If new rules regulating protests at the Wisconsin Capitol are designed to crackdown on demonstrations ahead of a likely recall campaign against Gov. Scott Walker, they had the exact opposite effect on Monday.
The new rules require permits be obtained whenever groups of four or more gather at the Capitol (with the exception of families or lobbyists). These groups can also be held liable for any costs, such as police security.
But more than 500 people gathered for the daily noontime gathering of the Solidarity Sing-Along in the Rotunda at noon, in defiance of the new rules. As promised by the state Department of Administration, police officers made no attempts to break up the event.
While normally just a few dozen people show up for the sing-along, some 300 showed up for an outdoor gathering last Friday, and at least 500 appeared to be in attendance Monday. It was the 240th day of the Sing-Along, and the first the new rules were set to be enforced.
Participants sang protest carols to the tune of traditional holiday songs: "Walker the Heartless Governor" ("Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer"), "Holly, Jolly Recall" ("Holly, Jolly Christmas") and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Recall," ("Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas").
Karen Tuerk, who works at the UW-Madison and has been an off and on regular with the group, said the event "is a family reunion," noting that she's seen lots of old familiar faces from the massive protests last winter, as well over many months of sing-alongs.
Tuerk didn't expect any arrests Monday, but noted that "if our numbers got small enough, maybe."
Earlier in the morning, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin and several Democratic lawmakers held a press conference condemning the new rules and asking the Department of Administration to delay enforcement of them until they can be rewritten.
Attorney William B. Turner said at the conference, "This new policy is just stupid and potentially unconstitutional."
Together with the state's new voter ID bill, Turner said "Scott Walker is trying to wall himself off from the people of Wisconsin. Well, sorry it doesn't work like that.... We get to talk to you."
He said the protests earlier this year brought out many thousands of people who "didn't even fight over the free pizza. What's the problem here?"
Sam Gehler, vice president of The Young Progressives, said the new rules unfairly target groups of younger activists, which don't have the financial resources to pay for permits and police protection. He also pointed out that groups of four lobbyists are still allowed to gather in the Capitol, while ordinary citizens cannot.
During the sing-along, Rep. Brett Hulsey said he didn't expect any arrests to be made for the gathering. It is another case of Gov. Walker miscalculating and trying to grab more power, he said.
"He's just power hungry," Hulsey says. "It flows from a fundamental insecurity. He's just a bad governor. I continue to shake my head at the things he does."