In July of 2013, I officially became a senior citizen, celebrating birthday number 66 and receiving my first Social Security check after nearly 50 years in the work force and still counting. I also was arrested for the first time, for singing a song titled “We Are A Gentle Angry People” in the Wisconsin State Capitol building over the noon hour.
The convention has developed in Madison over the past two-plus years that people who oppose the present administration’s union busting tactics, or rape of our natural resources with the country’s largest open-pit iron ore mine, or gutting of Wisconsin’s historically excellent public school system, or trampling of women’s reproductive rights, or any of a host of other atrocities perpetrated on this great state by Governor Scott Walker and his legislative cronies, gather at the noon hour (when the Capitol building is not open for business) and peacefully sing songs of opposition to the repressive Walker regime.
I have lived in Wisconsin since 1969—essentially all of my adult life—and I am horrified at Walker’s systematic destruction of the Wisconsin infrastructure that persuaded me to choose to build my career and bring up my family here. Thus, when I can—though I travel frequently and am a business owner, wife, mother, and grandmother so have many demands on my time—I have enjoyed the opportunity to sing peacefully for an hour with people of like mind, to remind the Governor that while he may have the power now to do what he will, he does not have the people of Wisconsin on his side.
I do not belong to any group, nor (to my knowledge) is there any group to which I could belong, associated with the singing. Rather, the singing is a practice that grew spontaneously out of the 2011 uprising and has continued every week day at noon since that time without organization or leadership.
On July 24, I finished with my last morning commitment at work at a little after noon and decided to stroll up to the Capitol building and sing for half an hour or so, intending to return to my office in time for a 1:00 telephone conference. I arrived at the rotunda at about 12:20. Apparently the Capitol Police had made an announcement that the group there constituted an unlawful assembly but I did not arrive in time to hear that announcement. The Police had also posted a sandwich board in the center of the rotunda (in violation of the DOA administrative rule on the size of signs) stating that the assembly was unlawful.
I looked at the situation carefully. As far as I could tell, none of the requirements for “unlawful assembly” under DOA Adm. Ch. 2.14 were met. The group was relatively small, and got smaller as people departed, intimidated by the police presence. Entrances and exits to the building and to the rotunda were fully accessible. There was no disruption of business because the Capitol offices are closed during the noon hour. About 30 people were standing in a circle and singing protest songs. I found myself a place in front of a pillar so I was not blocking any egress to the rotunda and joined in.
|The Capitol Police Converge on Linda. Photo by Leslie Amsterdam.|
After approximately five minutes, I was surrounded by four Capitol Police officers. They separated me from the people I was standing with. One stood on either side of me and two attempted to block cameras from recording what was to ensue. It is intimidating when a lone middle-aged woman is surrounded by uniformed, armed cops. One of them asked me – respectfully – to leave. I asked why he thought the group constituted an “unlawful” assembly since as far as I could tell it did not. They all declined to answer. They asked me again to leave. I asked what I was doing that would cause them to evict me from the building. They declined to answer. They asked if I was going to leave and I said I was not.
They then handcuffed me (fortunately, loosely – I did not have marks on my wrists as so many others did). I asked what I was being charged with. They declined to answer. An officer took each of my arms and they escorted me out of the rotunda. I asked if I could use the railing on the stairway going down to the booking area; they refused to let me, and fortunately I did not fall. I asked for my water bottle (I have very limited saliva production as a result of radiation therapy for cancer some years ago) and they declined to give it to me despite repeated requests, though Officer Miller did try to offer me a drink from the bottle at one point. He was also courteous in that he explained to me what he was going to do and what would happen next.
My mug shot was taken, I was thoroughly patted down by two officers, and I was required to give not only my name and address but also identifying information such as eye and hair color, height and weight. I was asked these questions by multiple officials multiple times. Eventually I was given a pink ticket that said “no permit.” I asked the officer what I had done specifically to violate any law or administrative rule and he said, “This is not the time to discuss that.” My handcuffs were removed and I was permitted to retrieve my water bottle and leave the booking area.
I was never informed, despite repeated requests, about what exactly I was doing that they thought I should not have been doing, or what provision of the administrative code I had ostensibly violated. I had the clear impression that the arresting and booking officers had no knowledge or understanding of the law and were simply—in some cases reluctantly—following orders.
I wanted to file a complaint but could not find an officer who would give me a complaint form and the office where such forms are routinely available and are to be turned in was closed and locked. (The following day I filled out a complaint form and left it at my State Representative’s office since the police office was still [or again] closed.)
I went up to the rotunda and started to sing again.