For 16 years, as a citizen of Wisconsin, I have been welcome in our state capitol building. As a university professor, I have testified at hearings; as a constituent, I have met with my elected representatives; as a citizen, I have taken my family to gaze with awe at the rotunda ceiling and learn about our state’s history. My partner and I even decided to hold our wedding ceremony in the capitol building, testimony to the respect we felt for the traditions, institutions, and freedoms of our state.
But today when I went to the capitol to visit my representative, Janis Ringhand, and discuss my concerns about the governor’s proposed budget and its effects on natural resources, I was treated like a common criminal. Instead of walking freely through the capitol building, I was subjected to the myriad humiliations of a woman visiting her husband in federal prison. I was forced to empty my pockets of every dime, expose all my belongings to the scrutiny of a line of officers, even take off my coat so that I could be security-wanded by an officer. I could not walk through the building unless I was accompanied by both a staffer and a police officer, every single step of the way to my representative’s office. I was told that I would not be allowed to use the restroom without a police officer in attendence. I had to pass inspection before at least 30 officers, lined up both outside and inside the King Street entrance.
How much time did this humiliating process waste? At least 45 minutes of my time. At least 30 minutes of the staffer’s time. Untold hours of the police officer’s time. How much money did it waste? I have no idea, but surely quite a bit.
But the loss of time and money is not the point, even though Gov Walker pretends this is all about balancing the budget.
The Wisconsin state constitution gives each and every citizen—male or female, young or old, Democrat or Republican, rich or poor-- the right of free assembly within the capitol. We have every right to visit our representatives, to testify at hearings, and to protest bills within our capitol. That right does not depend on our political affiliation, nor does it depend on our governor’s whims. We are not a police state, even though that fact seems to have escaped the understanding of Department of Administration, who have chosen to ignore a restraining order from the judge that orders the capitol building to be opened to the public.
The Department of Administration is currently claiming that it has abided by the ruling and has made the building open “enough.” But what all of us were subjected to today when when we tried to exercise our rights was simply unacceptable.
Objecting to our governor’s policies does not make a citizen of Wisconsin a criminal. Not yet, anyway.
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