Bill Kramer has rights.
He has the right to bear arms and the right to carry a concealed handgun into his workplace, the Assembly chamber of the Wisconsin Capitol building. I don’t begrudge him his rights. Bill Kramer’s statement about his semi-automatic Glock 26 however, gave me pause. Did he really say he “feels he needs it given the toxic atmosphere at the State Capitol?”
I have seen some pretty toxic stuff on my near daily strolls through the Capitol since February 2011. All of which have been aimed not at the law makers, but at the protesters. You see, long before Bill Kramer had the right, if not the duty, to come to work packing heat, I had some rights of my own: the right to free speech, the right to peaceably assemble and petition my government for redress of grievances, and, according to State Statute 19.90, I also had the right to watch and record my government officials at work. My weapons of choice, which I brazenly open carry into the Capitol building, are my “SHAME” sign and my Nikon camera. I’ve also been known to come to the Assembly gallery packing pictures of Jesus.
Now, while Bill Kramer gets an “atta boy” and a “what’s the big deal? he’s within his rights!” response, I have gotten:
1) A “Don’t Tread on Me” flag draped over my face by some out of state agitators who were in town with Dave Zien. Former state senator Zien also thought it would be fun to run over people’s belongings and make them jump out of his way lest he tread on their toes. Another protester who tried to stop the men from dragging the flag over yet more protesters was punched in the face for his efforts.
2) An “education session” from the Department of Administration telling me I do not actually have the right to peaceably assemble with fellow citizens in any state building without a permit. That is, if we are a rally (more than 3 unrelated people) and we want to draw attention to ourselves (holding onto signs which express our feelings). We need a permit?
3) A citation for “other conduct prohibited-obstructing.” This was a response to my pictures of Jesus in the Assembly gallery. I’m not sure which one bothered them more. Equally reprehensible and citation-attracting signage on this day included a post-card pink slip for Scott Walker, the US Constitution, and pictures of Mother Teresa, Ronald Reagan, and apple pie. I was put in handcuffs (for my own protection) and taken downstairs by two state troopers (I guess the capitol police needed help for the six of us sign bearers), where I was given the citation. A few days prior to this, many fellow citizens were also cited for open carrying their cameras and attempting to photograph or get video of their law makers at work. I believe the number of citations given for these activities is near 80. And yes, ALL of the citations have been dismissed.
4) Called a “union pig” by another Capitol visitor (even though I am not in a union). I have also been told by legislative staff to “get a life” even though I have one. I have been flipped off, sneered at, and multiple times asked what I do for a living. Apparently some people believe the only people protesting are teachers and the unemployed. I am employed full-time as a paralegal.
I hope that Bill Kramer never feels the need to use his Glock at work. Though, I do believe that he has been getting ample target practice lately. He and his fellow Assembly Republicans have taken aim and blasted away at many things I hold dear: workers’ rights, voters’ rights, women’s rights, public education, clean water, and open and transparent government, just to name a few.
My preference would be that Bill Kramer lead by example. My hope would be that he reach out to people who disagree with him, whether they be the law makers on the other side of the aisle or concerned citizens who are at the Capitol to exercise their own rights. After all, we all have rights. We all have opinions. But the “toxic atmosphere” at the Capitol will only change if we confront it with compassion instead of fear.