Several more people were arrested Thursday night in the Wisconsin State Assembly gallery as they challenged the prohibition against silently holding signs.
"Tonight alone people have been arrested for holding pictures of an apple pie, Ronald Reagan, Jesus, the American flag, Mother Theresa, and a 12 year old little girl had her notebook taken away with flower doodles,” said Democratic state assembly member Mark Pocan, who has rallied his party against the free speech restrictions.
Here is the account of what happened to that 12-year-old girl, from her father, Joe Vittie, who posted the following on Facebook.
Parents please take note: Do NOT allow your child to fall into the horrific habits that I am about to recount.
Wait! Why was a 12 year old at the Wisconsin Assembly on a school night? Politicians, lobbyists, radicals. That might not be the best environment for a developing child.
She was there because she had a quiz on Monday. The subject - Civics. (Yes, they still have civics classes in parts of Wisconsin – for now.)
And pray tell, what is the topic for said quiz? The Amendments to the United States Constitution – with emphasis on the Bill of Rights.
And with the recent mass arrests by Capitol Police, State Patrol, and even Conservation Wardens, cracking down on people holding signs, and videotaping in the Assembly gallery, this young woman thought it would be a great place to do her homework, and see her government in action.
What! This juvenile wanted to do her homework! And she wanted to go to the Capitol to do it?! Shouldn’t she be outside, doing drugs, or some other suitable 'tween behavior?
So as the Assembly debated bills having nothing to do with jobs, in this “special” jobs session, she opened her 8.5”x11” green Civics notebook to the page in which she had listed each of the Bill of Rights. And under each amendment she had enumerated the specific freedoms granted by that law.
And here’s where her behavior became worthy of arrest. When she opened her spiral notebook, she folded it in half, front to back. And as she reviewed her notes, the other side of the notebook was visible to anyone in the opposite empty gallery, and potentially to a member of the Assembly, if they felt it a part of their sworn Constitutional duty, to review a seventh grader’s homework with her.
And they would need to borrow UW’s Washburn Observatory telescope to read the dangerous doodle – yes DOODLE - in this straight “A” student’s notebook:
“FREEDOM OF SPEECH: FIRST AMENDMENT”.
Fairly radical stuff, isn’t it? Maybe the Commies are making a comeback; after all, this did take place in Madison.
Now there were quite a few curlicues on the letters - and it was in ALL CAPS, so from an artistic standpoint, I can see why the Sergeant-at-arms staffer felt compelled to get this potential domestic terrorist under control, before she started drawing hearts, rainbows and kitty cats all over the place.
So the staffer, recently hardened in the continuing battles to remove former Viet Nam vets who dared to wear their United States Marine Corps hats, and hold 4x6 American flags in his gallery, decided to tell this budding Constitutional scholar to STOP DOING HER HOMEWORK.
The poor boy - he didn’t understand. The Marine who he had asked to remove his USMC hat, had “only” guarded the US embassy in Saigon in 1969. This 12 year old gets pissed off if she loses one point in a class - during the entire year.
And he’s telling her to put her homework down! Well Katherine declined, and continued to study. Unfortunately, her father did not see this battle, that was soon to be recounted to him by his daughter’s neighbors, as he had taken Katherine’s sister, Emma, down to the end of the aisle, in order to get a better view of the amazing Assembly mural, “Wisconsin”.
But when he returned to his seat next to his eldest, he immediately noticed the Civics notebook in her lap, unread. And he sensed what any parent can, in a split second. Something was wrong. His daughter was shaking and she had tears building in her eyes.
Fortunately, the father’s dear friend, Jason, was seated on the other side of Katherine, and he calmly explained what had happened in the father’s two minute absence.
The male Assembly staffer, apparently upset that this 12 year-old girl wanted to get an “A” on her Civics quiz, decided that his hands should literally be the guiding influence on this girl’s homework.
He did not talk to the father.
He did not continue the conversation with the girl, to attempt to reach an understanding.
He did not enlist the aid of another staff member, or supervisor.
What did he do? He placed his hand on the girl’s notebook – and guided it firmly into her lap, pressing it there.
If you are a parent, grandparent, teacher - human being – you get it. This young male staffer acted in an entirely inappropriate manner.
Upon hearing this, the father demanded to speak to the young staffer outside the gallery. The staffer refused and the State Patrol called for backup as a Capitol Police Officer positioned himself next to girl’s dad. The father immediately demanded that the Assembly Sergeant-at-Arms be called over to discuss the situation.
I will leave the conversation with the Sergeant-at-Arms, Ms. Tonnon Byers for the video, which was heroically shot by my friend Nicole. I say heroically, because I am quite certain that Capitol law enforcement was preparing to take me down, arrest me, and cite me for some bogus infraction of the law. But Nicole, on her own, inserted herself in to the situation, and documented it.
Katherine was scared, both for herself, and her father. But almost lost in the shuffle, her younger sister Emma, 10 years old, was beyond herself with fright. When her father had left the gallery to talk to the Assembly Sergeant-at-Arms, the Capitol Police following, she, and Katherine, were certain that he was being taken away, to be arrested.
But this ten year old, who was wearing a home drawn US flag on a necklace, defiantly held the Stars and Stripes high in the air – as a protest – a display of her convictions. But her father, shaken himself, and afraid of police retaliation, asked her to put it down.
For asking her to lower her flag – he is ashamed.
Fortunately, these two young women are resilient. And they began to understand that Civics is not a subject, it’s a principle, and it’s how we live our lives in a Constitutional democracy. And all around them in the gallery, people of courage and convictions, acted upon what they believed to be their heartfelt civic duty. These patriots quietly held up signs, affirming their First Amendment rights.
And they were arrested for holding these 8.5”x11” signs – pictures of: Jesus, Mother Teresa, Ronald Reagan, an apple pie, a parchment copy of the US Constitution - and a 4”x6” American flag.
These girls saw these men and women, ranging in ages from twenty-three to their late fifties, get arrested and removed from the gallery. They saw these people PEACEFULLY assert their rights.
And they heard Democrat Assembly members rail against these arrests, and the denial of a twelve year old girl to have a “doodle” from her homework visible in the gallery.
They had the immense honor of their Assembly Rep, Andy Jorgensen, asking them to stand in the Visitors’ gallery, and receive an ovation from the Assembly members, for standing up for their rights.
And these two amazing daughters received an enormous amount of hugs from their father, who was as proud of them as any father could be.
And on the way out, another Sergeant-at-Arms staffer railed against their father for bringing Emma’s salad, in a container, into the gallery. He couldn’t believe it.
There is no prohibition against food in the gallery, he pointed out, there is a prohibition against eating in the gallery, which his daughter had not done.
And the assault on our rights – and our dignity – continue.
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story "Why I Got Arrested in Madison."
Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter