Friday, December 14, 2012

Bidden or Not Bidden

We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we've systematically removed God from our schools.
—Mike Huckabee
Like so many, I am reeling from what happened in Newtown, Connecticut, today. I can hardly put two thoughts together, but as a Christian, I just have to respond to the statement Mike Huckabee made today.

Mr. Huckabee, if your God can be so easily removed from the public schools, or from anywhere, then you're doing it wrong.

If your God wasn't right there, feeling every shudder of terror and grief at Sandy Hook Elementary School this morning, then you're doing it wrong. Seriously.

This horror did not happen because the people of this nation do not believe as you do. Or as I do. Harsh, vindictive indifference to human suffering is not God's way. The Good News is that, in the midst of all the questions and all the anguish, God is with us. God suffers with us. Always.

Bidden or unbidden, God is present.
—Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Manufacturing Wages, R.I.P.

Adam Davidson investigates manufacturers’ claims that they “can’t hire people with the right skills,” and finds what they really mean is they can’t do so at the rock-bottom wages they want to offer.

Clinton freed trade to the extent that manufacturing wages are third-world wages, wherever the manufacturing is done.

Clinton’s “constituents”—the multinational corporations—surely thank him for his service.  The American people need to hire a lobbyist.

Welfare State? Not So Much

Paul Krugman shows a graph of government transfer payments to individuals, other than medicare and medicaid:  It shows that such payments shoot up during recessions, when people are out of work, then drop back down as the economy picks up.  Currently about 8% of GDP.  

This certainly only measures transfers to the poor, elderly, and working class.  Welfare for the rich wouldn’t be included.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Weak Dollar Helps Whom?

Paul Krugman tells us,

“a fall in the dollar . . . wouldn’t be a terrible thing and might actually help the economy.”

By help, he means help U.S. workers work longer hours for less buying power, to better compete with third-world workers.

With help like this, who needs enemies?

Krugman does make the point, “the unemployed don’t hire lobbyists,” the root of the government’s inaction to correct the long-term unemployment situation.

The American people do need to hire public-interest lobbyists—on each and every one of the issues that wealth hires lobbyists for.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Robber Barony Is Back
United States
Average Incomes
bottom 90% average income - including capital gains

Shows the submerged 90% of us earn the same (per family) in real terms as we did in the late 1960s. Yet the typical family now has more wage earners, working more hours.

Same site, select
Top Income Shares
top .01% - including capital gains

Shows the hunting animals eating the entire carcass except during 1942-1981, when we had effective antitrust law, labor law, and progressive taxation.

In only these forty years was the average family income of the top .01% "only" 165 times the average family income.  Before 1942 and after 1981, the rich took a much larger share.  In 2010 it was 462 times the average and increasing.  (If only the top .01% earned anything, their share would be 10,000 times the average.   That the one family in 10,000 now takes nearly 5% of all the income, is appalling.)

The rich get their income not for what they do, but for what they own.  They claim to be "job creators."  In truth, the only job creator is a customer, who buys something.  We have to get money back in the hands of those who spend it--the nonrich.  When the only people with money to spend have all the stuff they can use, the economy collapses.  These booms and busts happened regularly up through the Great Depression.  It was political action that transformed the working class into the middle class, avoiding the booms and busts.  Deregulation, detaxing the rich, eroding worker rights, free trade, since 1981 are bringing back the bad old days of many serfs, one lord.  Only political action can reverse the trend.  We have to restore antitrust laws, restore workers' rights, establish fair trade not free trade, tax the rich.

Norway has a much fairer balance of power between employees and employers, partly due to nationwide collective bargaining.  U.S. labor laws have been eroded since they were enacted in 1935, by anti-labor court decisions and anti-labor legislation.  Now, management can ignore labor agreements and labor law without serious consequences.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Stand Up to Our President

Paul Krugman opines that Obama should stand up to Republicans.

Unfortunately, as with Clinton's disastrous free-trade policies, Obama promotes cuts to the safety net that a Republican president would not be able to get past a Democratic congress.  Obama, like Clinton, has been very much a Republican president.

Obama's preparedness to make a whole range of compromises will be at the expense of the 99%.

It is we who must stand up to our president.  We have to prevent him from selling us down the river.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

This Bright, Shining Moment

So here in Wisconsin this week we won some and we lost some. Seems like the stuff we won was pretty big, but the stuff we lost isn't exactly small potatoes either. Thanks in large part to gerrymandering, both branches of the state legislature are once again under Republican control, although I hear tell that Democrat Jessica King has not conceded in the 18th Senate District.

We'll have to be more vigilant than ever against Walker's dirty tricks and the yet-to-be-enacted portions of the ALEC agenda. I've heard folks mention right-to-work legislation and mining as two serious threats to the state's Common Good. Amy Goodman says "now the work of movements begins," but here in Wisconsin, the Uprising that began last year must take a deep breath and continue to work against the plundering of our precious resources for the benefit of the 0.01%. In other words, very little has changed on a statewide front. The fix is still in, and the fight is still on.

On the national front, though, the news is pretty damn good. If you're unimpressed by what happened on Tuesday, listen to what Rachel Maddow has to say about it. We have banished the ghoulish specter of a Romney/Ryan/Rove takeover. The anti-woman politicians took a well-deserved whooping, while more women are being sent to Congress than ever before. Marriage equality and marijuana legalization made significant steps forward. A larger proportion of young people, blacks, and Latinos voted than in 2008. It was a great night for diversity all around. These aren't just victories to be celebrated. They're opportunities to be pounced on.

The really good news this week is not what we have accomplished, but the opportunities that are now open before us. We have some serious political momentum to capitalize on, and we must not let it go to waste. We progressives should feel empowered by Tuesday's election results. Here's what I hope we'll do with this bright, shining moment:

Just Say No to Right-Wing Extremism. And say it loudly and repeatedly. We have had way more than enough of the hatred, paranoia, ignorance, and fear-mongering of the factually challenged rabid right. I don't care how the Republican party attempts to reframe itself. This nastiness has got to go. It has no place in our national discourse. It is a hindrance to everything that needs to be done for the Common Good.

By "just say no," I mean call what's unacceptable unacceptable. Speak up. You know—in a civilized way. Don't just nod politely. Silence = assent. Practice in front of the mirror if you have to, but say it. Calling out a friend, an acquaintance, or a family member on their hate speech, misinformation, or fear-mongering can be as simple as asking them a question about what they really mean, what they really believe. Press them. Have a serious conversation. Don't just let it pass. It's time to take back the reins of our public discourse, one conversation at a time if need be. On the people you encounter every day, you are likely to have far more influence than you realize. This is true activism. Bear witness to the truth.

Push Hard Against Obstructionism. The bullying and tantrum-throwing in Congress must cease. The work of the People has been put on hold for far too long. The right-wing agenda of ensuring a single-term presidency for Obama has failed. I hear tell that Harry Reid intends to pursue filibuster reform. This is no easy task, especially given the colossal dysfunction of Congress. But a multifaceted, noisy push from the People might be enough to make all the difference. If Senator Reid really goes after filibuster reform, let's back him up and give him as much boisterous support as we can.

Push Back Against the Big-Money Robber Barons. Overturn the absurdly named "Citizens United." Tax the rich. Close the loopholes. Regulate Wall Street and the banks. Make this—again—the land of opportunity, not just for the very few, but for all. Strengthen the middle class and give a helping hand to the disadvantaged. Support the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and keep up with what's happening with big money in politics.

