- Posted September 18, 2013 by
Singing in Solidarity
mediaman was inspired to profile the group because of “their long-term dedication, and the undeterred passion to demonstrate the value and importance of retaining and protecting our rights of free speech,” he said. mediaman shadowed and photographed the group on August 29.
“We can’t take our free speech rights lightly,” he said. “If we don’t have an open forum for demonstrating our freedoms, we have the real risk of losing them. For the Solidarity Singers, if they did not bring this issue forward, it would likely have gone unnoticed.”
- zdan, CNN iReport producer
On Constitution Day, September 17th, in Wisconsin, the remnants of the historic labor protests of 2011 can still be felt at the state Capitol. After the protests had long faded away, and Governor Walker had survived his recall, a small group of citizens, referred to as the Solidarity Singers, have gathered every weekday at the Capitol to “protest through song.” In July of this year, the Capitol Police began enforcing a new state rule requiring groups of 20 or more to request a permit to assemble in the Capitol. This series of images were taken to provide some context to the tug-of-war between the First Amendment Right of free speech versus political partisanship.
The Solidarity Singers feel their singing in the rotunda is an expression of free speech and should not require a permit. This loosely organized group believes it’s their Constitutional right to assemble and sing. In July and August, the Capitol Police began enforcing this new permit rule. While the numbers in the Solidarity Singers have fluctuated from about 12-25 during the earlier sing-alongs,the groups have swelled into the hundreds as the arrests increased. Over 300 people, including the Singers, bystanders, reporters, an alderman, grandmothers, and members of the clergy have been arrested, ranging in age from 14 to 85, according to the Capitol Times. People continue to come and join in the singing. Many of the arrests were captured on a variety of YouTube videos. Each offender was handcuffed, brought to the Capitol basement and given a $200 fine. By the end of August of 2013, the Solidarity Singers had already held over 600 “protest sing-alongs” at the Capitol. Singing an average of 20 songs per event, the group has already sung over 12,000 protest songs. Nearly 700 citations have been given out, and that the number continues to rise.
These images were shot to give the viewer, who has never witnessed the event, a sense of what the scene looked and felt like. On this day, August 29th, the Solidarity Singers went outside to “sing in protest” since eight individuals representing the Jefferson County Republican Women had obtained a permit that day. 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. Violators will be subject to arrest.” For the casual viewer, inside the rotunda seemed like an ominous and tense environment. Merely watching the event could prompt an observer to be arrested, or at least asked to leave. Outside approximately 200 Solidarity Singers, including musicians and supporters sang and played from their Solidarity Songbook. There was a sense of pride and passion in the air. The brilliant sun, blue sky and gleaming white stone of the Capitol provided a perfect backdrop to the pure joy in the faces of the assembled group of singers and supporters outside. The scene was in stark contrast to the setting inside the Capitol.
As the clock hit 1:00 pm, the Solidarity Singers began to disperse to sing another day. As the crowd disappeared with the stately looking Capitol in the distance, the words on the Solidarity Singers songbook struck a chord saying: “Wisconsin State Constitution Article 1, Section 4, the right of the people to peaceably 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 day.