Free Speech Advocates Defiant in Madison, WI

The faceoff continues. Despite the crackdown yesterday, with the arrest of eight demonstrators in the Madison capitol for holding signs or T-shirts, free speech advocates continue to express their rights. They are challenging Scott Walker’s administrative rule limiting protest, and they are challenging the new capitol police chief’s policy of enforcing that rule.

One of the protesters arrested yesterday, Jason Huberty, returned to the capitol Thursday morning carrying a sign with the words of Article 1, Section 4, of the Wisconsin state constitution on it. Those words are: “The right of the people peaceably to assemble, to consult for the common good, and to petition the government, or any department thereof, shall never be abridged.”

He was also wearing a T-shirt that said “Freedom of Speech.”

The police arrested him, handcuffed him, and took him off to the county jail.

Other free speech defenders were in the capitol, wondering whether they would be arrested, too.

One was Steve Gotcher, who was also holding a sign containing the words of Article 1, Section 4. (Disclaimer: Gotcher, who is co-owner of Audio for the Arts, is a friend of mine, and I record my commentaries at his business.)

“I’m here because the capitol police are trying to enforce rules that are unconstitutional,” Gotcher said. “It’s important for me to put myself in their path and to let people know they need to come back to the People’s House or we’re going to lose it.”

Gotcher has never been arrested before.

Nor, before yesterday, had Jeri Troia, 57. She had made a couple of 4x6 index cards. One said: “Violence Is the Last Refuge of the Incompetent,” a quote from Isaac Asimov. And the other said: “Chief Erwin Thinks It’s the Fist Amendment.” She was referring to Madison capitol police chief David Erwin, who had advised legislative staffers that if one of the protesters was bothering them, they should punch the protesters in the nose.

“The police arrested me for holding a T-shirt that said ‘Muslims for Life,’ which I got from a group that was giving blood at the Red Cross booth,” says Troia, a substitute teacher. “I just kind of laughed. I’d promised my husband I wouldn’t get arrested.”

Wisconsin Democratic Representative Chris Taylor calls these arrests “absolutely crazy.” She adds: “It’s really too bad that the new chief is proceeding this way.”

More defenders of free speech are expected to come to the capitol later today and tomorrow.

Addendum: Steve Gotcher was arrested later this morning, as was Whitney Steffen. “I’m disappointed that they would actually do it,” said Gotcher, who was cited for “illegal display of a sign.” The officers handcuffed him tightly, as the indentation on his wrist was visible several hours later. “They said if I ever come back with a sign, I would be taken to the Dane County jail,” said Gotcher. But that might not deter him. “I don’t like getting arrested,” he said. “But I’ll do it again.”

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story “Paul Ryan Has It Wrong on Where Our Rights Come From."

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