Take a look at this collage. Take your time. Really look at it before you continue reading. Now, think of a word or a short phrase that describes your impression or describes how this collection of photos makes you feel.
Say that word or phrase out loud. Now look at the photos again.
OK, now you can go on.
(All photos above except the one with the blue hair are courtesy of the amazing Lisa Wells!)
I recently listened to someone read a passage from Neither Wolf Nor Dog by Kent Nerburn. The passage was about the trickster nature of the English language, how there are many words for the same thing that can be used to mislead. It made me think of the new Chief of the Wisconsin Capitol Police. People have shown up in or near the state Capitol every weekday since March 11th, 2011 to express their anger and frustration at the actions of Governor Scott Walker and his administration. Most of the activity occurs over the lunch hour. Sometimes there are a couple dozen people. Sometimes there are hundreds.
People who work in the building, especially those who are in the same political party as Governor Walker, are tired of hearing the grievances, which are expressed mostly in song and on signs and banners. A few citizens like to chant occasionally, too, or yell things like "indict Walker!"
The new Chief has been hired to clear the building of these singing, sign-holding people, but he has a problem. The state constitution, various court rulings, and Wisconsin tradition limit the Chief's ability to restrict their peaceful activities. He has decided to (or been ordered to) do two things to try to accomplish his goal: Hand out citations on flimsy legal grounds to try to intimidate the singing, sign-holding people; and conduct a media campaign to convince the public that the singers and sign-holders are out of control.
Chief David Erwin had his officers hand out close to 60 citations for alleged violations of the Wisconsin Administrative Code in September. I have four of them. They will not stand. It's an annoyance to defend against them, but it's had the opposite of the desired effect by drawing even more people to the Capitol. Chief Erwin has done interviews with local TV, radio, and newspapers describing the citizens who show up in the Capitol as violent and dangerous. He said they hang banners that are attached to metal pipes and two-by-fours (a false, bizarre claim.) He even claimed that the participants of the daily sing-along "terrorize" staffers and visitors in the Capitol.
Those pictures you looked at above are just a few of the people who have come to the Capitol over the past 19 months to air their grievances. Some are there occasionally, some every day.
Did the word "terrorist" come to mind when you looked at the images? Unless you are Scott Walker or David Erwin, I'm guessing no.
Well, it's not easy to come up with the perfect word that will satisfy everyone's desire to describe just who shows up in the Capitol (protesters? singers? agitators? engaged citizens?), but these people certainly are not terrorists. They have names and families and careers and feelings. Here are some of the responses when I asked them for short self-descriptions:
Carrie: I am a freelance graphic designer who walks to the Capitol on her lunch hour to sing. I am a mom of 2 grown children who went through Madison Public Schools, UW Madison, and MATC.Chief Erwin calls them terrorists. I call them heroes and friends.
Joseph: I am a forager, a vertebrate paleontologist and an isotope chemist. I research the application of calcium isotope analysis to the early detection of metabolic bone disease, like osteoporosis. I have three tickets from the Erwin crackdown, two by mail, one by handcuff
Mary: I work as a freelance copyeditor, church musician, and blogger.
Peg: I work as a Children's Ministry Director, a writer, and a freelance graphic designer. I am also a second-career student, and I live in the Milwaukee area. I'm a mom, a musician and an environmentalist too. I haven't gotten a ticket yet, but between SSA and OLB I can see it coming.
Dawn: I am a disabled veteran with degrees in English and history and a minor in political science. I try to volunteer at Deer Park (Buddhist Center) as often as possible.
Maureen: I've never gotten a ticket. I'm a retired elementary teacher who is now taking care of a new granddaughter while her parents work.
Roberta: Former Assembly candidate, treasurer of the Vilas County Democratic Party, and designated button-maker with over 2000 and counting, and officially retired
Samantha: I love little pieces of driftwood and round stones, and I just hit 1000 miles on my bicycle for the season. I am the Director of Religious Education and Volunteers at a Unitarian Universalist church. I take care of my mom, who is 87 and sassy. I like taking photographs.
Sue: Like so many, I haven't gotten a ticket, which just shows the selective enforcement at hand. I run my own freelance editing/proofreading business, and the Sing Along is a lovely break from wrestling bibliographies into shape and trying to phrase queries that will be more helpful to the author than "this makes no sense." The SSA also connects me to the community and offers me the chance to stand up for my rights and the rights of everyone to freely speak and assemble.
