Protest singers' numbers grow in wake of Capitol chief's comments

2012-08-29T05:30:00Z 2012-09-06T15:33:56Z Protest singers' numbers grow in wake of Capitol chief's commentsCLAY BARBOUR | Wisconsin State Journal | | 608-252-6129

The ranks of the noonday singalong at the state Capitol swelled Tuesday after remarks by the new Capitol police chief that a crackdown on such protests was coming.

Chief David Erwin said Monday he planned to begin strictly enforcing the Capitol's rules in an effort to restore normalcy and safety to a building that has become home to regular demonstrations.

The chief did not say exactly when the crackdown would begin, but the move seemed aimed at protesters such as the "Solidarity Singers," a group of people who gather four days a week in the rotunda to sing songs of opposition to Gov. Scott Walker.

In December, the Department of Administration instituted a rule requiring groups of four or more to get permits to protest at the Capitol.

On Tuesday there were more than 50 singers, similar to the number that turned out after the weeks of protests that drew tens of thousands of people to the Capitol last year, and more than double the size of more recent singalongs.

Former Chief Charles Tubbs took a lenient approach to the singers, allowing them to check daily with police before singing. Erwin said at some point he will require they get a permit.

But on Tuesday, the singers were defiant. The group quoted the state Constitution before beginning.

Jeremy Ryan, a Capitol protester well-known for traveling around the building on a Segway, was in attendance Tuesday. He said most of their actions have been protected by the First Amendment and he thinks the chief's words could come back to hurt him.

"If they try to break up the singalong you will see the numbers of protesters just keep getting bigger," he said.

Also on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mark Miller, D-Monona, sent Erwin a letter, chastising him for not telling legislative leaders and the chief justice of the Supreme Court about his plans for a stepped-up enforcement of the rules. He said that as a member of a "co-equal" branch of government, he expected any such changes would include "consultation prior to implementation."

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