out of people who’d already given their hearts and souls and more money than they could afford to the recall effort, not to mention the money the Fitzwalkers have already stolen from them. They threw us under the goddamned bus.

The DNC treated the Wisconsin Recall like it was a marginal little regional dispute. The RNC, on the other hand, treated it like it was the front line of an epic battle, a warm-up for November. I wonder how the DNC would like it if we tweeted our support on November 5. (Don’t worry—I’ll hold my nose and vote for O, but only because the alternative is too horrible to contemplate.)

Three weeks of grieving. I keep thinking of all of you who worked so incredibly hard. Collecting signatures in the freezing cold. Organizing and canvassing and connecting and generally working your asses off. The result is so bitter, so hard to swallow.

Our state has been occupied by greedy corporate plunderers who believe the 1% are more worthy than the rest of us, who care nothing for our children’s future, for the unemployed, for students and teachers, for our health, for our state’s precious natural resources, for truth and transparency.

Not only is the result hard to accept. It’s hard to believe it’s legit. Regardless of whether there was outright fraud or just a gross billionaire-funded burial of the state in outsize lies and propaganda, or both, the system is rigged.

We the people have been subsumed by them the corporations.

In spite of the outcome, in spite of how hard it is to accept, it was the right thing to do. In fact, it’s still the right thing to do. We need not apologize for having attempted to rid Wisconsin of its weasel infestation. We didn’t fail. We were failed—by a rigged system and by the milquetoast pseudo support of Obama and the DNC.

That we didn’t succeed only means that resistance is more essential than ever. The weasels are ruthless, organized, and loaded with dirty billionaire dough. As Robert Kraig so rightly observed, “A movement is not something that can be defeated by one election. … It bears remembering that the modern conservative movement was established out of the ashes of a decisive electoral defeat, Barry Goldwater’s landslide presidential loss in 1964.”

A little voice in my head keeps saying, “Don’t mourn! Organize!” But I can’t tell you not to mourn, as I am doing my own mourning. But I will tell you to organize.

What does it take to organize? Nothing fancy or complicated. Just friends, community, and learning. By “friends,” I mean strong, lasting, deep friendships that you can count on when your back is up against the wall. Real community happens when every member counts, every member has a voice, every member is worthy of care and respect. A community cultivates cooperation, understanding, and confidence, in each other and in our leaders, even and especially when we don’t agree.

We have only just begun to build solidarity, and in spite of how often or loudly we chant otherwise, we don’t always know what democracy looks like. But we are learning. And we must continue to learn, to educate ourselves and each other. To give ourselves and each other the benefit of the doubt, and to forgive ourselves and each other when necessary.

We have to keep raising our voices, in defiance of the cacophony of the corporate mass media and the rabid right spin machine. We have to keep resisting, to keep singing. Thanks to a stalwart band of determined activists, the Solidarity Sing Along continues to be an important point of daily resistance, as well as an important point of community learning and organizing. We’re still putting the Fitzwalker weasels on notice: We’re still here. We’re not going away.

We can’t stop now. We’re only just getting started.

Many thanks to Leslie Amsterdam for use of her photo (top).

Let’s Sway Responsibly

This past year, I have been a frequent participant in the Solidarity Sing Along protests held every weekday in or just outside the Wisconsin Capitol. One of the songs we sing is “Bring Back Wisconsin to Me”, sung to the tune of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean”, with new lyrics by Lou and Peter Berryman. It’s a great little protest song that almost dares you to swing your arms back and forth while you sing “Ohhhh…bring back, bring back, oh bring back Wisconsin to me, to me…!”

So we do. We sway while we sing that song.

At some point in the nearly 300 Sing Alongs that have been held since March of 2011, it was suggested that we sway carefully to avoid hitting the person next to us while we swing our arms. It was also discovered that it helps if everyone starts swaying in the same direction.

