The police come in swarms today, in predator waves, jackals culling antelope, scanning the room not for the easy efficient takedowns, but for the ones they most begrudge. They lope into the large room, four, eight, ten of them, and surround specific singers. The energy of the room immediately changes, intensifies, feels jagged, anticipatory, fragile. There are way more than twenty singers gathered here, and the singing echoes off the marbled and filagreed surfaces of the capitol rotunda, loud enough to need earplugs. Three hundred or more people stand in close proximity, half of them with cameras, most of them singing. It feels like two years ago, when the Uprisings began. I'm not prepared for the emotional and physical intensity. On the drive from Milwaukee to Madison, we talked about the police; their duplicity, their motivations, and their own entrapment within a dehumanizing system. Would they be making arrests? I want to believe in the goodness down in their heart of hearts, but today I look into their eyes as they scan the crowd, and I can't see much beyond cold calculation and grim authoritarian determination. We represent freedom and they are there to discipline and punish. It is a cold calculus. People singing without permission are threats to the State. Discipline. Punish.
The police come in waves, five times in the noon hour of singing. There are dozens. They surround a singer (why that one?) and grab him, grab her, asking if they are dispersing. No one consents to disperse. Zipties are ratcheted around wrists. I watch a cluster of black shirted black gloved grim men surround a middle-aged woman. They perform their wrist-twist jobs with the satisfaction of bondage well done. Craft. Take pride in your work. After all, she knew the new rules, and she was singing. We cannot have people expressing dissatisfaction with our government without permission from our government.
The singing gets louder and louder. More people arrive. Chants of SHAME, SHAME, SHAME! follow the black hatted men as they pull singers down the hall, into the elevator, into the basement to be processed. I follow in front of a woman who has been standing in crutches. I know her vaguely. She just had hip surgery. The police quickly force her along. She insists that she must go slowly. She is clearly limping in pain. She angrily pleads with her handlers to allow her crutches, or properly support her weight. They don't seem to care. Perhaps they assume she is faking it. After all, she was singing, flouting the rules. She deserves what she gets.
Capitol Police arrest injured woman in Madison from Occupy Riverwest on Vimeo.
Down in the basement there are rooms where people get their punishments for singing, for raising their voices in the People's House, determined to not let all of a proud participatory history of Wisconsin slip away into the tawdry hostility of a temporary Tea-Party regime. The police are there to serve up the insouciant, to arrest, to discipline, to control, to be sure that citizens know that now First Amendment protections have size limits, like seminars, buses, or elevators. The singing stabilizes when the police retreat to their processing rooms. The songs are beautiful and powerful, sedimentary artifacts of continued accretion, resonating symbolically and acoustically. Singing is a beautiful and powerful thing.
The police come in waves. The space gets jagged again, frenetic, louder. I watch them arrest LJ, a mountain of a man standing like a cinder block stock-still in the middle of the floor. He wears a Veterans For Peace shirt, carries an American flag, and has his mouth gagged shut with a black bandana. He has neither moved nor spoken throughout the hour. The police arrest him, drag him out. The tall policeman, the one I have noticed all afternoon who looked the most grim, the most pleased, drops LJ's flag on the floor. It gets caught under the policeman's polished black shoes. He tramples the flag, a woman picks it up, gives it back to LJ. They push him down the hall, into the elevator, to be processed. I hear later that he is taken to jail for resisting arrest.
I earlier watched the same policeman walk up to another Veteran for Peace, a tall and imposing African American, holding a sign asking "Why Are My Freedoms Denied Now" within the context of his prior service in Vietnam. I saw the subtle sizing up of the policeman's prey: toe to toe, a man looking a man face to face. The Veteran stood his ground without flinching. Time ticked. The cop dropped his eyes, dropped his head, turned away and immediately arrested a nearby middle-aged woman. In my mind the interaction was totally silent, and slow. The room went still. In my mind, the Veteran whispered, "Sonny, I know who you are!" and the policeman, always at the head of the policeman crowd, turned away and arrested a middle-aged woman. In my mind, I saw the policeman for what he was.
The police came in waves today, slicing through the crowd like sly dogs hoping to bite. Singing is powerful. The cruel dogs and their leash men made the songs much louder today, and seemed to rekindle something that they might have hoped was over.
The waves of policemen weave through the growing crowds of the rotunda. They'll lope in on Monday, on Tuesday, on Wednesday, on Thursday. On Fridays, the Singers sing outside. Everyone arrested gets pink tickets, talismans to worry over or wear with pride. Two hundred dollars each. Everyone arrested will fill courts. Every arrest is a struggle between silence and song. Every arrest, in its essence, fills the fraught space between "discipline and punish" and "Sonny, I know who you are!"
Capitol Police Continue Mass Arrest from Occupy Riverwest on Vimeo.