Two years strong, the Solidarity Sing Along has recently led to a number of high profile arrests, including editor Matt Rothschild from The Progressive magazine and Ald. Mike Clear, District 19.
Clear said he was shocked when officers arrested him on Aug. 15.
“I arrived at the rotunda and was standing on basically the edge by the first row of columns and I started singing along. Suddenly, an officer appeared in front of me and informed me that I was participating in an illegal event and that I needed to disperse or face arrest,” Clear said. “I politely declined.”
Alder Scott Resnick, District 8, witnessed the event from the upper area of the rotunda, above where officers arrested Clear. Resnick added multiple alders, including Ald. Lisa Subeck, District 1, and Ald. Marsha Rummel, District 6, were present to show support for the singers.
Resnick and Clear both said they did not understand the officers’ choice in arresting Clear, as opposed to Subeck and Rummel when they were all standing together.
The arrests appear to be random, with teenagers as young as 14 years old, elderly citizens, members of the press and observers receiving citations.
To hold a protest or event exceeding 20 people, the group organizer needs to file a permit request, Department of Administration spokesperson Stephanie Marquis said.
Marquis added the free permit is available online and can be submitted by mail, fax, email or in person 72 hours prior to the event or protest.
Marquis denied claims the free permit has inherent fees due to police staffing and said the department has never charged for events except the October event with President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign.
With the debate raging over free speech and the permitting process, some feel the original message of the protests has been put on the back burner. However, Clear feels the protests are unchanged.
“It’s all part of the same thing,” Clear said. “It’s more of the Walker administration trying to take away the rights of citizens and the right to collectively bargain.”
Marquis said permits are easy to get and have been part of Wisconsin’s law since 1979, rather than a recent action from the Walker administration.
While arrests haven’t been made on days when an assembly permit is filed, Resnick said the ideology behind the permit is the problem, rather than the permit itself.
“I don’t believe you should be required to have a permit to sing or protest at the Capitol,” he said. “That’s my opinion, individuals are singing, so should that justify a permit”?
Marquis said permits are issued regardless of political ideology, nature or content, and are about the availability of space in the Capitol.
Regardless of the permit process, Resnick said the policing of the sing-alongs is a waste of resources.
“I’m very disappointed the current administration is deciding that instead of the current issues of crime and safety, they are using Capitol officers to arrest people who are singing,” Resnick said.
Clear was charged with unlawful assembly and has an initial court appearance on Sept. 6. He said he expects his citation will not hold up in court.