The advice about proper Sing Along etiquette has become an inside joke that is repeated whenever we sing “Bring Back Wisconsin to Me”. The leader calls out “You may sway if you wish, but if you sway…”, and the crowd yells back “Sway Responsibly!” We usually have a few visitors who laugh. Many of the regulars still laugh, too. Often the joke is followed by a few people advising the newbies to always start to the left. Wink, wink.

It’s a good reminder in politics as well as in choreography. Perhaps if Scott Walker had known enough to sway responsibly, he wouldn’t be in the mess he’s in right now – another budget deficit, record job losses, at least half the voters in the state disgusted with him, and his recall election soon to be scheduled. I won’t even mention the John Doe investigation. Oops. Too late.

As we begin the process of selecting someone to run against Scott Walker from the left, we need to do the same thing the singers do every day in the Capitol. We need to move left, but we need to sway in that direction, not just shove each other out of the way to stake out claims. We need to sway responsibly. That means union leaders have to avoid the temptation to endorse the first person who promises them everything they want. It means center-left Democrats and moderate Republicans who have joined in the fight have to acknowledge that the movement began as a defensive action against the stripping of collective bargaining rights, and that the fight will not be over until those rights have been restored. It means that the leaders of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin must keep all the doors open and all the lights on as they guide the process of selecting a nominee.

We need to continue talking to each other so we know what everyone expects and what everyone is willing to contribute. As we did last year during the big rallies on the square, we need to turn and listen to each other individually, not just cheer someone speaking from a podium at the top of the Capitol steps.

Our fight began with Labor, but the demonstrations grew into a coalition, then a movement because it also became a fight to restore funds for public education and health care. It became a fight to restore environmental regulations, and a fight to take back the local control that Scott Walker and the Republican legislature said they favored, but stole from the citizens as soon as they had the chance.

Finally, it has now become a fight to simply restore decency and integrity to our state government. Every day, new revelations are highlighting the corruption, pay-for-play, and plain old theft of public resources being perpetrated by Governor Walker and his cronies. To truly bring back Wisconsin, we must include on the agenda a vigorous plan to bring back open government where everyone’s voice is heard. Taking unlimited, private money out of our politics has to be a priority.

It’s not either/or. It’s a fight for all those things, no matter how the fight began, and it won’t be over until every battle has been won, to quote a line from another protest song.

A primary election for governor is a great way for us to start working together. It’s clear that this will be an election like no other in Wisconsin’s history. Let’s treat it that way. Let’s be patient but assertive as we do it together, arm in arm, singing in unison as we sway to the left. Let us each promise that we will not go home until every item on the checklist has been marked “completed.” Some will be very difficult to accomplish, so we must take advantage of every opportunity to progress, regardless of where that opportunity resides on the agenda.

We will not succeed unless everyone commits to staying until we’ve sung the final chorus of “Bring Back Wisconsin to Me”. Then we’ll sing one more chorus just for fun, and one more after that to teach it to the next generation.

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.

Teacher Lets 4th Graders Enjoy Wisconsin Solidarity Sing Along-Gets reprimand+15 minutes of fame

FOX6 out of Milwaukee ran this story on its web site:

Their hard-hitting investigative team caught 4th graders on a field trip singing with the Solidarity Sing Along group. They also report that the students’ Portage teacher got a letter of reprimand placed in his file for allowing the kids to sing a version of This Land is Your Land that says in the end:

This house is your house.
This house is my house!
From the rotunda
to the Governor’s office!
Scott Walker…
Will never push us out!
This house was made for you and me!

If THAT curls your hair, then this blogger has another shocker.

They also say “Video of the incident was aired by FOX6 in Milwaukee earlier this week” I was actually present in the rotunda on the day of filming. I’ll have to review some files to figure out the exact date, but I think this happened a couple weeks ago. It was September 27th. I’m wondering how they could hold onto this *scandalous* tale for so long?

A word from Portage School District Administrator Charles Poches:
“The district addressed the situation as soon as we were notified. The problem was we were not notified until Fox 6 contacted us,” Poches said. “There was never any intent from the district of hiding something. It’s just we were never notified of the incident because most people didn’t think it was an incident.”

Were they waiting to do some distracting closer to the mother of all recalls – the impending gathering of signatures to kick off a vote of no confidence against Scott Walker? Hmmm. I’ll never know because I don’t have a hard-hitting investigative team like that of FOX 6.
‘Tis a pity we can’t send those newshounds to also cover the 18 people getting arrested here and there for legally recording government meetings in Assembly chambers.

Now brace yourself. Ready for pigs to fly? In a rare act of FOX social media promotion, I will share a link to their facebook page so you can add your 2 cents to it. It’s right HERE.

Have to hand it to these hucksters. We are stuck going to their facebook page since 1/2 of the TV story they do here is about what people say there.

[Make sure you visit the Solidarity Sing Along page, too. ]

More! I want to know more about the Solidarity Sing Along!
While I have your valuable attention on the eminently successful Solidarity Sing Along group, I may as well let you know they’ve conducted 203 Solidarity Sing Along gatherings now and started the whole thing on March 11. They meet every weekday at noon at Wisconsin’s Capitol building with Monday and Friday spent outside by the Lady Forward statue and the other days spent inside the Rotunda.

This is the funnest choir I’ve ever had a chance to be a part of. All you do is sing. There is no practicing 1 phrase to get it perfect. That being said, 203 sings has made them darn near perfect anyway. They sing a mix of labor and folk songs that are jazzed up by lyrics that speak to the Wisconsin protests. You can see a selection of their songs on WNPJ’s site which sponsors the sings and download your own PDF copy of their songbook.

Here’s a video of the version of This Land is Your Land that the 4th graders sang. It’s a bit dated: the filmer has to go through the metal detectors which used to be in place. To hear the Scott Walker mention you can skip to the very end of it.

Backup video link.

This Land is Your Land: Arlo Guthrie sang with Solidarity singers in Madison today

Arlo Guthrie gave a concert in Madison last night. I heard that all proceeds were donated to a fund to recall Republicans in Wisconsin. Friends asked me more than a few times to tweet Arlo and beg him to also come and sing with them at the Capitol. I’m really glad he did or …well…I don’t know what my friends would ask me to tweet!

To whomever has the @folksinger account-sorry I bet you got some harassing tweets from more than 1 of us. Arlo’s account is @folkslinger – – as in slinging the folk.

Here’s a brief video of Arlo and the Solidarity Sing Along group slinging “This Land Is Your Land” today.

What the heck. Here’s a few more versions.

Tom Morello with Madison protesters.

This is my fave version so far: Peter, Paul and Mary.

But I can’t go away without honoring the original: Woody Guthrie

Thanks Arlo. You are one generous guy. Here’s a link to Arlo’s homepage for upcoming shows and his bloggings.

If you feel so moved as to copy Arlo and give, here’s the spot to give to Dave Hansen, one of our Fightinig Dem14 who needs to DEFEND his seat next Tuesday in Green Bay. If you want to know more about Dave, listen to the first words he said to the public on his return to Wisconsin from Illinois. He’s amazing.

Sen. Dave Hansen, 03/12/11 by bluecheddar

Conservatives take the rotunda. Solidarity singers sing outside. A good time was had by all.

Warning: no assaults or claims of choking are to be found in this story of dueling singers.

Link HERE to see images on facebook where you can share and download them.

After a visit from gun right activists last Tuesday, a Solidarity Sing Along singer wound up with a chipped tooth. So I didn’t welcome news of a conservative group coming to sing yesterday at the Capitol. I wondered if we’d see another act of violence.  In the end, there was no conflict to speak of.

When I asked Blaska why he was  inspired to organize his  own conservative singing day at the Capitol he replied, “Dave Zien” and added “There’s some frustration with the fact that  these people have taken over the rotunda every day and I think there’s a good reason for a permit, simply so you allow everybody to get a chance.”

Retired senator Zien’s frustration was expressed by yelling and careening counter-clockwise around the Capitol rotunda floor last Tuesday aiming his wheelchair at the feet of singers. I’m glad Blaska has selected a more civil form of expression.

While there may be frustration, I doubt it can be entirely pinned on nobody else getting a chance to be in the Capitol since the singers go outside to sing on Monday and Friday every week. Also, group co-leader Steve Burns told me yesterday that whenever a group has a permit and communicates with the singers about their needs, they have moved out of the building “We often move outside the Capitol – for a school group or anything like that.” I’ll add that the  singers only sing from noon to 1PM on weekdays  when many workers and politicians leave the Capitol building for lunch.

About 40 conservatives convened to sing with Isthmus blogger Dave Blaska. To me they looked a little older on average than the Solidarity Singers – maybe 50 years old was “young” for the group. The oddest things they did were sing some TV theme songs – The FlintstonesGilligan’s Island andGreen Acres – and bring in some different flags. In the photo below you’ll see somebody holding the “don’t tread on me” flag and the flag of Arizona. I wish I’d asked this person directly what this meant to them, because now it haunts me. I can’t make sense of it.

When I put the question to this blog’s facebook fans, I got this response:”..I think AZ is aspirational for WI Tea Baggers. They see Jan Brewer, John McCain & the Minutemen as beacons of hope.”

By the time I dropped in to listen, the singers had switched to songs like the Marine Hymnn, the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and the Star Spangled Banner. Their group included some good singers capable of harmonizing.

While they sang, about 3 people held signs on the main floor from the solidarity singers group, and perhaps 5 people, including Jeremy Ryan, held a banner on the upper floor that compared the GOP to ALEC.

Relations between group leaders remained amicable.  “When other groups are using the rotunda we move outside, as well, to make sure they have use of the space. It is consistent with what we’ve done for every other group … it’s their house as well as ours; it is everybody’s house.” – Chris Reeder a leader for Solidarity Sing Along, cited in WRN

Blaska told me he did discuss sharing songs with the Solidarity Singers but that logistics didn’t allow for it.  I’m guessing that the two group’s taste in songs wouldn’t mesh anyway, given that one group sings about coming after “Scotty” and the conservative group is, well, supportive of Scott Walker.

To affirm everybody’s right to peacefully assemble and speak, Chris Reeder took a break from singing and led roughly 200 in reading Article 1 Section 4 of the Wisconsin constitution [what you see in the opening of the video below].

When I asked the Solidarity Sing Along founder Steve Burns what his opinion is of seeking a permit to sing in the rotunda, he replied:

“I think my opinion about freedom of speech is probably what the other side’s opinion is about being able to carry a gun which is that we shouldn’t have to ask the government for permission. So just as some of them might say well I can walk around the streets with a gun without having to get a permit we feel like people should be able to come into the Capitol and express their views in a group without having to ask the government for a permission slip.”

Here’s a 3 minute video I did on the event.

WNPJ sponsors the daily Solidarity Sing Along project.

Lovely Wisconsin weekend for a protest. Or making calls or knocking on doors…

This next statement sounds a little like a mix of me and the Wisconsin Tourism Board:

Whether you want to protest with a sign, make a call, knock on a door, or even plan to leave for Chicago, there’s just a whole lotta political stuff to keep you busy in lovely Wisconsin!

The most picturesque protest location Wisconsin has to offer: Devil’s Lake.

WHAT: Protest Walker. Walker and program scheduled at 9:30am Saturday June 25. (expected duration is 45 minutes to an hour).

WHERE: Meet at North Shore entrance to Devil’s Lake State Park (intersection of County Trunk (upper) DL and Hwy. 123 at 8:45 a.m. where we plan to march in together behind a huge “Recall Walker” banner. Note: Reliable inside sources tell us that the state park’s parking lot will be closed from 7:30 a.m. on, so if you want to park inside the park, you must be in the park between the 6:00 a.m. daily opening time and 7:30 a.m. Please see other parking options and shuttle information below.

