A view of the Solidarity Sing-Along assembling around the Wisconsin Capitol Christmas Tree on Wednesday, December 14.
The organizer and conductor of the Solidarity Sing-Along does not intend to apply for a permit to continue the group's noontime assemblies at the Wisconsin Capitol when new rules for access to state buildings kick in Friday, December 16. Instead, participants are going to test the new policy and the Capitol Police's willingness to enforce it by holding its gatherings usual outside the Capitol that Friday, and then inside the Rotunda on Monday, December 19.
Solidarity Sing-Along conductor R. Chris Reeder says normal attendance is between 50 to 150 singers, depending on the day. But he is hoping for a larger crowd on Friday and Monday. A Facebook listing for the event lists nearly 200 people as planning on attending, as of Wednesday afternoon.
"We are asking for increased attendance, for anyone to sign up to support free speech," Reeder says. "It'll be just another noontime protest but with new policies that may impede our protest, our constitutionally protected right to protest, our right to petition our government."
The new policy (PDF) requires permits for gatherings of 100 or more outside the Capitol, while permits are needed for gatherings inside of four or more people -- see a summary (PDF) for more requirements. Both need to be applied for 72 hours in advance of the event. The policy also holds event planners liable for the cost of police and damage to property.
It is unclear if the Department of Administration or the Capitol Police will enforce the permit requirement on Friday and Monday. Spokespersons from both agencies did not return phone calls for comment. Volunteers from the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin will attend the Monday sing-along inside the Capitol as legal observers, particularly to monitor any arrests, says Wisconsin ACLU spokesperson Stacy Harbaugh.
Harbaugh explains that ACLU lawyers are in communication with the DOA and Walker's office to change the rules to protect citizens' right to assemble.
"Traditionally ... the permit process outside the Capitol was for large events like concerts, if stages were used, or if plug-ins to Capitol electricity were necessary," she says. "To require a permit for 100 people is restrictive."
Solidarity Sing-Along participants say the policy is directed specifically at their singing, and Reeder contends that these new restrictions prove the group's tactics are working. "Our purpose is to be there to make sure Walker and the Republicans know that while there aren't thousands in the streets," he says, "the citizens of Wisconsin are still working for the Wisconsin we believe in."