Advocate for Peace and Civil Liberties. Push back against the NDAA, the drones, the kill list, and war without end. Part of the reason the Obama Administration gets away with these assaults on civil liberties is because we let him. People aren't paying close enough attention. Progressives are focused elsewhere. So shine a bright light. Let Obama and Congress know, let everyone know, that these assaults on fairness and decency are utterly and altogether unacceptable and will not be tolerated under any circumstances.

Go Green. Sign up for emails from and Clean Wisconsin, read them, and participate however you can. This is our one and only planet, and it's clearly in dire distress. We must—all of us—do what we can to mitigate the damage we've already done with our greedy, careless ways.

And did I mention saving the post office and standing up for workers' rights and immigration reform?

Voting is all well and good. Yes. Do it every chance you get. But if we're going to save democracy and save the planet, much, much, much more is required. Whatever you do, determine to be more involved, more active, better informed, better connected.

I've heard it said that if you don't do politics, politics will be done to you. But it won't just be done to you; it won't just be you that suffers. If we fail to make use of this moment, many will feel the effects of our inaction. Nothing less than the well-being of the planet is at stake. Truth, freedom, justice, and peace are calling. If you're a living, breathing human being, you can't afford not to answer.
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Thanks to Occupy Marines for the Howard Zinn image.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Let's Talk about FEMA

Mitt Romney doesn't want to talk about FEMA anymore. Of course, he doesn't. What he wants to do is very unpopular, especially at times like this, because it would benefit only a very, very few. He wants to downsize FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) and outsource it, make those ever-more-frequent weather disasters into another profit-making opportunity for the 1 percent, which of course means that it wouldn't work very well, if at all, especially not for the 47 percent that it's not his job to think about.

Romney, Ryan, and the rest of the Drown-Government-in-a-Bathtub folks don't believe in FEMA. To them, natural disasters like the one we experienced this week are just a way to reduce the surplus population. They don't have a stake in what happens to anyone else. Their only stake is what happens to themselves and maybe a few of their cronies.

What they don't understand—refuse to understand—is that living in a civilized society has to mean that we have have a vested interest in what happens to each other. It means acknowledging that your well-being, or lack of it, affects me, and that I'm willing to invest in our collective well-being. Because we all do better when we all do better. Our communal well-being compounds our individual well-being, and our individual well-being depends on our communal well-being.

The plundering plutocrats and corporate kleptocrats among us believe that their well-being is separate from and paramount to ours. They believe that having so much means that they deserve more. They think somehow they can horde it, like a mound of jewels in a dragon's den, and that somehow continually adding to their collection will enhance their well-being. But just like the junkies that they are, they can never get enough, and the more they get, the more they want. They will never be satisfied.

In his excellent book Billionaires and Ballot Bandits Greg Palast recounts this story of Charles Koch stealing oil from the Osage Indians in Oklahoma:
 I'd been a racketeering and fraud investigator for twenty years already when I jumped into the investigation of the Kochs. Koch's motive for the skim was obvious: he wanted the money. But, for me, this was a new level of weird. Why in the world would Charles Koch, then worth about $2 billion, want to take three dollars from some poor Indian lady?
It even puzzled his own henchmen. Roger Williams asked Koch, who was literally giggling over the amount of "overage" he'd pocketed, why the billionaire bothered to filch pocket change from Osage families.
Williams was wired, and what he related on the tape has stuck with me a long time. According to Williams's recording, Koch answered:
"I want my fair share—and that's all of it.
This plundering pirate actually believes he is entitled to all of it. That his fair share is all of it. Just cuz. Talk about "entitlements"!

Imagine for a moment, if you will, that you live in a smallish village of humans, and it's the only such village anywhere. And surrounding your village are wild animals that occasionally attack your cattle and the cattle that belong to some of your neighbors. And occasionally a storm will blow through and damage some but not all of the crops.

