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If you have a song in your heart, better stay clear of Wisconsin’s Capitol: you’re liable to be led off in handcuffs. This past week over the course of a few days, more than 100 people were arrested and cited for daring to sing protest songs in the state’s government building.
Rather than arresting participants for singing out of key, police officers charged them for merely gathering in the building in the first place. Despite seemingly glaringly unconstitutional, Governor Scott Walker has endorsed new laws designed to discourage protesting. The motivation is obvious: Walker would prefer to screw over his constituents in peace instead of having to hear from the people whose lives he’s ruined.
Although protesters have gathered in the Capitol daily for noon sing-alongs for over two years, this assembly is technically “illegal.” Thanks to Walker’s rules, groups of four or more need a permit to assemble in the building. Agreeing that it seemed unconstitutional, a U.S. District Judge bumped the number of people required to obtain a permit to 20 early in July. Of course, it seems a little arbitrary to declare it unconstitutional to restrict five people’s free speech, but throw out the rules when 25 people come together. As such, that matter will be looked at in a trial scheduled for next year.
To the credit of Wisconsinites, each day that the police arrest dozens of people, the crowd of defiant singers multiplies for the following noon sing-along session. Apprehended singers have been cited with $200.50 tickets, although most have stated their intention to challenge the charges in court.
Senior citizens were among those cited on the first day of arrests
Although the acoustics in the Capitol building help their voices to sound great, for many, participating is less about singing and more about symbolically defending free speech. While demonstrators have been criticized for not obtaining the paperwork necessary to sing, it certainly seems to defeat the purpose to require the government to grant you permission before you can voice your opposition to it.
Perhaps most frightening is the video footage of police threatening to arrest bystanders who were watching the singers from a distance. When merely witnessing a protest becomes a criminal act, it’s clear that the powers-that-be consider the message a “dangerous” one:
Fortunately, at least one of the arrests was justified. A man who believed that the protestors should “get a job” (a prospect that many who have lost their jobs due to Walker’s policies would probably enjoy) was caught on camera spitting on a protester and apprehended half an hour later: