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.

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