On, Wisconsin Singer-Activists

#SolidarityWisconsin from The Voice Project on Vimeo.

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!

50 replies
  1. 1
    CONGRATULATIONS! says:

    Scott Walker is the most dangerous threat to the American way of life that I’ve seen in my lifetime.

    Hoover and Nixon at least acknowledged there were rules, and that you had to throw the rubes a bone every now and then. Walker does not.

  2. 2
    Patricia Kayden says:

    Standing ovation to the BJ commenters who are out there fighting against Scott Walker’s tyranny. Funny how the Rightwingers are always screaming about free speech (but only for their side).

  3. 3
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Well, this explains yet another reason why our local fascists so love Vlad.

  4. 4
    piratedan says:

    @Patricia Kayden: well he and the state GOP certainly have a plan to undo the last 50-100 of social progress and I sope like hell people get out there and vote those sob’s outta office.

  5. 5
    LanceThruster says:

    OT – Sign of the End Times

    Joe Scarborough is not saying just yet whether he’ll make a run at the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, although he’s toying with the idea.

    Guess Newsmax *can* be informative.

  6. 6
    Cervantes says:

    Commentor Omnes Omnibus sent along a lovely news article:

    Thank you, commentor Omnes Omnibus.

  7. 7
    Trollhattan says:

    @CONGRATULATIONS!:

    Still believe that his ability to speak in soothing tones while running roughshod over worker rights, the constitiution and whatnot, and privatizing anything that can’t run away fast enough make him a GOP probable for ’16. Watch yer asses.

  8. 8
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @LanceThruster:

    Further to Mixie’s post a few blocks back, all we need is an antivaxxer in the White House! (OTOH, Jenny McCarthy would probably be named as Surgeon General, so that could be amusing.)

  9. 9
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Cervantes:

    Second, third, ditto, this, word. Y’all in Wisconsin are doing sacred work.

    And thanks very much to Kideni for that wonderful, detailed, clear-eyed yet passionate description.

  10. 10
    🍀 Martin says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: We’re in the midst of a little measles outbreak here as well, after the whooping cough outbreak.

    It’s astonishing how much damage Jenny McCarthy has done.

  11. 11
    Mike in NC says:

    @LanceThruster:

    Joe Scarborough is not saying just yet whether he’ll make a run at the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, although he’s toying with the idea.

    Normally I’d laugh at such a notion, but lately we’re seeing more and more evidence that losers like Trump, Perry, and Rmoney will throw their hats into the ring for 2016. The Village Idiots eat that stuff up. Right now there must be about 47 Republican “front runners” they can chase after.

  12. 12
    Tokyokie says:

    U.S. Code, Title 42, Chapter 21, Subchapter I, § 1983:
    “Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.”

    U.S. Code, Title 18, Part I, Chapter 13, § 241:
    “If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States … [t]hey shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.”

    U.S. Code, Title 18, Part I, Chapter 13, § 242:
    “Whoever, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, willfully subjects any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States … shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.”

    Every singer whose case has been dropped on constitutional grounds needs to file suit under Title 42, § 1983 against the arresting officers and their commanders, in their personal and professional capacities. Once the Capitol cops understand that they are putting their pensions at risk by complying with illegal arrest orders, such arrests will cease.

    I’m not holding my breath for the federal Justice Department to move in with arrest warrants for Walker and his flunkies under Title 18, § 241 and 242, but it is an issue that the feds might want to visit once the state investigation of Walker’s campaign corruption has wrapped up its work. But the lawsuits against the arresting officers don’t require action by sympathetic federal officials. Walker may have a police force at his disposal, but the law is squarely on our side.

  13. 13
    Amir Khalid says:

    @Mike in NC:
    Does FSM love us enough to cause The Donald and Rick Perry to run for President? We’ll all have to be sooo good …

  14. 14
    Emerald says:

    Scott Walker is dangerous, and he’s running for president

    And emotionally he is Frank Underwood.

    Except for one essential quality possessed by Frank Underwood and not by Scott Walker: intelligence.

    Sadly however, that didn’t stop Bush the Lesser.

  15. 15
    Trollhattan says:

    Small bit of good news for public sector workers in the golden state.

    The push to put a public pension measure on the November ballot is officially dead.

    San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and his allies gave up Friday after a judge rejected Reed’s challenge to the language describing the measure for purposes of signature collection.

    Despite the loss, Reed said in a statement, that “we will be targeting the 2016 election cycle for our proposed pension reform initiative.”

    The measure he proposed would have given government employers, under certain circumstances. the authority to freeze accrued retirement benefits for current employees and then reduce them in the future. A body of case law says that pension benefits, once promised, can’t be cut without an offsetting benefit.

    http://www.sacbee.com/2014/03/.....rylink=cpy

    Take a long walk off a short pier, Chuck.

  16. 16
    Suffern ACE says:

    The new “American Heros Network” on cable certainly spends a lot of time on biographies of Nazis.

  17. 17
    Just Some Fuckhead, Thought Leader says:

    @LanceThruster: Maybe someday, Mike Brzezinski will get the same footnote in presidential history that Bonzo the Monkey enjoys.

  18. 18
    dollared says:

    Thanks Omnes and Kideni. Your public service is deeply appreciated.

    I am a proud cheesehead and am in a continuous state of amazement that my state can be the birthplace of progressivism and the birthplace of Paul “lyin” Ryan, Joe McCarthy and Scott Walker. I guess it’s a proof of Newton’s Third Law.

    Please, tell us where we can send money and messages to support you all.

  19. 19
    Just Some Fuckhead, Thought Leader says:

    @Amir Khalid: Rick Perry wears glasses now so he’s a lot smarter than he used to be.

  20. 20
    Kay says:

    A new poll shows the race for Wisconsin governor in a dead heat, with Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Mary Burke tied with 45 percent apiece.

    So do we like this Mary Burke? Who cares, right?

    OMFG just win this, Wisconsin. I can’t bear his weird, passive ghoulishness anymore. He has dead eyes.

  21. 21
    dollared says:

    @Just Some Fuckhead, Thought Leader: FTW – but I still hope not.

  22. 22
    Amir Khalid says:

    @Just Some Fuckhead, Thought Leader:
    Doesn’t that fool realise he’s too old for hipster glasses?

  23. 23
    dollared says:

    @Kay: it is so scary. Worst economic performance in the country and he’s still at 45%. The Nixonian anger runs deep. It’s no surprise that Rick Perlstein comes from suburban Milwaukee.

  24. 24
    dollared says:

    @Kay: Mary Burke – former exec at Trek bikes, the ultimate clean industry employer in Madison. She’s a long shot, but all the established Wisconsin pols have failed. It’s going to be uphill and Walker’s team will cheat the vote every way they know how.

    I’d place the odds at 55 Walker/45 Burke.

  25. 25
    Kay says:

    @dollared:

    I don’t think it matters. The economy is better here, where I am (NW OH) it’s almost.. lively, and Kasich is at 45% too. They’re all dug in.

    Also, that’s generally true of Wisconsin, right, where it all comes down to three counties or something, so it’s always narrow? Isn’t that what they always said about Feingold? That he depended on three counties?

    I just feel like I’ve been looking at Walker’s blank stare and slightly open mouth for a decade now. It isn’t charisma that they’re voting on, that’s for sure.

  26. 26
    kideni says:

    @dollared: The Solidarity Sing Along has a fund for legal expenses (court fees, photocopying, depositions if we ever get to that stage – no lawyer fees, since there’d be no way to come up with enough money for all these cases, so most of the lawyers are working at greatly reduced rates). I can’t do a link on my phone, but the link is in the post – it’s called the First Amendment Protection Fund.

    Thank you, Anne Laurie, for the post; thanks, omnes omnibus, for also bringing this to the attention of the Balloon Juice community. With any luck, we’ll stop this bastard.

  27. 27
    Roger Moore says:

    @Just Some Fuckhead, Thought Leader:

    Rick Perry wears glasses now so he’s a lot smarter than he used to be.

    That wouldn’t be hard.

  28. 28
    Kay says:

    @dollared:

    You probably know this, but Wisconsin was Ground Zero for fraudulent claims of voter fraud. It all started in Milwaukee. The imaginary illness spread from there.

    I’m going back to poll working in November because I’m pretty sure they’re doing it all wrong :)

  29. 29
    Cervantes says:

    @kideni: Thank you for your service, Kideni: not only for speaking up, and doing this difficult, difficult work, and inspiring hope — but also for suggesting ways in which we can help you.

