A helium-filled balloon is brandished on the floor of the Rotunda.
Apparently we Irishmen are either unwitting or unrepentant lawbreakers, but due to the luck of the Irish we get away with it with no consequences.
For the past two years, the Solidarity Sing Along and other protesters of the Scott Walker regime in Wisconsin have been coming to the Capitol to exercise their rights of free speech, assembly, and petitioning their government. The Wisconsin Capitol Rotunda has historically been the town square for the state, where citizens can come with signs and voices to speak out for or against legislation or on any topic of interest. But the Walker administration has apparently deemed the group lower-level terrorists (as they always sing on the ground floor). They have issued hundreds of tickets and arrested dozens of citizens for standing up for their beliefs, clearly all in the interests of safety and guaranteeing everyone's rights.
Most of the cases have been dismissed by the courts, but the powers that be continue to amend the administrative rules so that citations and arrests may continue. They have arrested people for holding signs, singing, and more. Which brings us back to the miscreant Irishmen.
On St. Patrick's Day, I attended the annual Irish flag ceremony at the Capitol, an event I have been going to for several years and which as a proud man of Irish heritage I have always enjoyed. But this year, I noticed several hooligans engaging in behavior that many of those in the Solidarity Sing Along have been cited for in the past year. The difference was that none of my Irish brethren were arrested, cited, or even questioned for the same behaviors that have landed others in handcuffs. Perhaps, I thought, the Capitol Police chief is also Irish, but the name Erwin is typically either Scottish or German.
The shenanigans that unfolded on St. Patrick's Day were truly disturbing to watch. I was aghast to see a young girl, five or six at most and apparently already a hardened criminal, carrying a helium balloon right in the middle of the Rotunda, a place where helium balloons have been banned by administrative rule. I was shocked at the brazen way she marched in circles around the Rotunda, right under the noses of the Capitol Police, who seemed too shocked to do anything.
I later noticed a member of the Shamrock Club walking around asking for donations (even though solicitation is also against the rules) while carrying two helium balloons -- two! -- and then I saw at least two other juvenile delinquents carrying more of these balloons. Somebody was smuggling them into the building, and somehow none of them were arrested or even asked to remove the dangerous balloons.
A short time later I saw a man sitting on the steps up to the first floor, something that at least one of the protesters I know was told was not allowed and for which he was threatened with arrest. He was told it was dangerous to block those stairs. Yet this man sat there as if he owned those stairs. I presume none of the Capitol Police noticed him or they would have called a paddy wagon.
Many of the Solidarity Singers have been accused of and cited for blocking access because they form a circle around the outer ring of the Rotunda when they sing. They always move out of the way of others needing to get through, and typically there are not enough of them that they are in the way in the first place. Yet several hundred people on St. Patrick's Day filled all of the available space leading into the center of the Rotunda. I thought perhaps the Capitol Police felt overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of Irish revelers and perhaps were waiting for backup from the Department of Natural Resources and the State Patrol before moving in with riot gear. But then I noticed that several of them were hanging out on the first floor just chatting with some of the criminals, and I suddenly felt even luckier with my heritage. Clearly we were getting a pass, and selective enforcement of the rules was to our benefit on our special day.
When the Forward! Marching Band -- another group formed out of the Walker protests that started two years ago -- filed for a permit to perform in the Capitol Rotunda, they were warned about keeping the noise to a certain level. If they didn't do so, it was intimated that their percussion might face repercussion. So when I saw that Zor Shrine Pipe and Drums was on the schedule for the flag ceremony, I assumed they would be marching in and just showing off their instruments. Bagpipes really only have one volume, so clearly they wouldn't be able to play.
Then suddenly I heard a command, a drumbeat, and soon the entire building was reverberating with the sound of more than a dozen bagpipers and drummers making so much noise that I couldn't hear the people around me anymore. I got my camera ready to shoot pictures of the noise police rushing in to tackle these old men, but again nothing happened. Not only were they not ticketed, they mocked the rules by playing several tunes before turning around and haughtily marching out.
I felt badly for those in the Solidarity Sing Along. While they have been threatened, ticketed and harassed, and have had to take off work to fight their citations, here was a whole building full of people getting away with the same crimes right in front of several law enforcement officers. I thought it couldn't get worse. Until it did.
As a woman was beautifully singing the Irish national anthem, several men and women on the second floor started to unfurl the Irish flag from the railing above everyone. I've lost count of how many of the Walker protesters have been cited for dangerously holding signs over that rail, and here was a giant flag being unfurled from a large piece of wood or piping, right above the event's dignitaries. Certainly, I thought, the police would come rushing in to tear it out of their hands as I've seen them do with old women in the last couple months. After all, the safety of the dignitaries was at stake.
But nothing happened. I no longer felt safe in the building, so I decided to flee. The place was in chaos. There were still children running around with helium balloons, dozens upon dozens of people blocking access to and from the Rotunda, and a giant flag that could fall and kill important people at any moment. I managed to make my way through the crowd and out into the safety of daylight, no thanks to the Capitol Police, whose job is to protect visitors to the Capitol but who were clearly negligent in their duties on this day.
All I can say is, thank God I'm Irish.
Callen Harty is a resident of Monona. He publishes A Single Bluebird, and the original version of this article was published here. "Citizen" is an opinion series that presents the views of the author. f you would like to reply, please comment or consider submitting an op-ed in response.