July 26, 2013 by Karen Bassler
[This is Karen Bassler’s response to former Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz’s recent column in The Isthmus about the arrests of peaceful singers at the Wisconsin State Capitol. – Editors]
I can no longer refer to you as Mayor Dave, or Citizen Dave, though up until yesterday I had been using both interchangeable.
I’ve been your biggest fan up until yesterday. I’d praise you to the skies, laud your vision for urban areas, your happy-go-lucky attitude, your non-confrontational style of governing. If I heard anyone maligning you, I’d be the first to lead to your defense: “That’s not the Dave *I* know!”
You had me at 1000 Friends of Wisconsin. You had me with your wit and wisdom and can-do approach. You had me in your honesty and forthrightness.
But you lost me on the Sing Along.
I’ve been a part-time participant in the Singalong since the first days it sprang to life. While I freely admit I cannot carry a tune, the mass of voices singing together in irrepressible strength always sends a shiver down my spine, no matter how terrible the marble of the Capitol acts as a sound chamber. “We shall not be moved.”
The people singing are not how you seem to see them, Dave. They are retirees, city and state employees, union workers, students, regular schmoes and long-time activists. They are east-siders and west-siders and north-siders. They represent what is best about this city and this state.
We are not people who need to “get on with” our lives. Our lives are intertwined with our love of Wisconsin’s proud progressive tradition, and we are fighting to keep that alive, so that our lives can go on, too.
We are not a bunch of stinky hippies (in fact, the hippie-to-ordinary-citizen ratio is strikingly low). We are state patriots, who see our history and tradition of open government being trampled and destroyed willy-nilly, and who will not stand idly by and let that happen. We are testifying in public that whatever rules or laws or under the table payments may be made by Walker and his fellow Koch-owned legislators, we honor the greater good, the importance of government by the people, for the people. We are those who sob to see what made us proud to call Wisconsin home is now openly mocked and cast aside by people in power for the moment.
We will not apply for a permit because the Capitol has always been an open forum, free for anyone to come and speak their piece, and we will not kowtow to a frightened governor demanding order.
You are correct that the Capitol is a public space, but you are so wrong in saying that we dominate it at the expense of others. One hour a day, 4 days a week (Friday Singalongs are held outside, regardless of weather) is not too much time to spend articulating our belief in the traditions of open, progressive, involved government. (Actually, it is somewhat less than one hour a day, four days a week — if another group has a permit to use the rotunda, we take it outside.)
You lost me Dave, as you pontificated from your comfy home about people you don’t know. Come out and meet us and see why we sing, and maybe I will be able to forgive you. But right now, from where I sit, you have outed yourself as a complacent tool.
I used to admire you.
I don’t any more.
PS: I can tell you haven’t really heard us when you say that we sing “old protest songs.” Over half the song catalog is made up of new tunes written by outraged Wisconsinites.