The moment we've all been waiting for finally hit as Scott Walker's regime codified onto the books the next phase of the Wisconsin Capitol Crackdown on freedoms of speech, assembly and right to petition one's government for a redress of grievances with the release of "emergency" rules amending the state Administrative Code. These draconian "emergency" measures are being implemented without any public hearing under the justification that the Solidarity Sing Along poses some sort of imminent threat to public health, safety and welfare.
The Solidarity Sing Along, which has been taking place every weekday at the Capitol since March 11th, 2011, began outside at noon today in the dreary and cold drizzle, as it always does when a permitted event is taking place inside. Around 12:30, we learned that the school orchestra had finished up their performance on the 1st floor of the Rotunda. We briefly discussed the situation in our typical anarchistic manner and decided to head into the Capitol to finish out the rest of the Sing Along indoors, singing Move on Over as the 30 to 40 singers left our spot in Lady Forward's shadow and marched up the Capitol steps.
Almost as soon as we entered the building, a very large group of schoolchildren being escorted along with Senator Dave Hansen stopped to watch and listen to what this crazy bunch of singers was all about. There were smiles aplenty on the faces of the kids and their teachers and they warmly clapped along with us to, I Don't Want Your Millions, Mister, a personal favorite of mine which many people enjoy clapping along with during every round of the chorus. It was hard for any of us not to smile when only an hour earlier my State Assemblywoman, Chris Taylor, had held a press conference where she vehemently and eloquently stood with us and defended the right of all citizens to peaceably assemble and engage in political speech in the public forum of the Capitol rotunda.
Then a funny thing happened. The next song that someone spontaneously began to sing was the classic folk song, If I Had a Hammer, a joyous and upbeat four-verse tune that would be familiar to many people who happened upon our gathering. By now the nearly 100 pairs of inquisitive, youthful eyes were transfixed as they gazed upon us while standing nearby in gaps between the ground floor columns which encircle and support our city center. A group of a dozen or so kids bound into the center of the Rotunda to take in the beauty of the dome as the music enveloped them, but most stayed on the fringes to observe. I had hordes of kids standing on either side of me. By the 3rd verse, I could hear the sound of rhythmic clapping beginning to echo around the Rotunda and from the hallway behind me. Worth noting is that SSA participants, while free to clap along to their heart's content throughout the hour, don't typically do so to this particular song and I didn't see a single participant clapping.
It quickly became apparent that the group of smiling schoolchildren cheering us on had become so wrapped up in the musical energy we were projecting, undoubtedly an energy driven in large part by the students' enthusiastic response, that they had spontaneously taken it upon themselves to push us along with their clapping! One by one, the rabble-rousing singers in attendance began to recognize what was happening and followed the students' lead, responding in kind with youthful vigor and embracing the spirit of the moment while lifting our own spirits to the top of the Capitol dome. By the final time through the chorus of "It's the hammer of justice, it's the bell of freedom, it's a song about love between my brothers and my sisters, all over this land," nearly everyone present, singers, teachers and students alike, was clapping on the off beat and beaming with delight. As the song came to an end with a final soothing and harmonious, "Ooooooo," the kids, their teachers and Sen. Hansen graciously applauded, with many of my friends returning the favor.
Photo from the April 11th, 2013 Solidarity Sing Along courtesy of Erica Case
The group was soon rounded up and led away, off to continue their tour of learning and discovery in our grand cathedral of democracy that I love, the People's House. I belted out the opening lyrics to When We Make Peace to the tune of When the Saints Go Marching In to give the kids something to clap along with as they departed and the Solidarity Sing Along moved seamlessly into the next song, pressing onward with our civic duty as we always do. Words needed not be spoken amongst those of us left behind in the Rotunda, as it was evidently clear we had just experienced an indescribably beautiful and transcendent moment in a movement with no shortage of such moments.
After the Sing Along had ended and I was gathering up my jacket, Sen. Hansen happened to be walking by, approached me and sincerely apologized for bringing 100 kids through the Rotunda while we were singing. I laughed and told him there was no need to apologize, as every citizen has a right to be in the Rotunda...after all, the kids' clapping had gotten us to join in with what THEY were doing and the song had never sounded so good. That's the beauty of it: everyone is welcome to come into our Capitol rotunda for various means of expression and to make their individual or collective voice heard, regardless of viewpoint.
Photo of schoolchildren ringing the 1st floor balustrade of the Capitol rotunda as the Solidarity Sing Along celebrates 25 months of singing truth to power on April 11th, 2013. Photo courtesy of Erica Case
The Sing Along has been met with more counter protesters, head-shaking, thumbs down, middle fingers, sneers and condescending remarks (even a Heil Hitler salute last month) than I could ever possibly count or care to remember. Those at the SSA typically just smile in response and keep on singing. The only violence that has ever occurred at a Sing Along was directed towards one of the participants by a counter protester from a Tea Party rally. We have been painted by DoA Secretary Mike Huebsch, Capitol Police Chief Dave Erwin, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and virtually any of Walker's lackeys instructed to publicly slander us on a given day, as some sort of dangerous, out-of-control, disruptive, intimidating and boorish group of hierarchical and well-organized individuals that go around threatening lawmakers and scaring schoolchildren. All this in the name of conspiring to commit song.
So it was fitting that on the day the new rules were signed off on by GovernEr Walker, the next generation of workers, leaders, poets, activists, scientists, singers and dreamers symbolically came to express their support and appreciation for our presence. All the while, they remained blissfully unaware of the looming existential threats to the Solidarity Sing Along, 1st Amendment and 4th Amendment rights in the Capitol, and of the ominous pall hanging over our heads as Big Brother watched our every move from the eye in the sky and Rotunda perch.
We have never stopped anyone from expressing their own beliefs, including those adamantly and vocally opposed to our cause, and happily welcome anyone who chooses to join us in debate or in exercising his or her 1st Amendment rights through song. Individually, we keep showing up whenever we are able to or whenever we need a uplifting rejuvenation of our hearts, minds and souls in the face of such overwhelming sadness and frustration induced by Scott Walker's decimation of our beloved Wisconsin. As a collection of individuals, we bear witness to the insidious activities of the ruling party and simply sing truth to power from the only public forum where, even though they refuse to listen to us, our voices can actually be heard by the tyrannical leaders of Fitzwalkerstan.
The presence of the Sing Along is a daily reminder to Scott Walker and the unfailingly loyal defenders of his radical right-wing, fascist agenda that their spiteful ignorance and exclusion of an entire segment of their constituents from the democratic process and shameless attempt to use law enforcement to suppress the voices of political opposition, will not soon be forgiven. Nor will this war that all began when our loyal GovernEr "dropped the bomb" on the unsuspecting middle class and poor citizens of Wisconsin in an attempt to decimate our progressive heritage be conceded without one helluva fight. As the final stanza states in the Solidarity Sing Along's crowd-favorite version of Will the Circle be Unbroken, with new lyrics by my friend Gloria Hays:
We all sang the songs of childhood
Songs of hope that made us strong
Songs we always sang together
Hear the people sing along
Today's events made those lyrics come to life in a way I would never have imagined possible just two short, yet interminably long years ago. Sing Along we will...one day longer, 25 months stronger. Solidarity, brothers and sisters.
Graphic courtesy of regular Solidarity Sing Along participant Ryan Scot Conner
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