I've been told to "stay out of trouble" all my life. As a school counselor for 20 years I gave the same advice to my students. But I am in trouble.
I was arrested at the Capitol on Tuesday, August 6. My crime is singing "This Land Is Your Land" with others without first getting permission from Gov. Scott Walker.
I can't claim I didn't know what might happen. I had witnessed singers exercising their First Amendment rights being arrested the day before. I myself backed down when two policemen threatened to arrest me if I kept watching from the second balcony.
That day, I continued to watch and was sickened when a pack of three armed policemen swooped in to handcuff an 80-year-old woman. I couldn't help but admire her courage as she continued to sing her freedom song while being arrested.
The police continued to circle the Rotunda like packs of wolves, intimidating singers and those watching. Occasionally they would dart in, handcuff and drag someone off. Of the approximately 150 participating that day they arrested 15 to 20.
I didn't sleep well that night. I remembered that, when I was commissioned as a naval flight officer, I had taken an oath to "support and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic." The U.S. Constitution clearly states that government shall pass no law "abridging the freedom of speech, or the press, or the right of the people to peacefully assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
Soldiers risk their lives every day to protect our freedoms, yet I had done nothing at the Capitol to help those people who lost their freedom while exercising their rights. All of us who consider ourselves patriots should be ashamed when we allow tyranny in our own state after the sacrifice our soldiers have made.
I felt duty-bound to return to Madison the following day to honor my oath and take a stand. I was arrested after seven minutes of free speech while singing with other protesters. I will be arraigned later this month. I can only hope that the Constitution will trump any administrative code that Gov. Walker can dream up.
I can cover my legal fees. Others cannot. Please help them out if you can by contributing to the Solidarity Sing Along Legal Defense Fund or First Amendment Protection Fund. Lawyers across the state are also stepping up to offer pro bono or reduced-rate services to the hundreds who have been arrested. If you are blessed with those skills, please join the team.
Or, preferably, just show up at noon in the Capitol Rotunda to lend support or to participate in your democracy.
Rick Potter is former school counselor and Navy officer from Nekoosa, Wisconsin. "Citizen" is an opinion series that presents the views of the author. If you would like to reply, please comment or consider submitting an op-ed in response.