    I wish you many happy songs.

  30. 30
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @🍀 Martin:

    That’s awful. I’m really sorry. Ms. McCarthy has a lot to answer for.

  31. 31
    Cervantes says:

    @Kay:

    It isn’t charisma that they’re voting on, that’s for sure.

    Let us be thankful he does not have more of it.

  32. 32
    AxelFoley says:

    I have to chuckle every time some media person has to say “Pussy Riot” on the news channels.

  33. 33
  34. 34
    AndoChronic says:

    Fuck Wisco. I’m from MN. but my dad is from that shit hole. I think Phish is even boycotting that backassward state given they’ve been playing Chicago in lieu of Alpine the last couple of years during their summer tour. Solidarity!

  35. 35
    AndoChronic says:

    P.S. Even though I will stand up for Wisco like a big brother when confronted by folks who swear by Oregon, WA state, and CA cheese, Wisco still can kick all their asses even in the artisan cheese category, the only thing Wisco is good for is their scenery, the Dells, Madison, and driving 120 MPH on 94 to get to and from Chicago from Minne.

    P.P.S. My dad is from Madison so he’s alright!

  36. 36
    currants says:

    @kideni: Congratulations–my deepest respect to you all. And thanks to you and Omnes for the info/update.

  37. 37
    Angela says:

    Thank you for this update, and the listing of practical ways to support. Your struggle is inspiring.

  38. 38
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    Shit. I got front-paged and didn’t even know it.

    The people like kideni who are going to the Capitol again and again to support free speech are truly impressive. My dad has a birthday coming up, I think I’ll buy him the book.

  39. 39
    Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again) says:

    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.

    That is how you fucking do it! Tie ’em up in the courts until it brings other court business to a halt and the voters get sick of footing the bill. It’s a page right out of the Mississippi Summer Project (aka Freedom Summer) playbook, and it works.

  40. 40
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again): The DOJ attorneys who are doing this are not happy about it either.

  41. 41
    Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again) says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    I bet they aren’t. After a while they’ll start making real noise about it. After a while you’ll get less wingnutty, respectable Republicans who get pissed because their business in the courts is getting pushed back, too. Gotta exploit those chinks in the armor.

  42. 42
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again):

    After a while you’ll get less wingnutty, respectable Republicans who get pissed because their business in the courts is getting pushed back, too.

    It’s Madison; there aren’t that many Republicans and the ones we do have are pretty rabid.

  43. 43
    Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again) says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    Well, I don’t know what the courts split up there- is it circuit (countywide) and district (municipalities) as it is in Michigan? And if so, how much statewide business passes through the circuit court in the capital?

  44. 44
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again): These cases are being prosecuted in the county (circuit) court in Dane County. Dane County is basically Madison and its suburbs. It is 70+% Democratic – and I would guess that that at least 10% of the non-Dems are Greens/Socialists/Anarcho-Syndicalists/etc.

  45. 45
    kideni says:

    Omnes is right that the rank and file DOJ attorneys don’t want t to do this. I was in the courtroom for one of the court dates, and the AAG truly phoned it in.

    As for the court, all the cases are in the circuit court right now, so it’s county, and we’re in good hands with these judges. My judge is Maryann Sumi, who heard the original Act 10 case.

    I would love it if people bought our book. I copywriter it, and it’s wonderful.

  46. 46
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @kideni: Like I said, I’m getting it for my dad’s birthday. Sumi is a good judge; you should be okay. Keep fighting the good fight.

  47. 47
    kideni says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: I really appreciate the support of people like you, and I hope your dad likes the book.

    Sumi was wonderful in the one pretrial conference I’ve had with her – I have no worries about her. I have a great lawyer, so I’m not worried. Her specialty is civil rights, so she’s itching to go on the offensive once these cases are dropped.

  48. 48
    Betty says:

    Couldn’t hold back the tears at seeing what has happened to the US. And this man could become President? Shameful!!

  49. 49
    Singing Truth to Power says:

    Kideni is absolutely right in her description of the goings on in Wisconsin. I am another of the singers who has been arrested.
    I am a more-than-middle-aged somewhat zaftig white-haired woman. Before 2013, my last brush with the law was a speeding ticket in about 1968.

