Commentor Omnes Omnibus sent along a lovely news article:
The solidarity singers who gather daily at the Wisconsin Capitol in Madison have a pair of surprise guest musicians joining their chorus — Pussy Riot.
Two members of the notorious Russian female rock group known for their outspoken protests, Nadya Tolokonikova and Masha Alyokhina, make a surprise appearance in a new video extolling Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to drop the state’s prosecution against the singing protesters…
The video is part of a campaign called #SolidarityWisconsin launched by the Voice Project, an organization that fights for freedom of expression around the globe. The organization draws a direct line between the persecution faced by the members of Pussy Riot and what’s going on in Wisconsin…
The Soldarity Singer protests started in 2011 as part of the protests against Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10 bill that stripped most public-sector workers of most of their collective bargaining rights. Capitol police issued hundreds of citations against protesters – last month a judge threw out 29 citations, but over 400 remain…
Commentor Kideni has more, from the ground level, including a Change.org petition:
We’ve been on the front line of a state government crackdown on free speech in the state capitol building. Between July 24 and September 6, 2013, nearly 200 different people were arrested for singing in the state capitol, and were given close to 400 citations (some of us were arrested more than once). The citations are civil forfeitures and the equivalent of a speeding ticket or not having proper life jackets in a boat, and yet we were all handcuffed, taken to a holding area, searched, and sometimes injured because the Capitol Police are so poorly trained that they don’t understand how to handle people in handcuffs safely, and they also inflicted pain compliance holds on a few people. All of these citations are being challenged, and people are demanding either jury trials or bench trials. We are being prosecuted by the State of Wisconsin, and the assistant attorneys general in the Department of Justice have been instructed not to drop any of these cases, even though it means their attention is pulled away from going after sexual predators, child abusers, and consumer fraudsters. There’s at least one other member of the Balloon Juice community who was arrested during the crackdown (I have two citations; I believe the other person has five), and I know there are a few regular commenters who know a bit about what’s going on, so I thought this might be of interest to the blog at large.
The situation is somewhat complicated, but I’ll try to be brief. The Wisconsin Uprising of 2011 never really ended, because the Solidarity Sing Along (here’s the Facebook page) has kept it alive by singing in the Capitol every weekday over the noon hour since March 11, 2011 – the Sing Along’s third birthday was yesterday. We sing at noon because it’s a designated nonbusiness hour, so it’s not disruptive to state business (at least not on our part); if there’s a permitted event like a blood drive, school concert, presentation, or something else, the Sing Along goes outside. The Wisconsin State Capitol is unusual (if not unique) in its openness: it was designed to have a large public space for people to come and express their views, and it has always been used that way. The central rotunda was designed with formidable acoustics to promote the carrying of sound, and there are even visual cues that indicate good places to stand in order to make your voice heard: diamond-shaped slabs in different colors laid out in the floor. We sing a lot of standard civil rights, union, and social justice songs, since the tunes are familiar, and there are also a lot of familiar tunes that people have adapted with lyrics that reflect conditions in the state or the country today. People – usually no more than a dozen – come on their lunch hour, sing, leave, and come back the next day (note that there’s no such thing as the Solidarity Singers – there are people who participate in the Solidarity Sing Along, but there’s no defined group; anyone can participate, even people who disagree with us).
The Republicans in the legislature and the administration can’t handle any sort of dissent, so they’ve been trying to get rid of us the entire time. In fall 2012 the Capitol Police started sending citations (either in the mail or by home delivery – our tax dollars at work!) to people they deemed leaders or conductors, about 140 total. That didn’t get rid of the Sing Along; in fact, it made people like me who had only come once or twice a week before into people who came three or four times a week. In July, then, they bought an LRAD (a Long Range Acoustic Device – the kind of sound cannon used to go after Somali pirates) to announce daily crackdowns during the Sing Along, and started mass arrests – usually 15-20 people each hour. They thought they’d scare people off after the first day or so, but all they did was bring more people to the Capitol, not just from nearby areas but from around the state and the country. The Capitol Police are not trained for this kind of work – they’re supposed to help people find lost mittens or direct them to the bathroom, not do this kind of stressful policing. After several weeks, many of them were at the breaking point, and there were some scary situations.
The arrests suddenly stopped in early September, but the court cases continue. There are a number of lawyers who are working either pro bono or at greatly reduced rates for us, but there are still expenses like court costs and photocopying (if people would like to help with that, they can give to the First Amendment Protection Fund; we also published a lovely book of photos and a brief essay about the Solidarity Sing Along, called Unintimidated: Wisconsin Sings Truth to Power, whose proceeds go to the fund). Also, people have been turned down for home refinancing or lost out on jobs because they have open cases in the court system. The cases have been divided up among judges in the Dane County circuit court system (Madison is in Dane County). In recent weeks, a couple of judges have tossed out the charges before them on constitutional grounds, and it’s possible that other judges will follow suit (it’s possible the judge overseeing my case will rule at the end of this month). The Department of Justice could appeal, however, and the state’s supreme court has a bought-and-paid-for majority, so it’s not a given that we’d prevail.
The Voice Project heard about the situation and came to talk to a bunch of us, and they put together this beautiful video; there’s also a Change.org petition addressed to the state attorney general calling on him to drop the charges against all of us. Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova from Pussy Riot also appear in the video to express their support for what we’re doing. (I’m in the video a bunch of times, too, and I actually have a brief speaking part.) The Solidarity Sing Along didn’t start out as a first amendment cause, but it’s had that cause thrust upon it. This whole thing has also turned a lot of people like me from those who sit on the sidelines to those who get involved more directly. People think this kind of authoritarianism only happens in other countries, but really, it happens here all the time – it’s as if we’ve wiped the memory of the Occupy crackdowns out of our consciousnesses. Americans also need to realize that Scott Walker is dangerous, and he’s running for president. The state media are his lapdogs, and the national press gets sucked in by his Midwestern nice demeanor and don’t look past it to see the sociopathy. That he would go after grandparents, teenagers, veterans, firefighters, elected officials, working journalists, and on and on and on just because they express their dissent is chilling. Just imagine what he would do if he had an actual army and the security complex at his disposal. I don’t expect petitions like this to stop anyone like that on their own, but if we can get this message out to a wider audience, perhaps it can help make Walker less viable. Also, if people want to donate to the defense fund or buy our book, that would be awesome!