Police and singers clash for a third day in a row

2013-07-27T05:30:00Z Police and singers clash for a third day in a rowMATTHEW DeFOUR | Wisconsin State Journal | mdefour@madison.com | 608-252-6144 madison.com

Neither side in a Capitol showdown between protest singers and police backed down Friday as a third day of arrests unfolded.

And another clash is looming Monday when the singers vow to return to the rotunda for more anti-Gov. Scott Walker songs while a pro-Walker group says it will lawfully occupy the space with a permit to sing patriotic tunes.

“They have commandeered this space, and the fact is, to get my song in edgewise, I’ve got to get a permit,” said David Blaska, a conservative columnist and former county supervisor who is organizing the group he calls the “We’ve Got a Permit” singers.

At issue is whether the Solidarity Singalong needs a permit to protest in the Capitol rotunda when more than 20 members are present.

On Friday, a permit for the space was taken out for 12-12:45 p.m. to be used for a wedding. The couple instead held the ceremony outside as singers and spectators gathered in the rotunda, according to Department of Administration spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis.

Singers say they’re entitled to protest in song without a permit under the First Amendment and state Constitution.

A state policy requires groups to get a permit to demonstrate in the Capitol or use space for other purposes, such as weddings.

The state originally required the permit for groups of four or more. But a federal judge this month issued a preliminary injunction, saying groups of 20 or fewer don’t need one. Judge William Conley let stand other elements of the permitting policy.

On Friday, police arrested 17 people and gave them $200.50 no-permit citations, Marquis said. Another 14 people were captured on video and will receive no-permit citations in the mail, she said.

About 50 citations were issued Wednesday and Thursday.

Friday also marked the first time during the recent dust-up that police began ticketing people gathered along the first-floor balcony above the rotunda floor.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s office sent a note to legislative offices warning staff not to congregate along the balcony during the protests.

“If you are in the vicinity of the illegal demonstrations that have been taking place over the noon hour in the rotunda, you will be considered part of the protests and are subject to being ticketed,” the message said.

Joe Meiller, a Madison Metro bus driver who brought his two sons to watch the singalong Friday from the balcony, was upset that he was asked to leave by Capitol police.

“We didn’t sing or clap once,” Meiller said. “If I observe a bank robbery nearby, am I a participant because I was nearby?”

Before issuing citations, Capitol Police set up a sandwich board alerting visitors that there was a scheduled wedding at noon and asking them to respect the permit held by a member of the wedding party.

Some singers went outside, but about 200 people — a mix of singers, reporters and observers — crowded the rotunda and balcony.

Marquis said in an emailed statement later Friday that the wedding was held outside the Capitol. She said it was to be held in the rotunda in the event of inclement weather but that the wedding party “made a decision to get married outside in the rain.” It’s unclear exactly when the wedding took place and under what conditions.

The noontime singalong has been taking place almost daily for more than two years and typically is held outside on Fridays during warm weather. Friday’s skies were gray with occasional rain.

Marquis said Capitol Police have already stated they would approve a permit if the singers applied for one.

“The permit is free and the group could continue to say and sing the same things they are today,” she said in a statement.

Protesters vowed to return Monday. That’s when Blaska will lead his group in singing “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America.”

He did something similar in 2011, and the singers went outside.

Copyright 2015 madison.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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