Singing Can Get You Arrested in Wisconsin

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:

Photo from Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for the article.

Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra4 years ago

Thank you Kevin, for Sharing this!

Judith D.
Judith D.4 years ago

@ Don S. - As one who SINGS with the Solidarity Sing Along and one of those arrested, please let me clarify: Wisconsin's State Constitution is UNIQUE and more powerful in it's language where, in Article I, Section 4, it's clearly states our right to "petition the government and any department thereof shall NEVER be abridged." THAT is our "permit"! Secondly, the judge's TEMPORARY ruling a couple months ago (final expected in January) stated that under 20 participants to not need a permit. In legal language, where attorneys and judges are VERY PRECISE, he could have said more than 20 need a permit. He did NOT say that. He simply said less than 20 did not need a permit. There was no ruling to begin arresting those who peacefully, assembly weekdays during non-business noon hours and who do courteously leave the building when other permitted activities take place. There has been no damage to the building designed as a public form (in architect's plans); no violence. What is occurring now is illegal arrests and impeding the civic DUTY of our citizenry to participate through intimidation and bullying.

Antoinette Harris

keep singing and be proud of being part of PEACEFUL protests

Luis R.
Luis R4 years ago

Did someone say that USA is the country of free speech, free enterprise and so on…? (keep up democracy standards folks!). What a blunder. USA is in many of its states a repressive police nation where freedom of though ends when people express publicly their opinions.

Nick Andrews
Nico Smart4 years ago

Great White, I would support your or anyone's right to protest whatever cause they feel is important, as long as it is orderly (no fights, violence against women or children, openly illicit activity, etc.), ordinary business of people in the building or space is not hindered (like people who have to work there or go in for building permits, etc.) and no damage is done to public property (such as the ruined lawns, littering and such from the Occupy campers) as that is our right, privilege and sometimes, duty.

'Great White' Earth Being
'Great White' 4 years ago

...Oh by the way, Don S.,

On very local protesting, I go and talk with the police before each year's protest, get the higher ups contact information and use it when harassed, by any level of cops (only local has jurstiction ).

'Great White' Earth Being
'Great White' 4 years ago

...Don S.,

3rd. Every single time I have organized the local protest and protested, mostly by myself, I have been harassed with being arrested every single time.

4th. has said, on his radio show and while I do not practice it* and see it as not realistic way of dealing with the current sick world and The USA we live in, that it is USA Constitutional Right to not have any level of government for us and citizens to get permits to protest. I believe this is true!

By the way, I would welcome, get my side out to the citizens of this country and world, talk with the protesters and if possible negotiate with anyone who ever protests me and my future endeavors.

'Great White' Earth Being
'Great White' 4 years ago

Don S.,

I am a protester and organizer for a very local protest every year and I try to follow these Permit Laws as best I can, ONLY REASON is so I am not arrested and removed from protesting for the cause; However there are huge faults in your post and what you are saying.

1st. Like what happened with my organized protest few years ago, I explain the NOT needing a permit rules and why following the non-permit rules is important (for future protests and Etc.), on and through E-Mails, yet the people (huge percentage I have protested with before and know well) came with a lot more than 3-PROTESTERS. 3-PROTESTERS non-Permit Rule IS BLANKING BLANK; BUT I HAVE TO FOLLOW IT! Luckily, the local police allowed it and did not punish me for it and future ability to protest.

2nd. The Process and The Giving of Protest Permits are not like they are fairly done. I have applied in the past and never even receive any contact back about, let alone reject or acceptance!!!....

Don Swanz
Don Swanz4 years ago

Again, I'm on the outside looking in; but there just seems to be too much emotion and not enough common sense here.

1. Twenty (20) more people, you need a permit.
2. Less than twenty (20) - no permit required.
3. If you start off with nineteen (19) and someone (others) joins in, that's twenty (20) or more, a PERMIT is required.
4. Twenty (20) or more and NO permit, you are in violation of the law and subject to arrest if you do not cease the demonstration or the number drops below nineteen.
5. If a violation(s) does occur, "one (1) "warning" is sufficient.

PLEASE check your local, county and/or State regulations regarding public "demonstrations", permits required and the boundaries set for and required of the demonstrators.