Wis. police arrest 22 in peaceful protest at Capitol
Demonstrators have continued to gather in the Capitol despite a recent ruling that it was an "unlawful event"
By Jason Stein and Michael Phillis
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MADISON — In the latest episode of a yearslong drama, Capitol police Wednesday arrested protesters of Gov. Scott Walker who have been violating state permitting rules with their rallies in the Statehouse rotunda.
Twenty-two of the roughly 60 protesters — including a pair of Madison talk radio hosts — were led away in flex-tie restraints as dozens of legislative aides and journalists looked on from a few steps away and from higher floors.
No one appeared to have been hurt.
"The Capitol police are upholding the law to ensure the building can be shared by all citizens who come to the Capitol," said Stephanie Marquis, a spokeswoman for the Statehouse police and Walker's Department of Administration.
Demonstrators have continued to gather in the Capitol for their near-dailysinging protest despite a recent federal judge's ruling partially backing the Walker administration's stance and repeated declarations by police that it was an "unlawful event."
"We are in the Capitol singing; what is the big deal?" said protester Kim Krus of Madison.
Police once again warned demonstrators early in Wednesday's singalong, both by loudspeaker and by a handwritten sign in the Capitol rotunda, to leave or be "subject to arrest." But many kept on singing.
Hundreds of citations have already been issued to the protesters who have made the Capitol their destination most weekdays for the past 21/2 years. But a federal judge's ruling on July 9 has raised questions about the future of those protests against Walker, which began during the labor demonstrations at the Capitol in early 2011.
U.S. District Judge William Conley in Madison blocked two parts of the Walker administration's restrictions on demonstrations as unconstitutional, giving a partial victory to the protesters. But Conley left much of the remaining rules in place, including those requiring permits for larger events.
In a 47-page opinion on his preliminary injunction, Conley blocked the administration from requiring a permit for events in the Statehouse rotunda of 20 people or fewer but left the permit requirement in place for indoor events as large as Wednesday's singalong.
A trial is scheduled for the week of Jan. 13, after which Conley will make a final decision on whether to grant protesters a permanent injunction.
In recent days, there has been apprehension among protesters and others on how the protests would be handled.
Wednesday's singalong began at noon as usual, with protesters forming a circle around the rotunda and holding a variety of homemade signs, including one that said, "Our 1st Amendment is my permit." They sang songs like "This Land Is Your Land" with altered lyrics that declared, "Scott Walker will never push us out. This house was made for you and me."
About 12:15 p.m., police broadcast a recorded message on a bullhorn declaring the gathering unlawful and telling participants they could be arrested if they continued.
Then, the arrests began. Protesters peacefully allowed themselves to be cuffed as they continued to sing.
"What am I being arrested for?" one man asked. "I know I have a bad singing voice."
In all, 25 citations were given to 22 individuals for participating in the event without permits, with three people receiving two citations each. Some of the protesters arrested appeared to be past retirement age. A 23rd person was ticketed for spitting on a singer.
Protest regular Irving Smith called the arrests "modern-day fascism."
Smith said he has been ticketed about 20 times for demonstrating, which for him includes chanting alone, singing in a group and holding up a sign calling Walker a "power-drunk punk." He said Wednesday was the first time he was ticketed for singing without a permit -- something he believes he has a right to do.
"This is a special place," he said of the Capitol. "This is a soap box. It's a political forum....Our rights are the only thing we have left."
In his opinion, Conley acknowledged the Statehouse plays a central role in the geography of Madison and its civic life that allows for "a certain level of disturbance that would not be proper in a typical state office building or even a typical state capitol." But he also wrote that state officials could set reasonable limits and regulation on larger events.
The Walker administration has said repeatedly that it is willing to give a permit to the singalong, which typically leaves the Capitol when blood drives or other events are held in the rotunda.
Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford) said Wednesday that he believed the Walker administration and Capitol police were taking reasonable precautions to enforce the rules safely.
"I think a lot of people are happy that something is finally being done," Suder said.
After the arrests, some of the protesters returned to the rotunda to be interviewed by reporters, holding up pink citation slips that testified to their $200.50 fines for defying the police order.
Their number included Mike Crute and Dominic Salvia, co-hosts of a political talk show on Madison's liberal 92.1 The Mic (WXXM-FM).
Crute, who did not consider himself on the job at the time, was arrested for singing. He said police swore at him when he tried to talk to another protester.
Salvia, a self-described libertarian, was arrested separately while photographing a sign. He said he was treated professionally by police but was arrested after identifying himself as a media worker. Salvia, who was dressed in sandals and shorts, said he wasn't asked whether he had a media credential (he didn't).
Democratic lawmakers denounced the Walker administration's action as an overreach.
Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) lamented the fact that state rules allow concealed guns in the Capitol with the proper permit but not unpermitted songs.
"My God, people have a right to sing," Jauch said. "The administration is upset with the views of the people who are there, and they're trying to remove them from their Capitol."
During the arrests, some tourists on the usual summer visits to the Statehouse stopped to look.
One, Kathy Haasch of Waterford, said "the law is the law."
"If I had a better way with words, I would tell them that we have just as much right to be here as they do," Haasch said of the protesters. "They shouldn't spoil anyone else's day."
Copyright 2013 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel