Saturday, November 23, 2013

Matt Damon Channels Howard Zinn

I have read quotes taken from Howard Zinn's 1970 speech on civil obedience, but I was never so struck by it as I was by a video I came across of Matt Damon reading portions of it. Then I did a little digging and discovered the context of the speech, which was actually an opening statement in a debate on civil disobedience at Johns Hopkins University. It turns out that while he was making the statement he was, in fact, in the middle of an act of civil disobedience:
By the latter part of May 1970, feelings about the war in Vietnam had become almost unbearably intense. In Boston, about a hundred of us decided to sit down at the Boston Army Base and block the road used by buses carrying draftees off to military duty. We were not so daft that we thought we were stopping the flow of soldiers to Vietnam; it was a symbolic act, a statement, a piece of guerrilla warfare. We were all arrested and charged, in the quaint language of an old statute, with "sauntering and loitering" in such a way as to obstruct traffic.

Eight of us refused to plead guilty, insisting on trial by jury, hoping we could persuade the members of the jury that ours was a justified act of civil disobedience. We did not persuade them. We were found guilty, chose jail instead of paying a fine, but the judge, apparently reluctant to have us in jail, gave us forty-eight hours to change our minds, after which we should show up in court to either pay the fine or be jailed.

In the meantime, I had been invited to go to Johns Hopkins University to debate with the philosopher Charles Frankel on the issue of civil disobedience. I decided it would be hypocritical for me, an advocate of civil disobedience, to submit dutifully to the court and thereby skip out on an opportunity to speak to hundreds of students about civil disobedience. So, on the day I was supposed to show up in court in Boston I flew to Baltimore and that evening debated with Charles Frankel. Returning to Boston I decided to meet my morning class, but two detectives were waiting for me, and I was hustled before the court and then spent a couple of days in jail.
When I first stumbled across this video of Matt Damon reading Howard Zinn's statement on civil disobedience, I didn't realize that Damon was reading from Zinn until about three paragraphs in. Damon breathes new life into the 43-year old statement and dynamically delivers its punch as convincingly as if he were Zinn himself.

Here's the portion of Zinn's statement that Damon reads:
I start from the supposition that the world is topsy-turvy, that things are all wrong, that the wrong people are in jail and the wrong people are out of jail, that the wrong people are in power and the wrong people are out of power, that the wealth is distributed in this country and the world in such a way as not simply to require small reform but to require a drastic reallocation of wealth. I start from the supposition that we don't have to say too much about this because all we have to do is think about the state of the world today and realize that things are all upside down. ...

If you don't think, if you just listen to TV and read scholarly things, you actually begin to think that things are not so bad, or that just little things are wrong. But you have to get a little detached, and then come back and look at the world, and you are horrified. So we have to start from that supposition—that things are really topsy-turvy.

And our topic is topsy-turvy: civil disobedience. As soon as you say the topic is civil disobedience, you are saying our problem is civil disobedience. That is not our problem.... Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is the numbers of people all over the world who have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience.
We recognize this for Nazi Germany. We know that the problem there was obedience, that the people obeyed Hitler. People obeyed. That was wrong. They should have challenged, and they should have resisted. And if we were only there, we would have showed them. Even in Stalin's Russia we can understand that; people are obedient, all these herdlike people. ...

Remember those bad old days when people were exploited by feudalism? Everything was terrible in the Middle Ages-but now we have Western civilization, the rule of law. The rule of law has regularized and maximized the injustice that existed before the rule of law, that is what the rule of law has done. ...

When in all the nations of the world, the rule of law is the darling of the leaders and the plague of the people, we ought to begin to recognize this. We have to transcend these national boundaries in our thinking. Nixon and Brezhnev have much more in common with one another than we have with Nixon. J. Edgar Hoover has far more in common with the head of the Soviet secret police than he has with us. It's the international dedication to law and order that binds the leaders of all countries in a comradely bond. That's why we are always surprised when they get together—they smile, they shake hands, they smoke cigars, they really like one another no matter what they say. ...

What we are trying to do, I assume, is really to get back to the principles and aims and spirit of the Declaration of Independence. This spirit is resistance to illegitimate authority and to forces that deprive people of their life and liberty and right to pursue happiness, and therefore under these conditions, it urges the right to alter or abolish their current form of government-and the stress had been on abolish.

But to establish the principles of the Declaration of Independence, we are going to need to go outside the law, to stop obeying the laws that demand killing or that allocate wealth the way it has been done, or that put people in jail for petty technical offenses and keep other people out of jail for enormous crimes.

My hope is that this kind of spirit will take place not just in this country but in other countries, because they all need it. People in all countries need the spirit of disobedience to the state, which is not a metaphysical thing but a thing of force and wealth. And we need a kind of declaration of interdependence among people in all countries of the world who are striving for the same thing.
You can read the entire statement here.

Friday, November 22, 2013

JFK: A Day of Remembrance

There are so many quality pieces to read today, on this the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy that I thought I'd just write a brief post with my personal recollection along with links to several worthwhile posts and articles to mark the occasion.

I remember exactly where I was when I learned that President Kennedy had been shot. I was 7 years old. In the second grade. I was just getting back to school after having been home for lunch. A kid came up to me on the playground outside and said, “The president’s been shot.” I said, “The president of what?” Because I just couldn’t comprehend that the president of the United States could be shot. That was just not possible. Whenever I think about it, I still feel like that shocked little kid. I remember watching the funeral on television with my family. How could it be real? I remember my heart hurting when John-John saluted his father. It never seemed like it could possibly be real. It still doesn’t.

Claire Conner, daughter of two of the ultraconservative John Birch Society's founders, witnessed President Kennedy riding by in the motorcade moments before he was shot. She recounts the experience in her excellent book Wrapped in the Flag. You can read an excerpt about the assassination here.

Veracity Stew covers the story of the famous Zapruder film here.

The New York Times has an interactive feature on its 1963 coverage of the assassination here.

The photo at the right of President Kennedy in 1961 is by Cornell Capa (© International Center for Photography/Magnum.) and is from the New Yorker's slide show "Losing President Kennedy."

