Sunday, September 2, 2012

Solidarity Singers Get A Back Up Chorus

Not being able to bear the thought that people might be exercising their constitutional rights, Scott Walker set out to bring in his own version of the Sheriff of Nottingham. Thus he installed Dave Erwin as commandant of the Capitol Police.

So far, Erwin's claim to fame is threatening innocent citizens and advising politicians to hit their constituents.

Commandant Erwin has set his eyes on the Solidarity Singers, a group of citizens who come to the Capitol every day at lunchtime and sing songs of solidarity. Obviously, these fiends must be stopped! After all, how are the Republicans supposed to go about systematically destroying the state if there are people running around exercising their First Amendment rights?!

Now, if the singers wanted to become the Solidarity Shooters and bring in handguns, that's perfectly fine. But singing? No way!

To deter the Solidarity Singers, and everyone else, of their rights, Erwin wants to strictly enforce the draconian permit requirements.

One could just imagine Walker, Mike Huebsch and the Fitzgerald boys rubbing their hands and snarling in delight of the prospect of getting those democracy addicts behind bars where they belong.

Only thing is there is something they forgot about. The law.

They also forgot about another thing - the ACLU.

The ACLU has fired a warning shot over Erwin's bow by challenging his ridiculousness:
Ultimately the ACLU of Wisconsin believes the new rules issued by the Wisconsin State Department of Administration, including the requirement for groups as few as four people to secure a permit for a “rally… for the purpose of actively promoting any cause,” are not reasonable. Particularly if the rules are applied to the Solidarity Sing Along which takes place at a reasonable time (the hours between noon and 1:00 p.m. are defined in the DOA’s rules as not being normal working hours) and place such as in the rotunda, where state of Wisconsin has long allowed the public to hold rallies of all sizes.

“Chief Erwin said the permit process has been in place for decades,” said ACLU of Wisconsin Communications Director Stacy Harbaugh. “However, I have been organizing volunteer legal observers to witness protests at the Capitol over the past six years and it has been my experience that Capitol Police have asked for voluntary compliance in filling out permits and in practice have only required permits for protests that require extra staffing, closed streets, access to building electricity and other logistical needs. There has typically been reasonable accommodation for protests large and small, planned or spontaneous.”

The Constitution allows “reasonable time, place and manner” regulations. But such restrictions on the use of space must be content-neutral. By requiring permits for “rallies” of four or more people, the DOA and Capitol Police must look at the content of the event to determine whether or not a group in the Capitol is a “rally” promoting a cause versus a gathering of four people who want to talk about where to get lunch.

In addition, any restriction must be narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest. Chief Erwin suggests that permits are required for police to adequately accommodate public safety interests, but it is unreasonable to suggest that a group as small as four would overwhelm the police force. Further, the First Amendment requires and the DOA’s own rules allow for defined, spontaneous events. It is the responsibility of the Capitol Police to have staffing plans in place to have the flexibility to protect the safety of all announced and unannounced visitors to the building.

The participants of the Solidarity Sing Along have worked with the Capitol police and staff to accommodate multiple users of the Capitol rotunda. This relationship can and should continue to meet the needs of police to make narrowly tailored, content-neutral space management decisions.

As for the public safety concerns outlined in Erwin’s letter, we believe it is the responsibility of the Capitol Police to ensure that the Capitol building is both a safe place to work and for demonstrators to engage in peaceful speech activity in the rotunda. To threaten to enforce a permit requirement against peaceful, cooperative protesters on the basis of safety concerns arising from the alleged actions of a few individuals would punish those engaging in protected speech activity. If criminal harassment or intimidation is occurring against Capitol workers or singers alike, it is the responsibility of police to address it, not crackdown on peaceful protest.
Indeed, all Erwin - at the orders of Walker - is doing is trying to act as a jack-booted thug. Perhaps instead of threatening the singers, he should be looking at ways at protecting them from the real criminals.

Erwin might also want to try to help enforce the law by finding and confiscating Walker's secret router. That's what a real law enforcement officer would do.


  1. If you are a family of 4 and want to see the capitol will you need to get a permit if you are in the rotunda trying to decided whether or not to get a postcard to send to Grandma from the gift shop?

    1. Sounds like this might be a form of religious discrimination. Don't certain religions have strong beliefs against the use of contraception, leading to larger families?

  2. But a group of 6 lobbyists, led by convicted felon scooter jensen can have their run of the place anytime they want.

  3. Run of the place? No, the lobbyists are given a meeting room, or given lunch right in the legislator's office, or taken out to a room at restaurant across the street.

    Capper - as for your last comment, I realize it might be tongue-in-cheek, but violating the open records law is not a criminal offense. Violators are rarely even given a civil fine.

    The problem is the violation itself: you did something against the letter and spirit of the law, as we'd prefer to have a government with a presumption of openness. If you hid something, you're working against that principle.

    Bringing your own laptop or smart phone with its own Internet connection (be it a mobile hotspot, or laptop cellular modem) isn't a violation in itself. Sending government business-related emails through it may not even be a violation, either. The problem comes when you don't disclose what you're doing there. That's what Walker & Co. did. If they sent government-related emails over a secondary network and then didn't disclose the emails when they were requested, they've violated the open records law.

    The rules are different at the top. If you were a middlin' employee in some other government agency, a different set of rules may be placed upon you. The IT department may force your laptop to use a VPN to connect back to HQ when you connect via WiFi at the coffee shop or at home. This may be for antivirus and info-security reasons. They may have a rule that says "don't use Hotmail for biz emails" and they'll reprimand or fire you if you do. That doesn't apply to Scott Walker's office because Scott Walker didn't place that reasonable rule on himself. You'd think it would also be a reasonable rule that says "You can't bring your personal laptop to work because we don't want you noodling on Facebook" as well as all the other reasons, like the taxpayer's dime, for example.

    1. John, do you really think there is a place off limits to Scooter Jensen? He was allowed in last year via the side doorswhen they had people running through metal detectors and were frisking anyone else trying to get in.

      They got his approval for the redistricting maps....I would say he has access to anyone anywhere anytime!

  4. Apparently Erwin has contacted Majority Leader Mark Miller to enlist his help in getting protesters to apply for permits. Erwin's problem is that legislators are complaining because they don't like to be protested. i hope Leader Miller remembers that if legislators enact unpopular policies in underhanded ways they are going to face a backlash and neither Miller nor Erwin should be shielding them from the complaints of the people they are supposed to represent.

    It's the right of the people to petition for redress of grievances and it is not the job of the Capitol Police to protect elected representatives from people exercising their rights as citizens.