I went to the Wisconsin capitol again today to report on the Solidarity Singers, as I’ve done many times before. I was not intending to get arrested. Nor did I want to get arrested. But that’s what happened.
I arrived about fifteen minutes late for the one-hour noon sing along, which has been going on steadily for two and a half years now.
When I arrived, I was told that Madison city council member Mark Clear had already been arrested, while he was singing “This Land Is Your Land.” This seemed to be an escalation, since he was the first currently serving elected official to be rounded up in the more than 200 arrests that Scott Walker’s capitol police have made in the last few weeks. (Former longtime member of the Madison school board, Carol Carstensen, was arrested a couple of weeks ago. She’d never even gotten a speeding ticket before, she told me.)
I got out my reporter’s pad, and I did my usual head count, tallying 100 people in the rotunda and 60 people as sympathetic observers in the balcony.
I interviewed Sharon Puttmann, who was holding a sign that said, “United in Purpose, United in Song,” which I took a picture of. I asked her why she was there. “I’m a teacher, and I’m a mom,” she said. “And I’m standing up for my rights.” She’s never been arrested, she told me. But she’s willing to now.
I interviewed Victoria La Chappelle, who was holding a sign saying, “You can tie my hands, but you can never silence my voice.” She’s been arrested twice. “Every time I come, I feel like I need to come back in solidarity,” she said.
I saw that the Raging Grannies were in attendance again, this group of activist elderly women who sing protest songs at various events in the state.
Then I saw some state police officers move in to arrest a couple of the Raging Grannies, including my friend Bonnie Block.
So, as I’ve done every time I’m covering the capitol, I started to take pictures of the officers making the arrest. And then I followed the officers as they took Block, handcuffed and still defiantly singing, toward the elevator.
I was hoping to get a picture of Block as she entered the elevator, the kind of picture that has been taken many times in the last couple of weeks.
But the police officers said to stand back. I said I was a journalist, the editor of The Progressive magazine.
“You can’t be here,” they said.
“I’m with the press,” I said. “I have a right to be here.”
Whereupon, without a warning that I’d be arrested, Officer S. B. Mael grabbed my hands and put them behind my back, cuffed them, and said, “Obstruction.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Block said, as she was put in the elevator.
“This is getting absurd, guys,” I said to the officers, who refused to engage with me.
They took me to the basement of the capitol, frisked me, and put me in a chair.
Block, who was then sitting nearby, said, “It’s a pleasure to be arrested with you.”
“Likewise,” I said.
And she and the handful of other protesters kept singing, “Bring Back My Wisconsin to Me.”
When Block was released, another woman in a red “Wisconsin Mom” shirt came down, handcuffed, and was seated nearby.
Her name was Ellen Holly, the chairman of the Walworth County Democrats, she told me, and she comes up to Madison whenever she can. She was on her way to Minnesota, she said, and wanted to support the sing along. (She also said that the Democrats were up to 45 percent of the vote in traditionally conservative Walworth County.)
The police kept me in the basement of the capitol until all the protesters had left. They took down my name and Social Security number and address and phone number and employer (I reminded them I worked at The Progressive).
And then they hauled me off in a squad car to the Dane County jail just three blocks away, where I was frisked again, booked, fingerprinted, had my mug shot taken, and kept in a holding cell with three other inmates for an hour and twenty minutes before being released.
The paper they gave me on the way out said, under “Charge,” 946.41(1) Resisting or Obstructing.”
The bond was set at $300.
The court date is September 23 at 10:00 a.m., where I will plead not guilty on the basis of the First Amendment.