Sunday, September 8, 2013

Following the Rules

I am in the process of washing and putting away my favorite jeans and capris - they're white, and it's now officially after Labor Day, so even though I love them and they go with virtually everything else I own, it's time to put them away till Memorial Day.  It's a RULE!

I have always been one to follow the rules.  Well, sometimes my heavy foot on the gas pedal gets the best of me, but much less so since the car I now drive gives me a continuous reading on the mileage I am getting from each gallon of gas.  I LOVE playing that game - and find the best results on the highway come in at around 67 mph.  In the city, it works best when I just coast, so I have become a much better driver and am usually within the rules even on this.

Teachers loved me, because I took so eagerly to classroom rules and regs and loved the rules of spelling and grammar, even diagramming sentences - it was so very orderly!   I don't remember having many rules at home, but I didn't really need them - I was born to please those in authority, and keeping Mom happy seemed a good thing to do for so many reasons.

And another thing about me - I have never taken much interest in politics or the goings-on of government officials.  I took a political science course in college, but virtually everything I heard in the lectures, or read in the assigned homework was new to me - almost like learning a foreign language.  "Liberal," "conservative," "progressive," "habeas corpus," "gerrymandering," "fascism," "corporate power"  --- just terms I memorized so I could do well on the exam.  Into my memory bank just for the semester and then forgotten.

My college years were spent on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in the volatile 1960's - a venue known as a hotbed of socialism, followed by intense protests during the buildup to war in Viet Nam.   Some from my home town worried that I might fall into the clutches of the "commies" but I only worried about guys I knew who might be going off to fight in a foreign land, located way off somewhere on the other side of the world.   I focused mostly on my grades, with side thoughts of finding just the right man to marry.  That was how things were supposed to go, right?

So, how did I end up - some 50 years later - handcuffed and getting my mug shot taken in the presence of two not-so-friendly cops, cited for "unlawful assembly" in the state Capitol building?  And not once, but twice in just over a month!

Sometimes a person has to break the rules, take a stand, and put themselves on the line.  It took me many years to get to this point, but once there I see no turning back.  Things have gone terribly awry in my beloved home state and I have to do my small part to call attention to the problems I see.

I find it fascinating to watch as the powers-that-be keep changing the rules, without informing those of us involved just what is and is not allowed.  It reminds me of playing games with my grandkids when they are at that early age of four or five and - to them, at least - games are all about winning.  "No, Grandma, I forgot to tell you - when you use up all your cards, you can get more from the bottom of the pile."  "I don't have to pay for that property because I have landed on it twice now."  "You can't send me back, because I have only one man left."   Whatever it is, the rules are stacked against Grandma, who is, of course, always the gracious loser, trying in vain to teach lessons about the perils of cheating and that it's not about winning, but all about how you play the game. Ha!  So much for that one, Grandma!

Since March, 2011, every single weekday over the noon hour, a loosely connected group of people have been gathering in the rotunda of the state Capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin, singing songs of protest, songs for peace and justice, with lyrics cleverly rewritten from those songs we loved back in the days of anti-war or pro-civil rights days.

Our governor, Scott Walker, along with his Department of Administration and the Capitol police force tolerated our presence for a little over two years, with an occasional threat to have us removed and an occasional arrest for "disorderly conduct," or "obstruction" maybe.  Then things started getting really weird.  It became an arrestable offense to write on the sidewalks outside the building with sidewalk chalk.   Holding a sign or banner might get you arrested.  Could we really be facing possible citations just for singing?  How about curious visitors who stopped by to watch and listen - certainly THEY weren't subject to arrest?  (Oh, yes, on some days they were!  Along with working media folks. veterans, firefighters, teens, seniors in their 80's, a member of the City Council, a retired school board member, and even some of our beloved "Raging Grannies!")

 Individual singers and small groups of singers tried to meet with those in authority to find out what was outlawed;  a local state legislator met in good faith on our behalf with representatives of the "other side."  They walked out of the meeting when pressed to define the rules so we could continue to sing and not risk arrest.  Representatives with ACLU training started being present as observers.

The first day of the most recent crackdown on singing came on July 24, 2013, and it continues on an almost daily basis.  Shortly after noon the Capitol Police declare that the magic number of 20 participants has been reached and an "unlawful assembly" exists.  Anyone who does not "disperse" is subject to arrest.  In their minds, the most recent revision of the rules - "emergency" rules, as they are called - requires a permit for any group wishing to use the building. (Original cut-off number was a group of four; after a federal judge issued a temporary injunction on this matter, the number jumped to 20).   Without that permit, they claim to have the right to declare an event "unlawful" and start making arrests.  For many, many reasons, the singers say no permit is needed and the fight is on!  {More on why we sing, and why the idea of a permit is such a sticking point - here}

I was arrested on that first day, and again on August 28, when we remembered the March on Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, which took place 50 years ago. How ironic that I found myself being cuffed and processed once again.

But I have a dream too, and it has a lot to do with compassion, fairness, and justice for all.  What is happening here in Wisconsin is frightening.  For the sake of my grandchildren, I have to break some of the rules so that their future is a more hopeful one, so the country they live in doesn't lose its way completely.  I don't like telling them how we are being treated by the police - who should be there to maintain peace and safety, not coldly singling out individual singers (or observers!) for arrest.  I don't like the fear I now feel whenever I see an officer in uniform.  I don't like the thought of court appearances and possible fines or legal costs.  But I love the people I have met at the daily Sing-Along, and I love the joyful act of singing.  It's been good for my soul.

When you believe in something so strongly, and when you see wrongs being done, sometimes a person has no choice but to stand firm and keep singing!