Calling the Capitol Police
Chief Charles Tubbs
2 East Main # B2
Madison, WI 53072-0001
I am writing in reference to recent disturbing events in our Capitol building.
As you are aware, throughout the winter months and now stretching into spring, many citizens of Wisconsin and other states have come to the Capitol to have their voices heard regarding legislation which was being debated. Overall the citizens, legally, were well-behaved but the sheer numbers and volume resulted in a significant disturbance to the Capitol’s operation.
This has continued with the Solidarity Singers who, for the past two months and running, have commandeered the Rotunda at precisely 12:00 noon each weekday and proceeded to express their displeasure at the top of their lungs. For 60 minutes, the lawmakers and staff are disrupted from their daily business and visitors to the building stop dead in their tracks in an attempt to decipher the noise and lyrics that reverberate throughout the building.
The most egregious disturbance occurred this past Tuesday, May 31st. As you know, the American Red Cross was scheduled to hold its annual Blood Drive at the State Capitol, between the hours of 9am-3pm. Dedicated volunteers and medical professionals arrived as scheduled, and began to set up the blood drive. Loyal donors and Capitol staff lined up, waiting to donate blood and potentially save a life. However, they soon found it impossible to complete the task.
In fact, this past Tuesday, the decibel level became so unbearable that the Red Cross professionals were forced to close the blood drive and turn away donors. They resorted to rescheduling for Thursday, June 2nd. It is a travesty to think that selfless individuals, willing to donate their own blood to help another in need, would even be put in that predicament. The issue I raise is not, of course, the ability of the Protest group to express its displeasure. There is no question that they certainly are within their constitutional right to do so. I fully support free speech and citizen engagement in the political process. However, I have an enormous problem when the rights of one group infringe on the rights of all others, or completely deprive the opportunity to utilize our State Capitol.
I have read the First Amendment many times. Interestingly enough, nowhere in the Amendment does it include the word “volume.” There is no justifiable reason that one group should be able to shout down the rights of another – or “sing down”, as the case may be.
Yesterday, I was hoping to speak with you directly and gather more details about what transpired on Tuesday. My staff phoned your office, and requested a return call to discuss this matter. Although I did not receive a response, we did garner some interesting information.
As you know, for many years, the policy regarding use of the Capitol grounds has been quite simple. Each and every group - be it civic, educational, or yes, political in nature – has been required to fill out a permit application. This application is kept on file, to ensure that all activities are on the calendar and both staff and security are aware. Furthermore, the permits prevent scheduling conflicts and possible friction between groups.
I was greatly disturbed to learn that the Solidarity Singers have no such permit. Capitol Police staff confirmed that the group has neither requested nor completed such a form. According to your office, the group has “spoken with you” and both sides have a “verbal understanding.” This is troublesome at best, and downright appalling at worst.
I am further outraged to learn that the American Red Cross did, in fact, complete the permit application process. As in every year past, the group completed the form and followed the policy guidelines flawlessly. The reward for their prudence? To be totally disrupted, and ultimately, forced to abandon their nonprofit event.
Sadly, the American Red Cross is not the only group which has been trampled upon by the Solidarity Singers. In the spring, typically thousands of schoolchildren come from all across the state to visit their State Capitol. They travel on buses, sometimes from several hours away, to tour with fellow students and teachers and learn about our state government.
Unfortunately, over 50 of those groups had to cancel their trips this year, during the height of the protest. Just last week, I had a group visit from my district. I witnessed the children holding their hands over their ears, asking their parents and chaperones, “What is that noise?” and “Can you make that stop?” Meanwhile, the protestors attempted to hand them the ‘Union Hymnal’ and encourage them to pantomime for the TV cameras that happened to be in the vicinity. It was extremely disheartening to see the youthful innocence of children exploited.
The reason for the permit policy is for both the Capitol and security staffs to work in concert with one another and ensure the safety of everyone in the building. As we have seen in the past, failure to require groups or organizations to submit a permit for use of the building, contributed to the state spending an additional $7 million for increased security and repairs to the Capitol.
Again, the Singer group is within their right to be present within their building. They are within their right to make their opinion known through whatever channels they choose – be it speech, whispers, or yes, song. But, they must be held to the same standard as every other group. The fact that you have allowed them to dictate the policy is profoundly sad. I request that you immediately rectify this situation, and require the same process of any organization or group, including the Solidarity Singers, both now and in the future.
This is what consistent policy looks like.
State Representative Paul Farrow
98th Assembly District