One of the best articles is from the Washington Post: "50 Years Later: Four Shattering Days."

And finally, there's this really fine piece from my friend James at the Everlasting GOP Stoppers: "Let Us Begin, Again."

I'm sure I've left out many more fine remembrances, but these are the ones that drew my attention this morning.

Even though I was only seven years old when it happened, it still feels to me as though President Kennedy's assassination fundamentally altered the universe. Of course, what it actually altered was my perception of the universe, of our country. In my seven-year-old mind, it registered that even great leaders could be killed and that the world is a profoundly unpredictable place where heart-rending tragedy can strike in the next bright, golden moment.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ungerrymander Us!

In Wisconsin, as in other states, democracy is being gerrymandered to death, and now is the time for us to put pressure on the Wisconsin legislature to put an end to partisan redistricting.

In 2012, Republicans won just 46 percent of the votes cast in Wisconsin Assembly races, whereas Democrats won 53 percent. And yet 60 percent of that body are Republicans.

Also in 2012, Wisconsinites cast 43,020 more votes for Democrats than Republicans in U.S. House races, but statewide we are "represented" by five Republicans and three Democrats.

In neither case could you call the election results a mandate. And yet, Republicans are so secure in their gerrymandered little seats that they can openly fly in the face of what the majority of Wisconsinites want. Rather than being concerned with the needs of the majority, the Republicans continually pander to the needs of the corporate backers whose big money put them in office.

According to Bill Lueders of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism,
In 2012, after a secret and expensive redistricting process, Republicans increased their dominion over the Legislature despite getting fewer total votes than Democrats. They like the current system so much they haven’t even allowed public hearings on bills, AB 185 and SB 163, that would turn this task over to the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau.

In response, media editorial boards across Wisconsin have launched a campaign urging citizens to contact GOP legislative leaders. And records obtained by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism show that many people are doing so.
And we should, too. Because we seldom have the mainstream media on our side, but in this case we do, along with eight lobby groups such as Common Cause in Wisconsin and the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin. And we should make every effort to take advantage of that.

Even the Wisconsin State Journal published an editorial whose headline says it all:
What's happening here is that the Wisconsin media and citizens lobby groups are attempting to shame the shameless WI GOP into action. Regardless of the outcome, this is a project I want in on.

Here are the people to contact:

1. Your state senator and representative. If you're not sure who they are, you can find out here. If you know who they are but need their contact information, check here for the senate and here for the assembly.

2. Senator Mary Lazich, chair of the Senate Committee on Elections and Urban Affairs:

3. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos:

4. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald:

5. Representative Chad Weininger, newly assigned chair of the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections:

It may seem like there's some work involved here, but it's trivial compared with all that stands to be gained and all that has been lost. Besides, how many opportunities do we have to weigh in on the right side of history?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Who's Unintimidated? A Tale of Two Books

Many of you who've read previous posts in this blog know that 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?

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Do You Hear the People Sing? Saving the World One Sing Along at a Time

Earlier this week, the Texas Solidarity Sing Along (yes! there's one in Texas!) posted a link on Facebook titled "Have your say: Can protest songs really change the world?" I'm so glad you asked! And, why yes, I believe they can! The folks at ONE, an advocacy organization cofounded by Bono and dedicated to ending extreme poverty, have since June been engaged in an effort they call "agit8: Iconic protest songs that have changed the world," which features high-profile performers recording their versions of some well-known, some less-well-known protest songs. The aim is to inspire people all around the world to take action.

I wholeheartedly applaud their efforts. The way we get music to people anymore is via their favorite performers. Listening is all well and good, and it's a necessary first step. But it's very passive and therefore delivers only some of music's true magic, which has been part of the human experience since before David played his lyre to soothe Saul's troubled soul. Look closely at the poster created for this laudable project:

It displays the words "come together" in large type. Like coming together for a performance? No. Like raising our voices together? Yes! Just as it says, that's when extraordinary things can happen.

Like the Singing Revolution that took place in Estonia in the late 1980s, in which, according to the documentary film, three distinct Estonian political groups sang their way to unity and a nonviolent revolution that freed them from Soviet rule. Like people all over the world who have been so inspired by the song "Do You Hear the People Sing?" from Les Misérables that it's been heard from Turkey to Taiwan.

Here in Madison, Wisconsin, many of us know firsthand about those extraordinary things that can happen, because we participate regularly in the Solidarity Sing Along, which has been meeting every weekday from noon to one at the state capitol since March 11, 2011. And lately some of us have also been meeting every evening at about 5pm at the capitol to sing until the building closes at 6.

Photo by Callen Harty
If you're local and you're not sure you're ready to sing in the halls of power, you might want to check out the Madison Song Circle, which meets every Wednesday, 6:30-8:30pm, at the Cardinal Bar, 418 E. Wilson. We sing from the Rise Up Singing songbooks in the tradition of a song circle, where we go around the circle and everyone, time permitting, has a chance to choose a song for the group to sing together. Many of us have gotten hooked on singing together. It keeps us energized, focused, hopeful, and connected to each other.

Photo by the Overpass Light Brigade.

I can hear some of you thinking, "Okay, well, that's nice, but I don't sing." Au contraire. Yes, you do. You may not sing well, you may not feel confident about your singing, but you can sing. In a supportive group. The point is not how well you sing, but simply that you sing. With your friends, with your community. And if you think it couldn't possibly make a difference, think again. Why has the Walker administration tried so hard to silence us, arresting and handcuffing hundreds just because we gather in the rotunda to exercise our right to free speech by singing together about our dissatisfaction with what's happening in our state? Because they know and fear not only the power of our collective voices but also the power of our solidarity with each other.

Folks in Texas as well as in Michigan have decided it is time to sing truth to power in their state capitols too. If you're eager to start a solidarity sing along in your state, you can download a copy of Wisconsin's Solidarity Sing Along songbook for free here. Many of the songs have Wisconsin-specific lyrics, so you'll want to put together your own songbook, but this will give you a good idea of what works in Wisconsin, and many of the songs are easily adaptable to other states, especially seeing as how the Republican-controlled states are all working from the ALEC playbook. The fight in Wisconsin is the same as the fight in Texas as the fight in Michigan as the fight in North Carolina as the fight in Turkey as the the fight in Italy... All over the world, people are oppressed and in pain; they feel discouraged and isolated and powerless. And the magic of singing together can help in surprising ways.

For music to really work its magic, it's not enough, as Pete Seeger would say, to put songs in people's ears. You have to put them on their lips. Pete has long advocated starting a singing movement. He would love what's happening here in Madison. What I have learned from Pete over the years is that singing together builds community. It builds strong community. And strong community is exactly what we need in these dark times.

Some of the people I've sung with at the SSA, I've never had a single face-to-face conversation with. But singing truth to power has bound our hearts more tightly than it's possible to describe. We are a loose collective, analogous to a neighborhood pickup basketball game, composed of Democrats, independents, anarchists, Greens, Wobblies, teachers, retirees, veterans, union members... Given that our governor has expressly stated his goal to divide and conquer, our solidarity is unquestionably a force to be reckoned with, so much so that the state Department of Administration has done everything it can think of to silence us. Thus far, to no avail.

Several days ago, my friend Rebecca Kemble wrote this in a Facebook post decrying the overwhelming global forces aligned against us:
Pretty much all we have is our relationships with each other and the potential for mass action as we build those relationships with trust and respect.
The forces arrayed against us are powerful, and they're determined to divide and conquer us, in the worst ways possible. Rebecca is right. Our only recourse is to hold fast to each other, in spite of our differences, in spite of our fears. The solidarity that's required isn't the artificial kind that comes from just taking your cue from the people in charge. It's the kind where you know that no matter what happens, there's a whole slew of people at the ready who will have your back and not back down.

One of the best ways to build such a community, to keep our spirits and energy up in the face of overwhelming global corporate power, is to sing together. Often. Loudly. Vociferously. The more we sing, the stronger and more united we'll be. When it's time to run for the barricades, we won't be caught fumbling for our songbooks. Not that songbooks are bad, but it's a good idea to keep a ready arsenal of songs that can flow from hearts to mouths to the ears of those in power at a moment's notice. If we do, there's no doubt that extraordinary things will happen and that we will indeed change the world.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Save Us from the Madness

In a segment of her show Thursday night, Rachel Maddow focused on Senate Chaplain Barry Black, whose morning prayers aren't pulling any punches:

Arlette Saenz on "The Note Blog" at ABC News says that "from the onset of the government shutdown, Black has turned his prayers into punditry, urging Congress to find a way to reopen the government. I would suggest that prayers may often sound like punditry. When we pray for peace, we're opining that peace is better than war. As a resident of Wisconsin, "save us from the madness" is a prayer I've uttered many a time.

Like many others, I find the shutdown extremely disheartening. Sickening even. I'm tempted to write that the inmates have taken over the asylum, but I don't want to cast aspersions on inmates in general, who are undoubtedly saner than the Tea Party Confederates currently holding the country hostage. At the New York Times, Timothy Egan comes right out and calls the GOP the "Party of Madness":
About 30 or so Republicans in the House, bunkered in gerrymandered districts while breathing the oxygen of delusion, are now part of a cast of miscreants who have stood firmly on the wrong side of history.
In considering Joan Walsh's assertion that the shutdown is the culmination of 50 years of GOP race-baiting, Andrew Sullivan suggests that the impeachment of Bill Clinton was
the first sign of madness when the Democrats first truly wielded power after the Southern Strategy bore fruit under Reagan. ... In the end, I could only explain the foam-flecked frenzy of opposition to Clinton and Obama by the sense that the Civil Rights Revolution of the 1960s was the defining event for a certain generation, that the backlash to it was seen as a restoration of the right people running the country (i.e. no minorities with real clout), and that Clinton’s and even more Obama’s victories meant this narrative was revealed as an illusion. This is compounded by racial and cultural panic—against gays, immigrants, Muslims, Latinos etc—and cemented by a moronic, literalist, utterly politicized version of Christianity. This mindset—what I have called the "fundamentalist psyche"—is what is fueling the rage. ... It is inherently irrational.
This irrational "foam-flecked frenzy" of racism and cynical race-baiting has plagued us as a nation for far too long. Enough already with the Southern Strategy. It has hurt all of us. Deeply. It's time for those of us who are offended and horrified by the madness to put our collective foot down, to rise up and speak up and keep doing so until sanity prevails. There is no refuge in silence. Silence = complicity = a never-ending reign of madness. Listen to the beautiful resonance of the chaplain's voice:
Have mercy upon us, oh God, and save us from the madness.
Can I get an Amen?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

WI Legislature to Native Tribes: "No Recourse"

Those of you paying attention know that Wisconsin's Native American tribes are involved in a desperate struggle to preserve their land, water, and way of life. To call the proposed 21-mile open-pit iron ore mine genocidal is not hyperbole. Barbara With's excellent piece from February of this year lays out how severely the mine threatens the tribes. Quoting Mike Wiggins Jr., Chair of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa:
Because we’re directly downstream and set to endure the impacts of this project, we view it as an imminent threat. This human threat really manifests itself in a form of genocide. Genocide.

Adding grievous insult to devastating injury, the Wisconsin legislature wants to rewrite the rules regarding school districts' use of Native American mascots, shifting the burden of proof from the schools districts to the complainants, whose number will need to be equivalent to at least 10 percent of the total student body. Also, appealed cases will now be heard by the Department of Administration rather than the Department of Public Instruction. Representative Steve Nass's spokesperson asserted that the DPI is biased in the matter. As if the DoA weren't.

Barbara E. Munson (Oneida), member of the Wisconsin "Indian" Mascot and Logo Taskforce, eloquently makes the case for how "Indian" mascots and nicknames are harmful to children.
Wisconsin Indian educators want school environments where all students can thrive, and we want accurate and authentic historical and contemporary information taught about all people. ... Research shows that "Indian" mascot, logo and name stereotyping is harmful and that it teaches students to stereotype groups of people other than the depicted "Indians."
DPI Secretary Tony Evers asserts that "essentially, [lawmakers are] saying to the American Indian population in Wisconsin, 'There is no recourse here.'" Which, of course, is the point.

In other words, Wisconsin's Native American tribes have no recourse when it comes to the land, the water, and their way of life, and they have no recourse when it comes to their own identity and heritage.

Thing is, essentially the same can be said for rest of the people of Wisconsin. When it comes to what Charles P. Pierce calls "Walker's fire-sale of state assets," when it comes to our civil liberties, the preservation of our natural resources, health care, public education, and our children's future, we have no recourse. Except, possibly, the ballot box.

But to counter the gerrymandering, the voter suppression, the misinformation, and the big money, we're going to have to shake off all that's left over from our post-recall lethargy and marshal our forces as never before. We have no other recourse.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Solidarity Sing Along: One Day More

Yesterday, Friday the 13th
Cymbals and accordion
(Photo by Lisa Wells)
though it was, was one freakin fantastic day. The Learning Curve, the Solidarity Sing Along's amazing pickup band, sported eight (count 'em, eight!) guitars, two trombones, a concertina, an accordion, two fiddles, two basses (one washtub, one ukelele), a tambourine, a drum, cymbals, a bell, an egg (maraca), a more conventional maraca, three vuvuzelas, a Bulgarian tambura fondly known as the "people's tambura," and—of course—a cowbell. We had a great crowd and the weather was Wisconsin at its September finest.

The people's tambura
(Photo by Leslie Amsterdam)
I was excited and a little nervous because I had a new song to share. On Thursday, a friend posted a video of Elaine Purkey's classic labor song "One Day More," which she wrote about the 1980s United Mine Workers struggle against Pittston Coal in West Virginia. "If the company holds out twenty years, we'll hold out one day more." I was so smitten with the song that before I could do anything else (including finishing a work project that was due the next day) I had to write Wisconsin-specific lyrics for it, which I promptly did. "If the governor holds out twenty years, we'll hold out one day more."

Washtub bass
(Photo by Lisa Wells)
I posted the brand-spankin-new lyrics online, got a couple of good suggestions for improvements from friends, and another friend volunteered to make photocopies of the new lyrics for the next day's sing along. There's nothing like being part of a talented, generous community for collaboration, inspiration, and solidarity. Miraculously enough, I even managed to get my work project done. By the time I left for the sing along I'd practiced it just barely enough to be able to teach it to everybody. Here's me practicing just before the sing along started:

Thanks to Judith Detert-Moriarty for the video!

Folks seemed to especially like the line about the bald spot.

Tom Kastle singing "Whose House?" (Photo by Lisa Wells)
It was wonderful to have singer, songwriter, and tall ship captain Tom Kastle back from his recent travels. Tom often plays banjo for us, but he brought his guitar because he wasn't sure we would have enough. Alas, there was nary a banjo to be seen or heard on Friday, but we were very glad to have Tom there with his guitar. He sang his excellent song "Whose House?" which by popular demand is going into the soon-to-be expanded SSA songbook, along with that brand-spankin-new one, "One Day More."

WI State Senator Mark Miller (red shirt, back row) with the Learning Curve
(Photo by Leslie Amsterdam)

More cowbell! (Photo by Lisa Wells)
The highlight of this already fabulous sing along was when my state senator, Mark Miller, showed up. On July 27, 2013, just a few days after the arrests began in the capitol, I sent him a letter asking for his support for the Solidarity Sing Along. I have written him on numerous occasions in the past and have always heard back from him fairly promptly, so I was disappointed not to have heard back from him. Until yesterday, when he joined us in person at the sing along and thanked us for the work we're doing to stand up for free speech in Wisconsin. He stood next to me before he addressed the crowd. When I first saw him, I said, "Oh, Mark! I'm so glad you're here!" And I clasped his hand tightly for several seconds. I think he knew it meant the world to me for him to be there expressing his support.

Photo by Lisa Wells
Here's what he said (video from Leslie Amsterdam here):
The right to petition, to seek redress from government, is a fundamental principle of any kind of a democratic society, and it is contradictory to that principle to have to seek permission [loud cheers from the crowd]. It’s only by the courage you've shown that the rest of us will be able to maintain that privilege of being able to freely and openly petition and seek redress. So I wanted to thank you. Thank you!
Photo by Lisa Wells
After Senator Miller spoke, we recited Article 1, section 4, of the Wisconsin State Constitution:
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.
It was impressive to see how many people didn't have to look at the book. Funnily enough, lots of us have that bit memorized!

Maraca held high (Photo by Lisa Wells)
As if all that weren't enough, then from seemingly out of nowhere, local singer-songwriter Ken Lonnquist materializes, borrows a guitar, and we sing his song "Fourteen Senators," celebrating the Fab14, the senators who fled the state to delay the state legislature's vote on the dreadful 2011 budget-bill-bomb, for Senator Miller. "What's the score? People 14, Governor Walker zero!" It's nice to know that a few of the Fab14 (including Kathleen Vinehout, Jon Erpenbach, and Tim Cullen) are still standing with us, Chris Larson notwithstanding (pun intended).

Festive tambourine (Photo by Lisa Wells)
It's been a wild ride in Wisconsin since the days of the Fab14 and the Wisconsin Uprising. The first Solidarity Sing Along was held on March 11, 2011. Singing citizens began receiving citations from the Capitol Police about a year ago, and now arrests in the rotunda seem commonplace. In all that time, only one charge (for the heinous crime of sidewalk chalking!) has stuck, many have been dropped, and many are still winding their way through the slower-than-molasses courts. (The trial for my citation, for supposedly "conducting" on October 31, 2012, has been postponed about four times.)

In part, thanks to Chief Erwin and his heavy-handed crackdown, and mostly thanks to the stalwart people of Wisconsin, the Solidarity Sing Along is still going full tilt, every damn weekday. We are firmly resolved, joyously united, and altogether unintimidated. If—heaven forbid!—Walker holds out twenty years, we'll sing out one day more!

One Day More (Wisconsin Lyrics)

One Day More
Original lyrics by Elaine Purkey, new lyrics by Mary Ray Worley

One day more, one day more,
People let me tell you what we’re singing for:
We’re singing for our freedom, don’t you understand?
And we don’t need a permit, we just need your helping hand to...

Sing one day more, one day more,
If the governor holds out 20 years,
We’ll hold out one day more.
One day more, one day more,
If the governor holds out 20 years,
We’ll hold out one day more.

If Erwin thinks that he can win, he’ll get a big surprise,
With our civil rights at stake, we won’t compromise.
We’ll stand up to the Palace Guard, keep singing truth to power,
Raise our voice for justice every noon for an hour. And...

We don’t need permission, the constitution makes it clear,
We have the right to sing so the folks in power can hear.
This is the people’s house, and we’re here to take a stand
Because we are free people and we live in a free land. We’ll ...

Pirates in power are plundering our once progressive state,
Selling it out from under us to the lords of greed and hate,
But we’re not gonna let them, won’t take it lying down,
That’s a chair and not a throne, a bald spot and not a crown. We’ll ...

One day more, one day more,
People let me tell you what we’re singing for:
We’re singing for your freedom, don’t you understand?
And you don’t need a permit, you just need our helping hand to ...

Last chorus, last line:
Sing one day more, one day more,
If the governor holds out 20 years,
We’ll hold out one day more.
One day more, one day more,
If the governor holds out 20 years,
We’ll sing out one day more.

New lyrics © 2013 Mary Ray Worley

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What Do "These Protesters" Seek to Gain?

I posted this photo on the Worley Dervish Facebook page this morning:

Image from the Shit Scott Walker Is Doing To My State Facebook page.

This afternoon someone made this comment in response:
I don't understand what these protesters seek to gain ? Over 2 years of protest now... Has it accomplished anything ? I am very much for peace and constitutional rights... But, these people are clearly breaking the laws and when you resist arrest Like that guy did... Sometimes regular people trying to do there job and go home get impatient and fed up with the pointless BS ! if you want to change things... Vote ! If enough people agree with you... You win ! If not, you may just be wrong... 
Are you saying, dear commenter, that the only forum for civic engagement is the voting booth? There is certainly no harm in singing for an hour a day in a public forum, conceding the space when others have reserved it, and continuing to voice objections in song to the heinous destruction of our state by right-wing legislators and the governor. Leonardo da Vinci said, "Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence." Obviously that silence would be very valuable to the governor, so much so that he is going to extraordinary lengths to silence us.

How would it be for us to watch our public schools be trashed, our environment be pillaged, our job numbers continue to lag behind most other states, not to mention corruption (WEDC) and cronyism galore, and our only available recourse be the voting booth, while Republicans seek to disenfranchise voters through gerrymandering and voter i.d. ploys? If you do not understand, it is because you don't want to understand. We will not be silent while our state is being plundered and pillaged.

The 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." Never.

His reply:
Well, we disagree on many things I'm sure. I do not wish to silence the people, I am " the people " I only think more energy should be put into things with good results. This type of protest has been going on for decades.. With never much positive change from it. Much better ways to be heard, I believe.

Also, I am from Illinois, Chicago... As I'm sure you know, my state and city are in fiscal ruins !!! My state government ( democratic super majority ) leads the league in corruption and cronyism !!!

While your governor has balanced the budget from a huge deficit.. Has he not ?
No, the balanced budget is a fiction. Magic with numbers. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) has swallowed all kinds of funds it cannot account for. Our state economy is tanking, people are in desperate straits, and things only continue to worsen. And even if the budget were balanced, what good will that do if people have no jobs, our public schools are being suffocated from lack of funds, and our environment is being pillaged?

And incidentally, we sing for only an hour a day. There are many other hours in the day, during which we all do and accomplish a great deal. That hour a day of singing strengthens and encourages us to keep engaged in myriads of ways beyond the ballot box.

And also, it remains to be seen what the results of our singing are. Neither you nor we can begin to know them all. Some of those results are and will be tangible, and some are the things that continue to be knitted into our hearts on a daily basis.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Guest Post: Zoltán Grossman: An Even Better Circus

Guest post by Zoltán Grossman
Zoltán Grossman is a Professor of Geography and Native Studies at The Evergreen State College and a civilian supporter of Veterans for Peace who was attending the Vets for Peace Convention this week in Madison and is on the board of GI Voice/Coffee Strong. He was arrested at the Wisconsin State Capitol during the Solidarity Sing Along on Thursday, August 8, 2013.

I was arrested for singing Thursday at the Wisconsin State Capitol. I joined the daily Solidarity Singalong in the Rotunda at noon, on a break from attending the Veterans for Peace Convention. The police declared the Singalong an “unlawful assembly” because it had more than 20 people, then marched in to arbitrarily arrest people. I had not intended to get arrested.

Zoltán Grossman being arrested by the WI State Capitol Police.
Photo by Jenna Pope

I was singing a bit, but then just observed and took video and photos of the Capitol Police arresting citizens for expressing their views. Then the Police came to me, saying that they had seen me singing, and handcuffed me behind my back. They took me to the basement for processing, along with many others. I saw old friends Sue Pastor (who continued singing) and Jo Vukelich (who loudly objected to being searched by a male cop).

The Capitol cops said they’d send me to Dane County Jail for processing, because I was from out of state, along with a Vietnam veteran from Iowa, John Jadryev. The cops asserted that we had "No Ties" to Wisconsin, so I explained I’d lived here 25 years and edited an atlas of Wisconsin history. The hearts of most Capitol cops didn’t seem to be in their assigned tasks; one of them loosened our handcuffs a bit and allowed us to sit together.

When he asked my religion for the booking form, I identified myself as "both Jewish and Catholic, but being in handcuffs today I feel more Jewish." I told another cop that I’d just been to Circus World, but that this mass arrest for singing was an even better circus. He replied, "You got the full Wisconsin experience. Have you been to the State Fair for cream puffs?"

John and I were transported to Dane County Jail, after the squad car was momentarily swamped by protesters, making the officers really nervous. We were booked again, and began talking with the other inmates being booked. It was a scene right out of Alice’s Restaurant. One guy who worked as a stagehand said that he had missed his court date for an OWI offense, and asked what we were in for. "Singing," we said. "Really? Power to the people, dude," he replied. Another inmate said, "Yeah, Walker’s a douche."

One of the Capitol cops talked about the new snitzy uniforms they’d been issued, with a stripe down the leg, which one of the DeForest cops called "militaristic." We were held in Holding Cell 2 for two hours as we awaited processing, mostly talking with each other about Iowa, Wisconsin, and European history. We listened to the hard-luck stories of other inmates, which made our situation seem extremely minor.

When we got out, we were pleased that legal observers had spent two hours waiting for us, and letting us know our rights. The experience was no big deal personally, but it showed how low democracy in Wisconsin has fallen in two short years.

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If you'd like to help, you can contritube to the First Amendment Protection Fund, which helps arrestees cover court costs.
Many thanks!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Guest Post: The Solidarity Sing Along and the Right of Unregulated Association

Guest post by Edward Kuharski
In response to the suggestion that Solidarity Sing Along participants' refusal to compromise or negotiate likens them to their adversaries:

The participants in the Solidarity Sing Along are a diverse and ever-changing group of individuals exercising our right of unregulated association as well as free speech—as individuals. Ideologies vary amongst the participants and are individual matters as well. There is no organization that is able to act on behalf of anyone, neither to compromise or to negotiate.

As we are irreducibly unique and radically free individuals, I fail to see any correspondence to our adversaries. They are highly ideological, funded and directed by outside entities that have no skin in Wisconsin's game, only a desire to leverage access through our public officials to pillage our resources. What possible compromise or negotiation could be had with such intransigent operatives? I personally don't believe in negotiating with terrorists, domestic or foreign. And compromising in matters of fundamental rights is an oxymoron. Either they are respected by government or they aren't. They aren't suitable for bargaining or rationing or kettling.

These intruders must be stopped. And we have no right to trade away future generations' birthright to a free and open society, an economy that works for everyone, and the dignity and security that those foundational structures make possible.

This crappy regime has actually compromised and negotiated itself into a legal and public relations corner, and it is striking out because it has had serial failure in its efforts to enclose the public's right to address their government and their right to use their public forum without regulation or interference, as has been the practice for 96 years.

All in all, the people are prevailing and I expect that to continue. I love that this model is spreading to other states such as Texas, Florida, North Carolina, and Michigan.

Makes me want to sing my heart out.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Guest Post: Heroes of the Day

Guest post by Ryan Wherley
Photo by Pam Robson
Closing down the building singing truth to power for an hour, after consecutive weekday noon-hour Solidarity Sing Along #624, Tuesday, July 30, 2013, day #4 of the illegal mass arrests of peaceably assembled singers and sign holders. Thirty more brave heroes were arrested today, and after being taken to the Capitol basement in cuffs, were threatened that they wouldn't be processed until they stopped singing, which has become the norm.

So they did the only logical thing: they started singing and didn't stop for an hour and fifteen minutes, even though they were all still handcuffed and their songbooks had been confiscated as "evidence" of their participation in the unlawfully declared "Unlawful" Assembly.

Video courtesy of Leslie Amsterdam

Around 5, I ascended the wide marble steps up to the first floor and recited Article 1, Section 4, of the Wisconsin State Constitution:
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.
I had made the decision today to read off the names of the courageous freedom fighters who have had their rights violated and been arrested singing out for our rights over the past four days of the Crackdown, reading many names more than once. I wanted the Capitol Police and all passersby to know these are real people, with families and jobs and friends and an extraordinary amount of courage and determination.

As I progressed through the list, an amazing thing happened. As I paused after finishing up with the names of those arrested through Friday, a man who had entered the Rotunda minutes earlier and taken a seat on a bench in the outer ring along with his two children, stood up and yelled, "Heroes!!" I was taken aback, made eye contact and began to read off the list of those arrested for civil disobedience today. Bill Dunn ... "Hero!" Jerry McDonough ... "Hero!" Dennis Andersen ... "Hero!" Paul Sopko Jr. ... "Hero!" Craig Spaulding ... "Hero!" Jackson Foote ... "Hero!"

On and on it went, with him delivering the same response to each and every one of the 25 names I read off. I finished, and he slowly walked off with his kids. I will probably never know who this man was, but he left a powerful impact on me that I can never thank him enough for. I'm in tears just thinking about such an incredible moment of empowering beauty. I can only hope he realized and felt how much that meant to me ... and to the heroes by proxy.

I didn't think I'd even make it through "We Shall Overcome" after I started choking up almost as soon as I began. Fortunately, I was joined almost immediately by Mary Watrud shortly after I began singing, and a young gentleman walked underneath on the ground floor, giving us a solidarity fist on his way by, which Mary and I were more than happy to return. Minutes later, he came up to us smiling from behind Fighting Bob's bust and stood beside us along the first floor balustrade.

After we finished our song, he asked if he'd be arrested if he joined in. I answered, "Not today, you're all good." How sad and telling that such a question should even have to be legitimately asked in the People's House. He asked me what part I sang and he confirmed that he was a baritone like me. We passed him a songbook and he joyously harmonized for the next 40 minutes with Mary, Gloria Marquardt, and myself, finally thanking us and going along his way during "How Can I Keep From Singing?"

Frieda Schowalter, who was arrested and forced to humiliatingly and painfully limp to the elevator after having her crutch confiscated by the Palace Guard last Thursday, joined us for "Solidarity Forever," and we left the building ringing with our voices.

The Solidarity Sing Along will return to peaceably assemble and sing their hearts out tomorrow, brave individuals staying to risk arrest yet again in the face of fascism. Yet again, millions around the country will be singing in Solidarity with them from afar. Like clockwork, the singing will start up, the police will respond, and the proud and peaceful citizens will lift their voices to heights once deemed unfathomable just three years ago. Heroes of the day.

Forever Forward, Wisconsin Winter Soldiers.

# # #
You can help arrestees by contributing to and taking every opportunity to share the link for the First Amendment Protection Fund. We will be needing major funds to cover the court costs for all of these arrests! Our citizens being arrested are paying a great enough price without adding a financial burden on top. Many thanks!

