When I went to work as the legislative director for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin in 2003, I was unprepared for...
By Jonathan Rosenblum
When citizen rescuer Carlos Arredondo of Boston visits the halls of Congress at the request of the President of the United States, it will actually be the second time since the Boston Marathon bombing that he will have stood solemnly near the epicenter of a state's capitol building.
On August 7, 2013, Arredondo was in Madison, Wisconsin, standing with protesters at the Wisconsin Capitol as they sang their objections to Governor Scott Walker's union-busting, budget-cutting ways.
However, because Walker essentially banned the regular gathering, called the "Solidarity Sing Along," Arredondo and his wife, Melida, were facing arrest by the State Capitol police because the group did not have a permit for their free speech activities.
Arredondo, who'd given a speech earlier in the day at a local Veterans for Peace conference, was not arrested. Still, he joined the protesters after the event to pose for a "Wanted" photo. His face was added to the series of images designed by attorney Jim Murray, meant to mock Walker's Capitol access crackdown.
Of course, Arredondo kept his famous white cowboy hat squarely on his head.
He told journalist Arthur Kohl-Riggs that he came to the Capitol to support the Solidarity Sing Along. "They have a right to speak out and come to their own house and say what they need to say," he said. "This is their constitutional right... It's important for citizens to participate and make a difference."
His wife Melida added that she was particularly outraged after police arrested a group called "The Raging Grannies," among all the rest. "I see no problem with taking a lunch break and doing some singing."
In all, Walker's new rules resulted in 186 arrests and over 400 citations worth over $100,000 in fines. Talk about paying a price for free speech.
Melida noted that both of Carlos's sons had died: one in Iraq, and another who committed suicide several years later. She told the Solidarity Sing Along they now "live our lives to make an example."
A few weeks after the Arredondo visit, the ACLU entered into negotiations with the State Department of Justice and came away with an agreement, in addition to $80,000 in legal fees, that stopped enforcement of Walker's speech-restricting dictate.
The sing along continues these days without interruption. Walker's Republican friends should be thanking their lucky stars for that, too: If the arrests hadn't stopped, Wisconsin's most dedicated activists would have spent Tuesday singing Pete Seeger songs, like "If I Had a Hammer," honoring the late progressive folk singer as Walker's Capitol enforcers hauled them away in handcuffs, one by one.
Now wouldn't that have been something to see?
Correction: This story was amended to clarify that Arredondo was invited to the State of the Union by Obama; he did not stand during the speech to be recognized by the President.
Jonathan Rosenblum is an attorney and writer. He occasionally plays second fiddle, and participates in the Solidarity Sing Along.
Photo: Andrea Bilger.