On solidarity, and singing along: It's not about the permit. It's about our rights.

If you follow Monologues of Dissent on facebook, you may or may not be annoyed by my frequent updates on the Capitol shenanigans in the past few weeks.  And while the midwesterner in me feels obligated to apologize (like we do) for my incessant posts on the crackdown that has let to over 100 arrests and citations of those who peacefully assembly in the rotunda at any weekday at noon, the media coverage has been so predictably abysmal and misplaced, that I just feel compelled to make sure that people remain aware of what's actually at stake here.

This is not some tiny, close-knit group of radical weirdos who have some kind of singsong cult like the press would have you think.  Every single time I make it down to the Capitol on my lunch break, I see a different crowd - of others, like me, on their lunch breaks or taking time on a day off to speak up against the continued injustices of the Walker administration's iron fist: educators, business professionals, union and non-union workers, vets, students, retirees, PhDs, people with great jobs and people looking for great jobs.  Regular people of all walks of life, united by widely varying but equally passionate concerns that if we do not speak out, we jeopardize our collective future, in big and small ways.
photo: Rebecca Kemble

And these people are being arrested for charges that simply stagger the mind of any person (like me, and like you) who grew up being told that the foundation of a healthy democracy was an informed and engaged citizenry, that debate and dissent are healthy and productive, and that both our state and federal constitutions specifically designate our right to mobilize and share our concerns:
Right to assemble and petition. 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.
And yet, the charges, accompanied by totally unnecessary cuffing and detainment:  No permit. Unlawful assembly.  Criminal trespassing (in the people's house! during regular business hours!).  Arrests and countless threats of arrest for "participation" simply for observing - warning tourists and spectators that they must leave or risk arrest.  Arrests for documenting the actions of the Capitol police, led by Scott Walker's former body guard.  Yesterday, one person received $9000 worth of tickets for "chalking" at $500 each.  Last week, a man was taken to the Dane County jail and charged with criminal trespassing for re-entering the building after having been cited for not having a permit.  His bail was set for $701. A Vietnam War veteran who fell down the marble stairs as he was marched to the holding area by the palace guard was not immediately issued a citation.  It arrived in the mail a few days later at his home address.  A state representative was warned she'd be ticketed for watching the arrests from a balcony. These intimidating infringements on our liberties in the form of citations and threats are not just a massive embarrassment to our state, and to our children (who bear witness to a struggle in which their parents are forced to fight the battles that were already fought and won, and learn - against our will - to fear the retaliation of police even as we try to teach them to trust and respect law enforcement), they're a massive affront to anyone who can see the irony of enforcing an unconstitutional rule that forces those who would dissent to get permission from the government to do so.

Do you get what's happening here? $9000 in tickets IN ONE DAY - 18 counts of "chalking" at $500/each. They are trying to bankrupt dissidents - or at least put the fear of bankruptcy in them, since most of the charges will likely be dropped - so that others are afraid to petition the government.  Read that sentence again.  Let it sink in. 

Over the course of the last two weeks, as Capitol Police have been forced again to crack down with a series of questionably constitutional arrests, I have been struck by the refusal of the presumably free press to accurately or adequately report what is going on in the people's house, and also by the lack of solidarity from those on the right whose "Don't Tread on Me" mantra demands outrage over such heavy-handed abuse of power.  The gleefully hateful "counter" by conservatives - who by all rights should be brandishing their beloved firearms over this assault on our constitutional right to petition the government (can you IMAGINE the outrage if President Obama even hinted at the sort of oppressive measures Walker has codified?) is astounding to me. 

To wit (and I use that term loosely):
This land is my land, it is not your land
I got a shotgun, and you don't got one
If you don't get off, I'll call the Sher-iff
This land is private property
What is going on here? The lyrics (seriously: check out those lyrics) of the "We've Got a Permit Singers" aren't just horrible and spiteful and partisan; they are absurdly dismissive of the actual issue at hand, and the mainstream press has followed suit by simply ignoring the central issue that motivates people like me (parents, teachers, concerned citizens) to continue to speak up against the oppressive measures our government has taken to control the discourse.  It's not about the recall. It's not about the "ease" of obtaining a permit. It's about our rights.  It's about freedom.  The freedom to petition the government with our grievances.  The right to know what is being done with our money, in our names. The freedom to organize.  The right to earn a living wage. The right to free and equitable public education guaranteed by our constitution. The right to have a say in government affairs.  The freedom to remind our elected officials know they work for us, not vice versa.

Perfectly stated. Meme by Worley Dervish.
Obtaining a permit for the noontime sing along is not a "no brainer."  It's a prima facie absurdity, predicated on the assumption that some core entity or individual is liable for the actions of whatever random group of people might show up on any given day to express, collectively, their on-going concerns with the Walker administration, their draconian austerity measures, and their totalitarian methods.  The sing along is a residual articulation of a movement that began with the massive protests of 2011 but has evolved into a peaceful, lasting statement: We are still here. We are paying attention. We care, deeply, and we're not going anywhere. 

If you want to sing out, sing out.  And if you want to be free, be free.  And if you can't make it to the Capitol to do either in person, please consider contributing to the those who are doing so for all us.  Similar sing along actions are now being mobilized in Michigan and Texas, as people realize that the collective voice is more powerful than the individual voice, and that the need for citizen action is essential at a time when our voices seem to matter so little to the powers that be.

The rights to freedom of speech, assembly and dissent are not partisan issues.  They are cornerstones of the very possibility of democracy, and the urgency of what's happening right now in the Wisconsin state house cannot be underestimated. We write this off as a handful of stubborn individuals at the peril of democracy.

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