Singers hold dueling protests at Wisconsin Capitol

A group of singers whose members were arrested at the Wisconsin Capitol last week during a crackdown on protesters without permits moved outside Monday, while a largely Republican group supporting Gov. Scott Walker occupied the rotunda.

It was the fourth day of protests since the crackdown began, but unlike previous days no arrests were made. One man was led away in handcuffs, but Department of Administration spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis said he was not cited.

The loosely organized group of protesters known as the Solidarity Singers gathered at noon on the lawn, singing such lyrics as “Solidarity forever, for the union makes us strong” and “Have you been to jail for justice? I want to shake your hand.”

A federal judge ruled earlier this month that large groups must have a permit to gather in the building. Dozens of protesters were arrested last week as the crackdown began.

One of the Solidarity Singers, Jonathan Rosenblum, said members had been warned to stay out of the rotunda in respect for those gathering there.

That group was a counterprotest organized by conservative blogger David Blaska, who said he wanted to show how easy it was to get a free permit.

“Part of it is to let everyone have a chance to speak,” Blaska added. “I felt the Solidarity Singers had really commandeered this space.”

Several dozen people sang with Blaska. One of the songs sung to the tune of “Ate a Peanut” had lyrics that included: “It was easy to get a permit, Just now we got a permit, it was easy just now.”

Blaska’s group, which was watched by several dozen tourists and others, was smaller than the more than 100 Solidarity Singers gathered outside. Some of those singing with Blaska took part in protests in 2011, when people rallied at the Capitol for and against Gov. Scott Walker’s legislation eliminating most of public workers collective bargaining rights. Patti Shea, 49, of Fitchburg, said she came back Monday to show her support for the Republican governor.

Others, like David Glomp, 66, of Madison, were participating in their first Capitol protest. Glomp said he felt like the Solidarity Singers had taken over the Capitol over the past few years, and “it’s time to have a little different tune.”

“I don’t feel like my rights have been impinged on by having to get a permit,” he said.

Madison has a long history of public protests, from a famous civil rights march in 1969 to violent clashes with police during the Vietnam era. The protests in 2011 involved thousands of people. The sing-alongs are a remnant of those protests and have been a point of tension since they began; the songs reverberate off the Capitol’s marble walls, creating a din that echoes through the building.

Walker’s administration revised its Capitol access policy in December 2011 to require permits for any organized activity. Since then police have issued the singers dozens upon dozens of citations.

The protesters maintain the Wisconsin Constitution guarantees them the right to assemble and petition their government. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit, prompting U.S. District Judge William Conley to issue a preliminary injunction on July 9 stating groups of fewer than 20 people don’t need a permit. He didn’t rule on the constitutionality of the permit policy as a whole, however, setting a trial for Jan. 13.

David Dexheimer, 54, of Monroe, participated in the 2011 protests and was outside the Capitol on Monday with the Solidarity Singers, saying his return was a direct response to the crackdown.

“It’s a bad play on the part of the Department of Administration,” he said.