March 7, 2012 was a special day. The ferrous mining bill AB426 was sent back to committee by Scott Fitzgerald, and I wanted to celebrate by coming to the Solidarity Sing Along. I picked up my banners and went to the Capitol rotunda at noon as I have hundreds of times over the last year.
A little background first. I am the creator of the world’s largest RECALL WALKER banner – each word is 30 feet long by 8 feet high on paper panels – which has been on display on and off since November 15, 2011. Also, I have been arrested fourteen times and issued ten tickets for quietly holding signs in the Legislative galleries and committee meeting rooms. I am a known quantity by the police and the politicians. I am proud of my civic activism and artistic creations. I am also deeply inspired by the many fellow Wisconsinites who attend the Solidarity Sing Along and who exercise their civic duty by filming from the galleries or displaying signs in defiance of unwritten and unconstitutional rules.
As I approached the first floor balcony on the Capitol rotunda, I passed by several Capitol Police Officers including Bob Sloey and Jeff Calhoun. Sloey is a newcomer who is still learning his way. Calhoun is a veteran of the Spring 2011 protests and had arrested me once before for holding a sign in the Assembly gallery. I had some choice words to share with Calhoun today.
Last month, Calhoun harassed and intimidated a friend of mine. She was in the Capitol when the Assembly ended their business after hours, and Calhoun asked her to leave. Rather than letting her leave on her own, he directed her out an unfamiliar exit putting her at risk being alone in the dark at night. When she turned her camera on and asked to go out a different exit, Calhoun responded by mocking her and making her uncomfortable to the point where she ended up running away from him screaming, “HELP!” I saw her video and was shocked the police would harass a citizen to the point where they were running away from the police screaming for help. It left an indelible mark on me, one that I hoped to return to Calhoun today.
After I shared my thoughts with Calhoun in typical Louise fashion, I proceeded to unfurl my banners. I have a 10 foot long banner that has the words to the song, “Solidarity Forever” on it. I wrote it by hand, and it took me over a month. This is the theme song of the Solidarity Sing Along. When I set the rolled-up banner on the edge of the rotunda balcony, I turned my attention elsewhere for a second, and the banner slipped and fell eighteen feet to the ground level.
Yes, my banner fell. It was an accident of course. I called out down below. I saw the falling banner graze a couple people. There was no blood. There were hundreds of people in the Capitol though for a public event related to the University of Madison. Despite the hazard a falling banner represents, I managed not to kill or maim anyone. But faster than a violation of the Open Meetings Law, there was Officer Jeff Calhoun next to me, saying “You’re under arrest.”
I’ve learned not to freak out when I’m arrested by the police. I remained calm and went with Calhoun and Sloey to the ground floor. Calhoun was upset and kept telling me I could have killed a child. Confused, I insisted it was an accident. He said it wasn’t. I imagine he frets about me dropping banners constantly. Yet in 300 or more attempts, I have dropped a banner only twice. Upon arriving on the ground level, I apologized to the group of people where my banner landed. No one was hurt, and no one wanted to press charges. Fortunately, a fellow protester scooped up my banner and made it disappear. The police were looking to seize it but it was nowhere to be found.
After seeing there were no complaining witnesses, the police took me to the basement. I asked what I was under arrest for but they wouldn’t tell me. “We’ll tell you when we get downstairs”, they said. When we got to the Capitol basement and they took me to the cafeteria, I repeated my question. They replied, “We’ll tell you when we get back.” With that, Calhoun left with my state driver’s license while I waited with Sloey. On the way downstairs, I tried to pass off my other banners to a friend, but the police kept them in custody lest she hurt more civilians with our civil discord (for you, Joel Kleefisch).
Five minutes passed, and Calhoun returned with three other Capitol Police Officers. I harangued all five of them for not doing their jobs by repeatedly arresting protesters for breaking unconstitutional rules. I repeated my charges that Calhoun was joining the ranks of the problem cops: Steven Mael, Mike Syphard, and Mitch Steingraeber. Sloey told me to be quiet and I could go. I told him no way in hell. They had me in their custody, and I would talk as much as I wanted to. For those unfamiliar, the police try to cajole compliance out of you. However, they are trained to take a lot of abuse and yelling at them and acting rudely is not a crime. Police do not have standing to be complainants especially if you are in their custody. So I continued being Louise.
This is where the story gets good.
Calhoun, having calmed down, tried to reason with me. He said he saw me twice drop a banner. I agreed saying both times were accidents. He disagreed it was an accident. I countered accidents happen all the time. People speed in school zones, people cut themselves shaving – surely Calhoun did something by accident once in his life. He refused to agree with me. I retorted asking whether he’d ever accidentally gotten shit on his balls while wiping his ass. He did not reply. But he did make the following attempt at logic.
Calhoun told me (paraphrased since I didn’t record it): “I (Calhoun) have a gun. It has never gone off accidentally, but you dropped your sign twice. You could have killed a child.” He was equating gun safety with sign safety. My sign is made out of thick paper and weighs two pounds. I doubt it could hurt someone much less kill a child, and I told him so. He insisted I was the only person ever to drop a sign from the rotunda. I asked whether any signs had fallen during the 16-day occupation of the Capitol last February and March. He said no though we both knew it was a lie.
Having exhausted his attempts at reasoning, Calhoun told me I could leave. He also told me this was my second warning and the next time I would be arrested. I told him to do his job, and this isn’t it. As I was leaving, I asked what the case number was for my arrest. Calhoun told me to file an Open Records Request. While filing an ORR is standard for obtaining the actual case records, it is highly unusual to hide the case number from a person after having arrested and then un-arrested them.
Happy to be free yet frustrated at the waste of taxpayer money, I reflected on my fifteenth arrest and fourth unarrest. I strongly believe the Capitol Police have targeted certain individuals for harassment and intimidation. I am one of them. They do not scare me nor will I let this modify my behavior. Harass and intimidate as they may, the Capitol police do not keep law and order nor do they protect and serve. Instead, they exist as a lawless force that guards Governor Walker, his lock-step GOP legislators, and their farce of a government. When Walker is recalled and the next governor of Wisconsin is sworn in, I will be at the Capitol with my large banners and my choice words for these palace guards.
Because in Fitzwalkerstan, an unattended paper sign is as dangerous as an unlocked gun.