Attendance has grown at the Solidarity Sing Along due to the recent Capitol Police crackdown on protesters. But the crowds are still small compared to those that swelled downtown in spring 2011 after Gov. Scott Walker announced plans to eliminate collective bargaining for most public workers. That might be about to change.
Marty Beil, who leads the largest public employee union in Wisconsin, has issued a call to union members to attend the noontime sing-alongs, which are held weekdays at the Capitol.
"Over the last three weeks the Capitol Police have arrested over 200 singers... but the noon-hour protest continues," Beil wrote on his Facebook page. "These brave women and men sing songs of solidarity and collective action. Songs of unions and protest. They have become part of our history. They have assembled every day since March of 2011. It's time for union members and leaders, public and private sector, to join in and vocally and visibly speak out. It's time for union shirts and union songs."
Beil, executive director of AFSCME 24, wrote the post after returning from the Thursday sing-along in the Capitol Rotunda, where Matt Rothschild, editor of The Progressive magazine, Madison Ald. Mark Clear, a 14-year-old girl and three members of the Raging Grannies were arrested. Beil noted how the sing-along has endured even as the Republican-controlled Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker has office has been able to systematically dominate policy-making.
"This daily reminder to Walker is the only thing he and his right-wing cronies have not been able to crush," Beil wrote.
More than 100,000 people gathered at the state Capitol at the height of the 2011 protests. While some were there to protest proposed cuts to Medicaid and other GOP policies, the focus was on union rights, and union members dominated the crowd.
But those crowds dwindled after the Legislature passed Act 10, which dealt a severe blow to the power of public unions.
Beil, who could not be reached for comment, wrote that it was time for labor to return to the Capitol.
"This is our fight and our time. We need you standing shoulder to shoulder with other Wisconsin citizens to call out the inequities, corruption and incompetence of the Walker administration. Yours in the union!"
Walker spokesman Tom Evenson did not return a phone call for comment.
Hundreds of protesters have received $200 tickets since July 24 for participating in the sing-along without a permit. Before that, more than 200 citations had been issued to protesters since July 2012.
In early August Capitol police officers were also warning observers, including Rep. Sondy Pope (D-Middleton), that they, too, were subject to arrest. But the Department of Administration later backed off, saying that "observers will not receive citations."