WHEN: Be inside the park by 9:00 a.m.

BRING: Signs! Important: Your car can also make a statement with signage for the drive here on Highway 12 or I-90 (exit 106 Hwy. 33 from Madison) to Baraboo. More details at this facebook note

Milwaukee Saturday  June 25th, 8:00pm
An Evening with John Nichols. Nichols will speak and answer questions about Wisconsin’s political history, which has led to the current political climate and recall staking place today. Jewish Community Center, 6255 North Santa Monica Blvd. Whitefish Bay facebook invitation

Green Bay Sunday June 26 Walker Budget Signing Ceremony

But what if the Green Bay is your location? Have no fears, Fox Valley. Details: Sunday, June 26th, 1:30pm – Protest Gov. Walker’s Signing of Budget, Badger Sheet Metal,1410 Partnership Road, Green Bay

Original location cancelled due to controversy-the biz owner is a tax evasion felon. Here is the new location: “The signing ceremony is now set for 2 p.m. Fox Valley Metal-Tech Inc. in Green Bay. Walker kicked off his gubernatorial campaign at the business in 2009.” –WisPolitics.com AND here is the facebook event page for a protest there.

Across Wisconsin – Recall Work.  See Wisconsin AFLCIO’s List

Chicago “Socialism 2011 Revolution in the Air” July 1-4 We’re living in a time when you don’t have to be a bona fide socialist to be intrigued by this national gathering. I think if you’re becoming an avid protester and organizer, you’ll find a lot to connect with here.   WEBSITE You can get a free ride, and families can get help with childcare. Inquire at iso.madison.city @ gmail.com  (608) 492-1053

Ongoing Efforts and Activities: Madison

Noon-1PM Mon-Fri Capitol Building
Solidarity Sing Along – facebook group

Daily at Labor Temple, Park St. Madison
“All across the state, tens of thousands of Wisconsinites have signed up to stand up with their brothers and sisters to fight back against the agenda of Scott Walker and his cronies. From rallies to town halls to Capitol protests, people are signed up and ready to help. We need to activate and mobilize them” Info & sign up

Former Senator Dave Zien and Tea Party Create Scene, Attack Solidarity Singer in Capitol Today

Here’s the report that WORT FM did on this. You’ll hear an announcement and then the news picks up at the 1:30 mark.
I’m sharing some notes and photos from a person who was at the Capitol during an assault on a singer from the Solidarity Sing Along group today. She asked that I share none of the names included outside of Zien’s name.
“Today former senator Dave Zien brought his attack dogs to the capitol.

Two of Zien’s associates attempted to cover 1st floor banner holders with their Don’t Tread On Me flag.

**** stepped in to help us and was assaulted by the Tea Party thugs. Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt (although **** had his tooth broken by one of Zien’s goons). About a dozen Solidarity Singers gave statements to police, and the two Teabaggers were hauled off in handcuffs.

By sheer coincidence, Zien’s friend (a Milwaukee FOX affiliate) just happened to be there with his camera crew.

Zien was harassing singers earlier on the ground floor of the rotunda by wheeling around haphazardly and yelling, “Walker for President!” He nearly crushed people’s toes with his wheelchair, yet was not cited for this behavior.

Seated: Dave Zien

**** received a citation for Disorderly Conduct. He acted in our defense. The charge should be dropped immediately.”

WORT FM of Madison will include an interview on this event in its 6:30PM Central news show. [You can listen online HERE].
I am feeling a personal pang of sadness, disappointment, and a bit of shame because I grew up in the former senator’s district which covers Chippewa, Clark, part of Dunn, Marathon, and Barron counties. Despite being opposite him on politics, I don’t assume that Zien is a violent kind of guy, though he is known as an outspoken man.
He was in a really rough motorcycle accident in Florida mid-March and people feared he’d die. I was one of many who asked others to think of him at that time and pray for him if they preferred. Dave was born in Chippewa Falls and lives in Eau Claire.