“On the 15th of May, in the jungle of Nool,
In the heat of the day, in the cool of the pool,
He was splashing…enjoying the jungle’s great joys…
When Horton the elephant heard a small noise.”
On Friday, February 17, Reps. David Craig and Paul Farrow sent a letter to Department of Administration secretary Mike Huebsch. In their letter, they expressed their “concerns… regarding the lack of enforcement of the Wisconsin State Facilities Access Policy.”
“So Horton stopped splashing. He looked towards the sound.
“That’s funny,” thought Horton. “There’s no one around.”
Then he heard it again! Just a very faint yelp
As if some tiny person were calling for help.
“I’ll help you,” said Horton. “But who are you? Where?”
He looked and he looked. He could see nothing there
But a small speck of dust blowing past though the air”
Craig and Farrow stated: “…it is clear that the Capitol Police have proven incapable of uniformly enforcing the security guidelines and access rules set by your department.”
“My friends!”, cried the elephant.
“Tell me! Do tell!
Are you safe? Are you sound?
Are you whole? Are you well?”
The Facilities Access Policy to which this dynamic duo are referring was updated on December 16, 2011. Shortly after the new ‘Policy’ was unveiled, the Department of Administration held three “Information Sessions” in the basement of the state capitol, led by DOA deputy secretary Chris Schoenherr. Also in attendance from the secretary’s office were Wendy Coomer Dean, Executive Assistant, and newly appointed communications director (and Karl Rove protégée) Jocelyn Webster. Over the course of the three sessions, which totaled over seven hours, not once did DOA officials bring in legal counsel to defend the department’s new rules. A veritable A-team of attorneys did show up, however, to ask questions on behalf of the public.
One of the major changes to capitol policy was the rule regarding members of the public gathering in the capitol: “All members of the general public wishing to hold an event or to display an exhibit shall apply for a permit, unless the event is a spontaneous event, as defined below.”
An “event” is defined as:
“EVENT: Any performance, ceremony, presentation, meeting, or rally held in the public areas of any State facility or building. A rally is defined as a gathering of four or more people for the purpose of actively promoting any cause. Note: “Events” covered by this policy do not include: tourist activities or families visiting the Capitol; constituents or members of the public visiting elected officials; or the passage of individuals to areas not governed by the policy, such as the Assembly, the Senate, legislative offices, the Governor’s or Lieutenant Governor’s office or Supreme Court chambers.”
A “spontaneous event” is defined as:
“SPONTANEOUS EVENT: A spontaneous event is defined as an event where four (4) or more persons gather to exercise their First Amendment rights in response to a triggering event that has occurred within the preceding calendar week, or is currently occurring. Regularly scheduled events, or events that are advertised by any means (including, but not limited to, via electronic social media) seven (7) or more calendar days prior to the starting date of the event are presumptively not “spontaneous events” within the meaning of this Policy.”
A human rights attorney had something to say about this new policy:
A Madison attorney weighed in as well:
Members of the public had many questions for the DOA official:
“You’re going to be roped!
And you’re going to be caged!
And, as for your dust speck – hah!
That we shall boil in a hot steaming kettle of Beezle-Nut Oil!”
From the Craig/Farrow letter: “Time and again, the Solidarity Singers, organized labor groups, and other protestor- affiliated events have blatantly ignored and outright broken the rules that were to have taken effect December 16th, 2011. For the Capitol police to continually overlook these infractions and capitulate to the demands of the disillusioned few, is tantamount to a violation of rights for the law-abiding citizens who visit the Capitol each and every day.”
“Don’t give up! I believe in you all.
A person’s a person, no matter how small!
And you very small persons will not have to die
If you make yourselves heard! So come on, now, and TRY!”
This year, Valentine’s Day coincided with the one-year anniversary of the start of the Wisconsin Uprising, which is the longest sustained protest in the state’s history — a protest that began in the capitol rotunda. But despite this momentous event, which was obviously likely to spur people to come back to the capitol to commemorate the day, three weddings were scheduled for February 14th in the capitol rotunda. The first wedding was still going on up on the first floor when people began gathering inside on the ground floor for the noon-time Solidarity Sing Along. The woman leading the Sing Along that day informed people of the wedding ceremony, and asked that they keep voices down so as not to disrupt the event. The start of the Sing Along was delayed until the signal was given that the wedding was finished. Shortly before 1 p.m., a large group of UW students streamed into the rotunda and joined the people already gathered there. They participated in singing a couple of songs, with the song leader promptly wrapping things up by 1:02 p.m. She alerted one of the student group leaders to the fact that another wedding that was scheduled to begin at 1 p.m., and she also notified a group of Capitol police officers that the Sing Along was officially over for the day.
Although big events were coinciding in the capitol last Tuesday, the Solidarity Sing Along did not interfere in any way with the three weddings that were scheduled for the public space. In fact, the Sing Along has a policy of not interfering with permitted events, often taking the singing outside if necessary. Couples who want assurance that their wedding ceremony will be free from disruption often reserve the Senate Parlor for their nuptials.
Since the Wisconsin State Capitol is on the Historic Register, the function of the rotunda is clearly defined. Page 11, paragraph 1 of the Registry form states:
“More than any other space in the building, the Rotunda expresses the intended symbolism of the structure. With the Rotunda’s verticality culminating at the Edwin Blashfield painting, “The Resources of Wisconsin,” the space was intended to be morally uplifting and inspirational in a manner that references the dome’s ecclesiastical origins. Traditionally a symbol of religious expression, late nineteenth century American architects transformed the dome and its interior into one of civic celebration. The soaring rotunda of the Wisconsin State Capitol is designed to induce its citizenry to be, as individuals, among the “resources of Wisconsin.” Whereas some statehouses are maintained apart from the urban fabric, the Wisconsin Capitol Rotunda functions, both literally and symbolically, as a city center and is fully utilized as a public space to which all have claim.”
“This”, cried the Mayor, “is your town’s darkest hour!
The time for all Whos who have blood that is red
To come to the aid of their country!”, he said.
“We’ve GOT to make noises in greater amounts!
So, open your mouth, lad! For every voice counts!“
(Horton Hears a Who! by Dr. Suess, 1954)