Now imagine a village meeting in which you all discuss what's to be done about these threats to the well-being of some of the villagers. Will it be only the ones whose crops and cattle have been harmed that advocate for a collective response to help prevent and mitigate future damage? Will there be a wealthy villager who, having built high walls around her crops and cattle, refuses to invest in the protection of the crops and cattle of others? Will that wealthy one refuse to see that her well-being depends on the well-being of the village? That if the rest of the village does not thrive, there will be fewer able to purchase the wealthy one's produce? If so, how will the rest of the village respond to the wealthy one's recalcitrance? Maybe pass a law that requires that all contribute, whether they want to or not?

Of course, reality is seldom quite so simple, but nonetheless we are the global village. And some think that their well-being is independent of and superior to that of the rest of us. But they could not be more wrong. When it comes to our precious and fragile planet, when it comes to the dangers we all face—to our health, to our environment, to our civil liberties—we really are all in this together. That's what FEMA means, ultimately.

When a ginormous hurricane pummels the East Coast, those of us in Wisconsin know that we are not unaffected, even though all we get here of the storm itself are a few gusty winds. We know that our well-being depends on the speedy recovery of those whose lives and livelihoods have been damaged by the storm. We are in this together. That's why we have a federal government and why we have FEMA.

And that's why Romney doesn't want to talk about it. Because he's that one person who believes that his well-being is more important than that of others, and he knows that's not going to play very well with the rest of the village.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Greater of Two Evils

Some good folks on the left of the political spectrum, many of whom I respect very much, dismiss the notion of voting for the lesser of two evils. Certainly doing so can be disheartening and demoralizing. It can feel like there's little real choice involved. When do we get to say what we really need, register our outrage at what offends us so deeply? But in these evil times, in this corrupt winner-take-all political system of ours, pragmatism points to just such a choice.

I appreciate that many women, families, and workers will likely do better with Obama in office for another four years. But given the drones, the war in Afghanistan, the NDAA, the record number of deportations, I cannot bring myself to vote for Obama. In other words, I am not "in."

On the other hand, I will not miss the opportunity to vote against Mitt "Corporations-Are-People-My-Friend" Romney.

Romney is so saturated with privilege that he thinks the American people should vote for him and his so-called five-point plan without him divulging any details or offering any substance to indicate that the math might actually add up. (It doesn't.) We're supposed to just trust him. (*eyeroll*) He's so truth-challenged that he doesn't seem to know the difference between truth and lies. And far worse, he doesn't seem to care.

Romney treats the American people ("you people") with only the most thinly veiled contempt. He seems to think he's entitled to the presidency, and he's willing to do anything and say anything to make sure he gets it. I can't imagine a more dangerous creature for our people or for the planet. Someone so morally bankrupt should absolutely not be allowed to choose the next two or three members of the Supreme Court, not to mention commanding the most powerful military force the Earth has ever known.

Daniel Ellsberg writes eloquently about the urgency of preventing a Romney presidency:
As Noam Chomsky said recently, "The Republican organization today is extremely dangerous, not just to this country, but to the world. It's worth expending some effort to prevent their rise to power, without sowing illusions about the Democratic alternatives." ...

The election is at this moment a toss-up. That means this is one of the uncommon occasions when we progressives—a small minority of the electorate—could actually have a significant influence on the outcome of a national election, swinging it one way or the other.

The only way for progressives and Democrats to block Romney from office, at this date, is to persuade enough people in swing states to vote for Obama: not stay home, or vote for someone else. And that has to include, in those states, progressives and disillusioned liberals who are at this moment inclined not to vote at all or to vote for a third-party candidate (because like me they've been not just disappointed but disgusted and enraged by much of what Obama has done in the last four years and will probably keep doing).

They have to be persuaded to vote, and to vote in a battleground state for Obama, not anyone else, despite the terrible flaws of the less-bad candidate, the incumbent. That's not easy. As I see it, that's precisely the "effort" Noam is referring to as worth expending right now to prevent the Republicans' rise to power. And it will take progressives—some of you reading this, I hope—to make that effort of persuasion effectively.