Guest Post: Singing from the Soul Under the Solidari-tree

Guest post by Ryan Wherley
I was lucky enough to have a late, extended lunch today that afforded me the opportunity to make it down to the Capitol for today's outdoor Solidarity Sing Along for about the final half hour. I could already hear the singing and instrumentalists as I got out of my car two blocks away and ran all the way to the Square.

As soon as I got within seeing distance, I saw an amazingly beautiful sight: hundreds of people gathered and singing near the Solidari-tree on the Capitol lawn, easily the most people I've seen there for an SSA since the gut-wrenching night of the Recall election. I found it to be an excellent karmic sign that they had just started my favorite song from the book, "I Don't Want Your Millions, Mister," as I bound across the street to join the peaceably assembled Winter Soldiers.

Looking around and seeing so many friends and faces that I hadn't seen in months, plus scores of people I'd never seen before showing up from around the state to stand shoulder to shoulder in song, was absolutely beautiful. We didn't let the Tea Party instigators affect what we were doing, and the entire gathering just went about our business, joyously and respectfully, as we always do.

I'm so grateful that Daithi Wolfe heeded my request to play "How Can I Keep From Singing?" Hearing nearly 300 people and dozens of Learning Curve musicians soulfully unleashing that tune was an unforgettable moment, as that song has come to define the spirit of the Solidarity Sing Along for me.

I don't know how many more opportunities I'll have to participate in the SSA, singing songs of labor, resistance, peace, justice, Wisconsin and our struggle to save our state, so I'm not taking any of these rare occasions for granted. After attending hundreds of Sing Alongs during what was the most difficult stretch of my life, it developed a healing power over me that never fails to lift my spirits. Being able to stand and contribute my voice for just half an hour in support of the people who are bravely standing up to the heavy-handed police tactics of the Walker regime, risking arrest for expressing their rights, certainly won't change anything in the big picture. But being able to bear witness to such an incredible moment in the Movement's history gave me hope and provided me with the inspiration I need to keep telling the stories of those on the front lines who simply refuse to stop fighting for what is right and just.

"The real emergency is my governEr's austerity plan
and the appalling suppression of 1st Amendment rights"

It kills me to not be there with them, staring fascism in the face as it assuredly drags one peaceful citizen away in handcuffs after another when the Solidarity Sing Along goes inside again tomorrow. But I will continue to show up every day after work and sing with my entire being until the building closes, taking every opportunity to remind the Fitzwalkerstanis that no matter what they try to do to us, we'll be here until Wisconsin gets better.

Goddamn, I love the Sing Along. No matter how many people show up tomorrow, and I'm hoping it will be hundreds upon hundreds more, know that you are singing for millions of people around the country and we've got your backs. Peace, love and Solidarity, my friends.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Guest Post: The Story of My Arrest Wednesday by the Capitol Police

Guest post by Linda Roberson
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.

Which Side Are You On? An Open Letter to the Democratic Lawmakers of Wisconsin

Dear Democratic Lawmakers of Wisconsin,
I'm writing to urge you to do whatever you can to strongly support the exercise of free speech in the State Capitol. The arrests of citizens this past week was a shameful display altogether contrary to the Wisconsin way and a terrible deterrent to citizens petitioning their government, which is their right. I was happy to see Senators Cullen and Jauch and Representatives Taylor, Sargent, Hesselbein, Pope, and Kolste present in the rotunda at noon on Thursday. Support from our elected officials is essential.

I see that Senator Risser and Representative Taylor have requested a meeting with DOA Secretary Huebsch. Please request to be involved in that meeting, if it ever takes place, and advocate for a peaceful and reasonable solution to the escalating conflict.

Given that participants in the Solidarity Sing Along routinely go outside, regardless of the weather, when there is a permitted event in the rotunda, and that the sing along takes place during nonworking hours, some understanding should be possible. It does not make sense for participants to get a permit, in part because the Sing Along is an activity—after more than two years, it is a tradition! It is not an organized group. The participants are peaceful citizens who believe that our right to free speech should never be abridged, and we honor and respect the rights of others to use the space as well, regardless of how the DOA and the media spin it.

I myself received a citation for my participation in the Solidarity Sing Along on October 31, 2012, and my trial has been postponed several times now (it's currently scheduled for next month). Being ticketed for singing over the noon hour in the rotunda, which was built precisely for the purpose of peaceable assembly, the right to which is enshrined in both our state and federal constitutions, is beyond ridiculous, not to mention being a complete waste of taxpayer money and the courts' time and resources.

The increased aggression from the Capitol Police is very alarming. We need our elected officials to step up and speak out. Please do all you can on our behalf.

Respectfully submitted,
Mary Ray Worley

Friday, July 26, 2013

How Can We Keep from Singing?!?!

Guest post by Ryan Wherley
Scott Walker and Mike Huebsch made a HUGE mistake. They should have just let us be, shouting at the top of our lungs, a few dozen strong and begging people to wake up and take action. Things are not only as bad as they were when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in Solidarity in 2011; they are significantly worse, as the GOP quietly ramped up their attacks while their "reforms" from the past two years are now on the books and wreaking havoc on our state's citizens.

I have between waiting for 14 months for them to make the egregious overreach against the rights of the people of this state that finally drove people to stand up and say, “NO FUCKING MORE." Well, it happened.

Photo from Overpass Light Brigade

You started arresting peacefully assembled citizens for singing and being and holding a sign; working journalists; veterans quietly holding the American flag; women coming off major surgery while denying them their necessary crutches to get around without pain; senior citizens, including a brave married couple of octogenarians. You cowardly targeted select individuals for "enforcement" from your perch high above the ground floor because you don't like how often and how truthfully and forcefully they speak and sing truth to power. Well... one could understatedly say you may have crossed the line one too many times. You may have just reawakened the sleeping giant in Wisconsin, and I say bring it on.

Video: Rebecca Kemble

After rushing up to the Capitol for ten minutes on my lunch break, I walked into that glorious building today at 11:58. It was sheer electricity mixed with nervous tension, as everyone knew what was about to go down after 22 people were arrested on Wednesday by a rabid horde of fifty officers summoned from the Capitol Police, State Patrol and DNR. Hundreds upon hundreds of citizens sang out in defiance as the LRAD was brought out and yet another illegal Unlawful Assembly was called. Virtually nobody left, everyone risking arrest... and the beautiful singing only intensified.

It felt like the Uprising of February 2011 all over again, with one major difference. Two years ago, we were a disparate group of individuals marching for a similar cause, but unknown to each other. But now, we're friends and family. Everywhere I looked were people who've stood alongside each other on the front lines in the fight against a tyrannical leadership for the past 29 months. If people were afraid, they didn't show it, because they knew their brothers and sisters surrounding them had their backs.

They should have just left us to our own devices. They should have let 15 of us exercise our First Amendment Rights by singing for an hour. Instead, I think they may have just sparked the new Uprising, this one with endless rhythmic chants replaced by endless harmonic songs. Hell yea. Feel the thunder.

Athough my new job and life circumstances prevent me from getting to the noon hour Solidarity Sing Along these days, I still have an hour or so after work every night before the building closes. As long as this soulless, unconstitutional and outrageously fascist crackdown on peaceful expression of dissent continues, I will continue to show up and sing as loudly, proudly and powerfully as I'm physically capable of mustering every single day. Every night they lock that building down, I want them to hear my voice echoing off the soaring marble dome as a reminder that we will not be silenced, we're still singing, we shall not be moved and we're sure as hell not going away. You're welcome to join me. I hope the Capitol Police like my voice by now, because they're going to keep hearing a lot of it until Walker calls off the dogs.

Video: Leslie Amsterdam

To the nearly fifty individuals who have been arrested as peaceful dissidents, some multiple times, for standing up for the rights of all of us in the past two days in Madison, you are all my heroes. Someday we will be victorious. After all, how can we keep from singing?!?

Solidarity, Winter Soldiers. Forever Forward!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Singing Truth to Pissed-Off Power

If you are unfamiliar with what transpired yesterday at the Wisconsin State Capitol, here is a firsthand account from Giles Goat Boy on Daily Kos with lots of photos and videos. About 25 arrests were made.

As I was getting ready this morning, I was thinking about my friends who were arrested yesterday and those who would be arrested today and grieving for the erosion of our rights, our freedom of speech, in what was once a bastion of openness to and respect for dissent. It was for times like these that the Wisconsin State Constitution was crafted. It may not have the force or the respect that it should have, but our right to free speech is even more firmly ensconced in our state constitution than it is in the U.S. Constitution. It is a comfort to have this passage memorized:
Article I, section 4: 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.
I made two signs to bring with me: "NEVER means NEVER" and "What part of NEVER do you not understand?"

Photo courtesy of Leslie Amsterdam

When I got there I was greeted by old friends I hadn't seen for weeks, not since before I came down with pneumonia a few weeks ago. The building was already a hive of activity. There were well over a hundred people there at noon, and at the peak there were more than three hundred or so I think. It was an odd combination of family reunion and preparing for confrontation.

My friend Lars was standing in the middle of the rotunda with a gag over his mouth to signify the loss of freedom of speech. Former marine that he is, he cuts a powerful figure, standing defiantly in the center of the rotunda. He was later arrested, and while handcuffing him his flag fell to the floor. As they hauled him away, the officers stepped on it. Think about that. Let it sink in. They walked over the American flag while arresting a veteran.

Video courtesy of Leslie Amsterdam

It was not more than five or so minutes into the noon hour that you could hear that an announcement was being made, although what was being said was altogether unintelligible because people were singing loudly (bless them!). Then they brought their little sandwich board into the center of the rotunda.

I had thought I might leave once an unlawful assembly was announced, but I was situated toward the outer part of the rotunda, behind Senators Bob Jauch and Tim Cullen, who were alternately talking to each other and—get this—singing! As a matter of fact, there were quite a few state legislators present: In addition to Senators Jauch and Cullen, Representatives Chris Taylor, Melissa Sargent, Dianne Hesselbein, Sondy Pope, and Debra Kolste—unsurprisingly, they're all Democrats!

Since I was safely positioned behind the senators, it just didn't seem likely that the police would arrest me, although if they did, I was prepared. In fact, it seemed like the police were targeting individuals, and they never even came near the part of the Rotunda I was in, as far as I could tell. It was very hard to see, especially because the Rotunda was so crowded and everyone else was standing up, whereas I was seated on my scoot. But I hear tell the feeling was quite different today. The Capitol Police were more aggressive, using more officers per arrest, and many people's wrists were cut or rubbed raw by the twist ties. But it also seemed that there were fewer arrests.

Four people were taken to jail, I hear tell. And one of them was arrested right in front of me. Here I was feeling all safely cocooned behind the senators, and then all of a sudden they seemed to just disappear. There was a woman standing right in front of me, and the next thing I knew she was surrounded by cops. They removed her backpack and fastened the twist ties around her wrists. The next thing I saw was that she went limp, so they had to drag her away, which amounts to resisting arrest.

So tomorrow is Friday, which usually means that the sing along is outside, on the Carroll St. side of the Capitol, across from Grace Church. There's not likely to be any police interference tomorrow, so it will be a good day for us to unwind and just enjoy singing with our peeps. Then we—and they—can gear up for next week. Please consider coming to join us. You're free to leave if/when an unlawful assembly is declared, but your presence and your witness helps a lot.

You can also help by donating to the First Amendment Protection Fund, which goes toward defraying legal expenses. And please share the link so that others know how to help too.

The last word is really just this: we have drawn the line. We're singing truth to power, because we have to, no matter how much it irritates them. We can't let them continue to decimate our once-great state without even a note of protest. If we were silent, we could not live with ourselves. So we will not be silent, and we will not submissively hand over our rights that are so clearly spelled out in the state and federal constitutions. This is far, far, far from over. And we are not. going. away.

Update: It is my understanding that there were 29 arrests made today: 26 no permits and three misdemeanors, so there were actually more today than yesterday.