- Posted September 17, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Photo essays: Your stories in pictures
A Constitutional Right- Singing for Solidarity
Still a small but persistent movement, largely unnoticed by the mainstream media, keeps the spirit of the protests alive. A loosely organized group of people, called the Solidarity Singers have gathered every week at the Capitol to protest through song. In December 2011 a new executive rule was put into place requiring a permit by groups of more than three people to gather at the Capitol. Later, a U.S. District Judge raised that number to 20. Arrests increased in July 2013, with a dramatic uptick in August, when the arrests took on a more ominous tone. On August 7th NBC affiliate reported that “lawmakers and observers were warned they may be arrested just for watching these daily protests.”
On August 16th the Huffington Post reported, “Police in Madison arrested an alderman, three grandmothers, a teenage minor and a journalist during a protest at the state Capitol.” Each offender was handcuffed, brought to the Capitol basement and given a $200 fine. From the Solidarity Singers prospective, singing in the rotunda is an expression of free speech and should not require a permit. The Solidarity Singers believe it is their Constitutional right to assemble and sing.
The arrests continued. On August 19th, the editor of the Progressive Magazine was arrested and the next day Wisconsin State Employees Union Executive Director, Marty Beil, was arrested and lead away in handcuffs. The Associated Press quoted Governor Walker saying, the protesters at the Capitol should "follow the rules" and get permits.
On August 29th the Jefferson County Republican Women got a permit to sing in the Rotunda. Inside the Capitol police patrolled the area and set out a sign that read, “There is a scheduled permitted event. Please respect this permitted event. Violates will be subject to arrest.” Inside a small group of eight people sang a few patriotic and pro-Walker songs. Nearby, Gabriel Clemente stood stoically wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, a popular symbol of the group Anonymous. Gabriel said, “I am here to support my friend Damon who was arrested the day before. I felt I needed to be here to support him.” Damon Terrell was featured in a slew of YouTube videos showing him being tackled to the ground by a group of Capitol Police. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZTUW0Mbuxk] As the Jefferson County Republican Women continued to sing, outside approximately 200 Solidarity Singers sang an assortment of anti-Walker, union solidarity, and patriotic songs.
A group of three older individuals held signs saying, “First Amendment Is My Permit.” Frank Ryan, a former Bureau Chief of United Press International said, “I have been reading about this Solidarity Singer protest for some time, but it wasn’t until I saw that young man being tackled to the ground in the Rotunda that I felt I needed to come down her to support this group. It has gone too far.”
Sitting on a park bench nearby watching the Singers was Marty Beil, Executive Director of AFSCME. Beil was arrested the day before. He said, “A police officer from the Capitol came over to me and said that I was designated to be arrested today. Either I would have to leave or I would be handcuffed and arrested. If I came back and went upstairs they told me that I would be thrown into the county jail.” Beil said, “I have been arrested before. But for those who never have been it is an intimating experience.” Across the Capitol grounds the words “UNINTIMIDATED” were spelled out in large block letters- mocking the upcoming book of Governor Walker with the same name.
Marty reflected on what the Solidarity Singers' effort means. He said, “I spend every day dealing with Walkers’ view of the state. It gets depressing…it’s not the Wisconsin I knew, it’s the ‘new’ Wisconsin. Another song started in the background as the singers sang, and the brass instruments blared a chorus of “There is Power in a Union.” The lyrics flowed through the Capitol grounds, “The Union forever, defending our rights, Down with Scott Walker, all workers unite.” In the circle of people, supporters from the City of Madison Police Department with t-shirts saying, “COPS FOR LABOR” and people from the Madison Teachers Union [MTI] with shirts saying SOLIDARITY! lined the area. Apparently, there is a great divide between the Capitol Police and the Madison City Police.
In the distance, walking near the large UNINTIMIDATED sign was Arthur Kohl Riggs, a candidate who ran against Governor Walker in the Republican Governor primary in 2012. Riggs ran as a traditional Lincoln Republican. He still sports his Lincoln-like beard. Since then, Riggs has consistently documented the events inside the legislative chamber and around the Capitol grounds for the several years. His efforts to openly document what transpired in the Capitol for public viewing has prompted the legislature to pass more restrictive rules for filming inside the chambers.
Wisconsin Public Radio News reported in January 2013 that Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos described the new rules as "progressive discipline." Vos was quoted, “[If] someone decides to speak out or unfurl a banner or try to make a spectacle of themselves, they're going to be escorted out of the chambers for a day. Because perhaps they didn't understand the rules. If they try to do it a second time, they're going to lose the right to be an observer for that floor period. It they do it a third time, clearly breaking the rules and not caring about this institution or everyone else's freedom of speech, they won't be allowed to be a part of the gallery for the entire session."
Wisconsin Public Radio went on to say, “But the rules cover more than just outbursts or protest signs. People are banned from bringing bags into the gallery and from wearing hats. Using cameras, laptops or smartphones is banned as is reading a book or a newspaper. Racine Democrat Cory Mason told Republicans they were picking and choosing from the Bill of Rights, noting that visitors to the gallery would still be allowed to carry concealed handguns.”
As the clock hit 1:00pm, the Solidarity Singers began to disperse to sing another day. As the crowd disappeared, and the clean white outline of the Capitol stood against an intense blue sky, the words on the Solidarity Singers songbook struck a chord with these words: “Wisconsin State Constitution Article 1, Section 4, 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.” Important words to be spoken (or sung) by any political party and citizen. An important message on Constitution Day, and for that matter any other day.