As disastrous as eight years of Dubya were, a Romney presidency would be even worse, in part because it would add to the damage Dubya did that has not yet been mitigated. And as deplorable as many aspects of Obama's presidency have been, a Romney presidency would be much worse, even catastrophically worse, as Ellsberg says. A Romney presidency would greatly hasten our slide toward all-out corporate kleptocracy and modern-day feudalism. More privilege for the privileged. More austerity and suffering for everyone else.

In a little more than two weeks, I will be voting enthusiastically for Tammy Baldwin to be my senator and for Mark Pocan to be my representative. And as for that other race, as I draw a line next to Obama's name, the enthusiasm involved will be in my wholehearted desire to prevent the greater of two evils.

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Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Monday, October 1, 2012

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. :)
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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?
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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 . . .
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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
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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.
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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. Sort of 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.

Thanks to Classical Music Humor for the above image, and thanks to Rebecca Kemble for bringing it to my attention.

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. in 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.

Monday, September 24, 2012

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.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

"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'."

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Erwin's Campaign of Intimidation: It's Not Working!

I'm waiting for my doorbell to ring. My camera battery is all charged up, and the camera is sitting by the front door, just in case I should need to videotape anyone who happens to pay me a visit.

Yesterday I went to the Wisconsin State Capitol at noon for the Solidarity Sing Along, as I frequently do. There were a good number of us there, all of them my friends. (If you've been to the Solidarity Sing Along, then you're a friend of mine, to put a little twist on one of my favorite songs.) Lisa and Jason were there, as were Brandon and Bart, along with sixty or so others, all doing pretty much the same thing for an hour: holding signs and singing our lefty liberal bleeding hearts out.

Yesterday afternoon, three hours and twenty minutes after the Sing Along ended, the Capitol police showed up at Lisa and Jason's house and issued them both two citations for obstructing access and holding signs over a railing in the Capitol. About an hour later, Brandon was stopped as he was walking through the Capitol. Apparently, the Capitol Police had paid him a visit at home too, but he wasn't there. How lucky for them that he just happened to be passing through! He was brought downstairs to the Capitol Police Station, where he was issued a citation.

According to Dane101, Tuesday morning the Capitol Police showed up at Bart's workplace to issue him two citations for obstructing access and for holding a sign in the Capitol the previous day.

What the heck? People's homes and workplaces? Really, Chief Erwin? Last week citations were issued johnny-on-the-spot by ten or so officers, replete with handcuffs, in the People's House, in full view of witnesses and cameras. Apparently that didn't quite do the trick for Chief Erwin. So this week, the Capitol Police ranged beyond their usual bounds—in several respects—going after people at their homes and workplaces.
Twelve News asked the new police chief why no one was arrested Friday after two days of enforcement. He said it's a matter of resources. "We went right into protection mode, safety, preserve the peace, and that's what we moved into. Sometimes we do enforcement, and sometimes we just protect and serve. That's what we did today." Chief Erwin says no one should draw a conclusion that they won't make more arrests in the future.WISN Milwaukee, emphasis added
Why go to all this effort to issue a few measly citations, going to people's homes and places of work? What point is Chief Erwin trying to make? God knows I'm not drawing parallels here, just noting some similarity (with apologies to St. Matthew): "Every day we stood in the Capitol Rotunda singing, and you did not arrest us." Is he too ashamed to issue these nefarious citations in the full light of day?

Chief Erwin, if you're worried about publicity, you should be. The whole world is watching what happens in the great state of Wisconsin. To get your shiny new job, did you make the mistake of promising your boss that you could rid the Capitol of our daily presence? If that's what you're on about, it's not working. After yesterday's news of four more citations being issued and visits paid to participants' homes, more than 140 showed up to help safeguard free speech in the People's House, more than twice as many as yesterday. As my friends are fond of saying, "Screw us and we multiply."

Today, the Madison Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild issued another press release:
The Madison, Wisconsin chapter of the National Lawyers’ Guild (NLG) condemns the Capitol Police’s continuing arrests of citizens at the Wisconsin State Capitol. After the rule used by police to arrest people last week was interpreted not to include holding signs in a circuit court case, police today cited protesters for draping banners over railings inside the capitol rotunda and holding an illegal rally without a permit, although these activities have been going on for months without incident. It has become impossible to tell what conduct is allowed or prohibited in the Capitol Rotunda, and repeated arrests of select individuals are designed to stifle dissent against state policies, say Guild members.
Your bullying, Chief Erwin, isn't working. We're holding our ground, right there in the People's House, because we're sure of our rights under the U.S. and Wisconsin state constitutions. Our permit is safely ensconced under glass on the first floor of the Rotunda. And we're not just safeguarding the free speech of lefty liberals. Whenever other groups have scheduled events at noon on weekdays in the Capitol, we have moved the Sing Along outside. We are happy to share. We freely and gratefully acknowledge that the People's House belongs to all the people of Wisconsin.

Chief Erwin, your palace guard may come pay us a visit, but don't expect us to open the door unless we have a video camera running, because we know a lot of people who are very interested in what you're up to. Even right here at my doorstep, the whole world is still watching!

Friday, September 7, 2012

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.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

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 Friday, Sept. 7, 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

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Fired Up! Reclaim Women's Equality Day

Update: Rally at 4:30pm Monday, not at 1pm, as previously announced.

I don't know about you but I've had enough. I've had enough of the venomous anti-woman agenda of the Republican party, the leadership of which is more concerned about proving to the right-wing extremists controlling their party that they're really as anti-abortion as it's possible to be. It's ridiculous to call them "pro-life" because they oppose abortion even to save a woman's life. I don't know what that is, but it sure as hell isn't "pro-life." It comes closer to pro-death.

The Republican anti-woman agenda includes denying women equal pay for equal work, aggressively going after Planned Parenthood and other women's health care providers, outlawing abortion, and limiting access to contraceptives. Now all are agape at Todd Akin's supposed slip, in which he says exactly what he means, reiterating the right-wing fantasy that in cases of "legitimate" rape a woman has the magical power to "shut the whole thing down" and prevent pregnancy. The obvious implication is that if you get pregnant from rape, it isn't a "legitimate" rape. Whatever the hell that is.

Since then, Akin and every Republican running for office across the land have fallen all over themselves trying to back away from Akin's callous remarks and what they reveal: the party's deep-seated contempt for women. That's what this is really all about. Women, who apparently lie about rape and are prone to hysteria, cannot be trusted to make decisions about their own bodies.

This message is brought to you by the toxic rape culture in which we live. The message is precisely the same as that of every rapist: "You don't get to decide what happens to your own body. I do."

Rep. Akin, you are seriously mistaken. You and Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and all the other sad little members of the Republican misogynists' club. Enough of you! Over ninety years ago the women of this country rose up and fought like hell for the right to vote and the right to hold public office. In the spirit of their fight and what they achieved, we are rising up too, for the sake of our daughters and sons, for the sake of our planet, for the sake of our democracy.

In 1971, the U.S. Congress designated August 26 of each year as "Women's Equality Day." Eager as we are to acknowledge all that our foremothers accomplished, we also recognize that we have a lot more work to do to gain women full equality and the respect they deserve.

On Monday, August 27, at 1pm 4:30pm, all of you women and the men who support you, join us on the west side of the Wisconsin State capitol in Madison for "Reclaim Women's Equality Day." After we gather, we'll encircle the capitol in a live demonstration of our commitment to continue the work of our foremothers in ensuring women's equality.

You members of the misogynist party, we're putting you on notice. We're fired up, and we're not gonna take it anymore!

Update! Update! Update!

The time of the Reclaim Women's Equality Day rally has been changed to 4:30pm on Monday. Please help spread the word!