Margit: I work for a law firm, make jewelry and do art fairs, have given up all weeding activity, and sing to dull the horror of the last two years with like-minded souls. No tickets for me yet, in spite of the flag (with stick!) taped on my sign. I am ready.
Mary: I run a non-profit that works directly in four of Madison's more challenged neighborhoods on the N, E ,W and SW sides. We work to get low-income females and minorities into well paying jobs in the construction industry through apprenticeships. I was the first woman in WI to complete a Steamfitter apprenticeship and worked at the trade for 16 years. I am a single mom with two teenagers at East High School.
Eileen: I try not to sing, hum mostly, and love to listen.
Sara: I'm a freelance writer, editor, and future law student invested in the sharing and narrating of our personal stories. And I seem to be immune from CapPo citations, as hard as I try.
Edward: I am an architect, community development advocate, citizen journalist and Chronic Capitol Protestor. I have a thing about building things up rather than tearing them down.
Nicole: I've been attending the SSA since the beginning. I'm a graphic artist by training, a videographer/photographer, citizen journalist, mother, daughter, sister, free speech advocate and community volunteer. I love to travel the world, cook fine food, watch foreign films, go to bluegrass festivals, and dance. Oh, and I love little pieces of driftwood and round stones, too. I once went foraging with Joseph and it was a blast. Can I call myself a forager?
Sally: I have been attending SSA for well over a year. I am a private sector worker - my job is to help U.S. and Canadian artists sell their work in an increasingly global economy. I am a professional musician - a singer. I am a single mom, parent of a 13 year old who attends public school. I am a woman, a politically and civically engaged citizen, a voter. Justice is the primary directive of my activism. "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Martin Luther King, Jr.
Rick: I don't want to divulge my current employer, but I worked for my previous employer (Eaton Corporation) for 10 years. My last gig with them was in Shipping. worked there till the last part of July.
Chris: I am a retired state employee. I worked as a computer programmer for 20 years. I have 5 grandchildren, ages 19, 18 17, 12 and 8. I attend Tai Chi classes.
Linda: Former social worker; political activist, student and artist.
Jason:Geologist and artist. A civic duty practitioner since March 28, 2011, Jason has 18 tickets for holding signs at the Capitol. He likes to make banners, chalk, grow food, travel, and is from Madison.
Barbara: I am an author, musician, performer, composer and founding member of Wisconsin Citizens Media Coop. I come to the capitol to sing at the singalong, and consider joining the solidarity singalong to be like joining in a game of pick up basketball that happens every noon hour at the same neighborhood court.
Jeri: I am a substitute teacher, mother of two grown sons who went through Madison public schools, and an aspiring children's book author. I have been handcuffed and ticketed for holding a t-shirt that advertised the Red Cross Blood Drive.
Susan: I'm a middle school science teacher and grandmother. I sing in the church choir and with the Ragin' Grannies. I am also a clogger. I never got a ticket but I was interviewed in the (Capitol) basement when a drunk tried to run me over while we were singing.
Anica: I am 33; an oncology nurse for the past 11 years. I've lived in Wisco my entire life. I like to play cribbage, cook with my CSA box and support the local music scene. I'm learning ASL and working on my ping-pong game. I have a 2.5 year old niece who is currently my favorite person.
Jonathan Attorney. Identified in early 2011 by the State Organic Review Board as a likely anarcho-singalongist.
Diane: I am an artist, a winter soldier, a Lithuanian-blooded freedom fighter, and I am always singing with the SSA (it's helped me to work on my harmonies). I was sickened, literally, the day the "man" with the concealed weapon was standing on the first floor balcony watching the sing along - to think that this was acceptable behavior when others were being handcuffed for holding tee shirts and signs - and singing.
Michael: I am a (non union) university librarian. And apparently a thug.
Callen:I'm not a regular, but get there when I can. For a day job I'm a manager at a billing company. In my real life I'm an actor, writer, photographer, activist, and a stamp collector.
Paula: I have not gotten a ticket. I'm a college instructor in political science and a part-time advocate for a non-profit that runs a community trust for people with disabilities.
Ryan :I am an unemployed activist that loves sports, insightful discussion, and all things Wisconsin (except for Scott Walker and his cronies.) I have loved to write and sing since I was a boy. I feed these urges by periodically blogging for the Daily Kos and by participating in the Solidarity Sing Along, which always brings a smile to my face by reminding me of the beauty and passion all around us in this world.