    I am lucky in that I work across the street from the Capitol in Madison, so I could be there every day during the crackdown last fall. It is hard to describe the shock of hearing the LRAD siren and recorded voice of the invisible Chief of the Capitol Police (rated at 137 decibels, painfully loud, and enough to cause physical damage) ordering us to disperse; seeing the hordes of cops coming down the hallways in formation; feeling the handcuffs – all for singing. During the first days of arrests, the number of law enforcement officers numbered approximately 50. There were not enough Capitol Police available, so they called in State Patrol and Department of Natural Resources wardens to assist in the arrests, every one of them armed.

    In the earliest days of arrests, the cops would arrest 20-30 people during the hour. Their routine would be to surround a singer, 2-4 cops per singer, cuff them behind their backs, and march them downstairs to an area that used to be a cafeteria while the Capitol was still people-friendly, and “process” us, which included a mug shot and a check for outstanding warrants. In the early days, they detained us there for up to an hour, handcuffed behind our backs.

    I now know that if you are ever given a choice between metal handcuffs and the plastic zipcuffs, you should choose metal. The plastic zipcuffs have sharp edges, and cut. Both hurt. During one of my arrests, I lost feeling in my right hand because the cuff was too tight. I asked the officer who later became known as “Sweetpea” if the cuff could be loosened. She told me that they were not meant to be comfortable. And this was for singing.

    This is not the Wisconsin I knew. Walker’s palace guard and Department of Justice bet that they could scare us off. They were wrong. They bet that the courts would punish us. They were wrong. I think that there has only been one conviction, for chalking on the sidewalk, and the fine was $50. The courts are sick of the charade. Of approximately 1100 forfeiture cases in Dane County last year, 400 of them were for singing arrests. Cases are being dismissed by the courts every week. It is an enormous waste of resources, and one judge has asked for a written cost-benefit analysis – why does it make sense to expend these resources for singing? The courts have repeatedly found the arrests unconstitutional.

    I can’t wait for my day in court.

  50. 50
    Singing Truth to Power says:

    Kideni is absolutely right in her description of the goings on in Wisconsin. I am another of the singers who has been arrested.
    I am a more-than-middle-aged somewhat zaftig white-haired woman. Before 2013, my last brush with the law was a speeding ticket in about 1968.

    I am lucky in that I work across the street from the Capitol in Madison, so I could be there every day during the crackdown last fall. It is hard to describe the shock of hearing the LRAD siren and recorded voice of the invisible Chief of the Capitol Police (rated at 137 decibels, painfully loud, and enough to cause physical damage) ordering us to disperse; seeing the hordes of cops coming down the hallways in formation; feeling the handcuffs – all for singing. During the first days of arrests, the number of law enforcement officers numbered approximately 50. There were not enough Capitol Police available, so they called in State Patrol and Department of Natural Resources wardens to assist in the arrests, every one of them armed.

    In the earliest days of arrests, the cops would arrest 20-30 people during the hour. Their routine would be to surround a singer, 2-4 cops per singer, cuff them behind their backs, and march them downstairs to an area that used to be a cafeteria while the Capitol was still people-friendly, and “process” us, which included a mug shot and a check for outstanding warrants. In the early days, they detained us there for up to an hour, handcuffed behind our backs.

    I now know that if you are ever given a choice between metal handcuffs and the plastic zipcuffs, you should choose metal. The plastic zipcuffs have sharp edges, and cut. Both hurt. During one of my arrests, I lost feeling in my right hand because the cuff was too tight. I asked the officer who later became known as “Sweetpea” if the cuff could be loosened. She told me that they were not meant to be comfortable. And this was for singing.

    This is not the Wisconsin I knew. Walker’s palace guard and Department of Justice bet that they could scare us off. They were wrong. They bet that the courts would punish us. They were wrong. I think that there has only been one conviction, for chalking on the sidewalk, and the fine was $50. The courts are sick of the charade. Of approximately 1100 forfeiture cases in Dane County last year, 400 of them were for singing arrests. Cases are being dismissed by the courts every week. It is an enormous waste of resources, and one judge has asked for a written cost-benefit analysis – why does it make sense to expend these resources for singing? The courts have repeatedly found the arrests unconstitutional.

    I can’t wait for my day in court.

Comments are closed.