About three hundred singers gathered on the State Street steps of the Wisconsin Capitol on Friday, December 16, for the week-ending edition of the Solidarity Sing-Along. Turnout was bigger than usual, though, as it was also held in protest of new regulations set out by the state Department of Administration (DOA) restricting terms of speech and assembly both inside and outside the building.
This series of regulations was announced on December 1 and is open to enforcement today, establishing a set of permitting requirements for assemblies at the Capitol. Advance permit applications are now required for groups of four or more inside, and 100 or more outside, with fees assessed for security costs. On Friday, the department announced that it is revising some of the regulations, though the primary permit and payment rules remain in place.
In response, Solidarity Sing-Along participants announced that they would test these regulations and assemble as usual without a permit at the Capitol. Gathering outside over the lunch hour on Friday, the sing-along attracted three times as many participants as usual. There was no direct enforcement by the DOA or Capitol Police, and the musical demonstration proceeded without incident.
"This was a fantastic turnout -- there were hundreds of people out here standing up for free speech, standing up against Governor Scott Walker and standing up for the Constitution," says R. Chris Reeder, lead organizer and conductor for the Solidarity Sing-Along. "This was something we asked people to come out and stand up for with us today and Monday now that the new rule might be going into effect."
Reeder says the increased turnout shows Wisconsinites are not only working toward the recall, but are also working to ensure the state and national constitutional rights are upheld.
Going into Friday's event, Reeder says he was unsure of what to expect in terms of police presence and whether or not the DOA's regulations would be enforced.
"The [absence of police] was great," says Reeder. "I was hoping there weren't going to be any issues, but I had no idea what was going to happen. It really was a great day."
Anica Rausch, who has been out at the daily events since they started March 11, says the Sing-Along is an engaging way for those who have been affected or upset by Walker's policies to express their discontent in an inviting community.
Rausch says even if the state does enforce the new regulations, the singers will continue.
"I'm not a lawyer, but I think the First Amendment rights and the right to petition my government given by our Constitution trumps the DOA's rule," Rausch says. "I'm not sure what the DOA is thinking most of the time."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin voted in conjunction with other community partners this week to take legal action. According to a statement from the coalition, the current wording of the regulations raises multiple constitutional concerns, which attorneys and legislators will address at a press conference before the sing-along on Monday, December 19.
"While the ALCU of Wisconsin recognizes that reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on Capitol building, grounds and other state facilities' use are permissible, the policies as currently written are not reasonable," reads the statement (PDF). "The permitting and liability scheme will have the effect of chilling First Amendment activity at the Capitol."
The Solidarity Sing-Along gathers each week between noon and 1 p.m. on Monday through Friday. For the first full week the new regulations are to be enforced, the singers plan to gather in the Rotunda on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, and meet outside on Wednesday and Friday.