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The singing begins promptly at noon, and it  is loud, exuberant and tuneful. There are easily 200 or more people here, down on the rotunda floor,  and also lining the first floor balcony. The Raging Grannies are dressed in their homespun crazy quilt patterns, goofy hats, gingham and lace, and doing a funky Can-can to Power In A Union. The singing is so loud that we almost can't hear the LRAD's high-frequency cackle blasting Chief David Erwin's disembodied voice throughout the building, telling us in no uncertain terms that we are an unlawful assembly and subject to arrest. This is such a weird sight: two officers holding what looks like a cartoon megaphone straight out of the prop shop of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, while their chief's voice screeches like punishment from our dystopic future. A man stands to their side with a big sign that mocks them. The voice of compliance continues… unlawful, unlawful, subject to arrest… unlawful, unlawful, subject to arrest...

In response, someone shouts out "Article 1, Section 4!" and the crowd kicks into a unison chanting of Wisconsin's  State Constitution. "The right of the people peaceably to assemble, to consult for the common good, and to petition the government, or any department thereof, shall never be abridged." It is a strange hybrid form of practiced spontaneity: everyone knows what to say, what to do, but the command to do it just seems to float into the atmosphere like a bubble, hover over the crowd, then pop in fantastically coordinated group utterance. It is uncanny.

No wonder the hierarchivists, Oedipal mandators and pain-compliance deliverers of our New Republican State of Mind cannot figure out who to punish effectively and satisfactorily. Nothing seems to be working: not technologicaly enhanced surveillance, home delivery of tickets for actions long past, arbitrary round ups, humiliation at one's work place, bullying, physical intimidation, and plain old exhausting repetition. Nothing seems to be working, and the police seem to be perplexed, at least today.

The song changes - We Shall Not Be Moved. The Grannies sway like a hammock in the wind, while the letter holders, inspired by Overpass Light Brigade messages, spell out UNINTIMIDATED, one letter at a time, each placard within the new regulation sizes. The other day, the cops kept trying to confiscate the U and the N, engaging in their own textual intervention, perhaps. But replacements were immediately procured from the crowd of singers, and the message stood altered but intact. Today the message stands. Time passes… there are no arrests yet, when some woman is grabbed up on the first floor balcony, handcuffed, walked off. I quickly go up the marble stairs to see what is going on. No one quite knows why she was singled out. Is arbitrariness part of the policy? If there are 250 people there, and only a few arrests, is the utter arbitrariness a crude way to create submissive subjects? Is there a policy book somewhere, a psy-ops manual available where LRAD kits are sold, that explains the efficacy of this tactic? is there any sense to any of this?

There is an odd, expectant feel in the air. The singing grows louder with each song. Clapping. Stomping. Cameras aim and snap, photographs are uploaded, posted, hoping to break through the total silence in the area, in the state, in the country. This is happening now. This is happening here. Inside our State Capitol. Do we care?

A protestor walks by the top rail with a sign that says, "The Police Are Behind You." I turn and look. One lurks, speaks into his electronic shoulder. A Vet for Peace walks around the outside circumference looking like a radical monk, holding a sign that reads "Political Prisoner # 53." He's already been arrested with charges pending, so he stays out of the center of the fray. A real radical monk is in the center, in a cassock, holding a cross, singing - as he says - for Jesus. A young man on a Segway floats by, ethereal, taller than life. A woman I know is asked by the cops to meet them downstairs "for a conversation." She won't go without her lawyer. The cops seem a bit unhinged, as if they don't know what to do with the Sing Along growing by the day, with firefighters and school teachers joining in, with new faces among the old faces, all singing, all clapping, all being arrested when their turn on the "duck, duck, goose"  game show comes up. It is not working, and they know they are looking more and more ridiculous by the day. Yet how could they concede their position, especially after their very own Chief Erwin was just granted an $11,000 raise by Governor Walker in a very shady and indirect transaction. The message is clear: you will be punished for dissent and rewarded for compliance.
We are joined by singer songwriter Ann Feeney. She seems thrilled when everyone sings her very own song "Have You Been To Jail For Justice" at the end of the session. She is presented with a Solidarity Sing Along T-shirt, and immediately puts it on. That is what to do if given a T-Shirt. Immediately put it on. It was exactly right.

Still no more arrests. The event slowly breaks up. Meanwhile, there is scurrying around the exits. Cops come and go, we grab our cameras and head outside. Two activists were arrested for speaking through a battery-powered megaphone near the sidewalk. This isn't against any laws or rules that I know of. One of the men was cited for erasing the "UN" from the "unlawful" written in dry-erase marker on the sandwich board posted by the police at noon, right before the LRAD announcement. The police say they didn't want to ticket him until after the singing, due to the "hostile environment" in the capitol.

Hostile Environment! That is truly funny! Perhaps the LRAD doesn't go loud enough, or the zip ties don't tighten tight enough. Perhaps the singing of "have you been to jail for justice" seemed an affront to their power, a throwing of water on the Wicked Witch, complete with a curling of the black socks and black shoes and black gloves and black hats and black shirts and shiny badges and black LRAD box perched like a flying monkey on the upper balustrades. Perhaps the joyous and exuberant and peaceable atmosphere of a (re)growing movement made them feel a little, well, INTIMIDATED?

Sing on. It is the breath of a movement, except louder.

Originally posted to noise of rain on Thu Aug 22, 2013 at 04:51 PM PDT.

Also republished by The First and The Fourth, In Support of Labor and Unions, and Badger State Progressive.

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