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Two Years On, Protesters Still Fighting Wisconsin Governor

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Two Years On, Protesters Still Fighting Wisconsin Governor

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Two Years On, Protesters Still Fighting Wisconsin Governor

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OK, it's been more than two years since Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed a bill stripping collective bargaining rights from most public employees. That law sparked massive protests at the state Capitol. Many saw it as an attack on unions. While most demonstrators eventually went away, a small group did not. They arrive at the building most weekdays to sing anti-Walker and pro-union songs.

Here's Marti Mikkelson of member station WUWM in Milwaukee.

MARTI MIKKELSON, BYLINE: More than 100 people are gathered in a circle today on the lawn of the Wisconsin State Capitol. They're tapping cowbells and singing a localized version of a popular folk song.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) This land is your land. This land is my land, from Lake Geneva to Madeline Island.

MIKKELSON: It's called the Solidarity Sing-along, and it's been held at the Capitol most weekdays at noon for the past two years, though it's usually held inside the Capitol building.

Sixty-eight-year-old Ron Edwards is a retired state worker who says he comes here every day because he's still angry at the governor.

RON EDWARDS: I'm trying everything to get rid of Mr. Walker. What he's done since he took over is took our collective bargaining law away. He took everything away.

MIKKELSON: Earlier this summer, the Walker administration apparently grew tired of the protests and ordered capitol police to start arresting people. The crackdown began after a federal judge ruled that groups with more than 20 participants must get a permit. Since July 24th, more than 300 people have been arrested, booked and ticketed. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Groups with more than 20 participants MAY BE REQUIRED TO get a permit.]

Protester Ron Edwards contends he doesn't need a permit to sing in the Capitol. He says the group is merely exercising its free speech rights.

EDWARDS: We won't get a permit, because the First Amendment is our permit.

MIKKELSON: But Governor Scott Walker disagrees.

GOVERNOR SCOTT WALKER: If you want to sing in the Capitol, you can. If you want to protest in the Capitol, you can. The only requirement is you've got to get a permit if you involve a certain amount of people.

STEVEN BRAY: I've been arrested six times so far.

MIKKELSON: That's Steven Bray, who says he's now no stranger to handcuffs. He says each time he's been arrested, he's been taken to the Capitol Police Office in the basement of the building and issued a $200 ticket. Like most people, he's been charged with assembling without a permit. But Bray refuses to pay the fines and will argue all six of his tickets in court later this year. He says, fortunately, his experience with officers has been relatively positive.

BRAY: They've been pretty polite to me. They've been pretty rough on some of the others.

MIKKELSON: Rick Schuch is here today watching the protest, though he says he doesn't have a stake in it. But he does think that arresting these protesters is going too far.

RICK SCHUCH: I think the whole thing is just a little bit ridiculous. I think - I don't know. Nobody's harming anybody. And if they want to come here and sing, I think more power to them.

MIKKELSON: So it appears to be a stalemate. The protesters say they're not going to apply for a permit, and Governor Walker isn't changing his position. So arrests here are likely to continue at least until January, when the issue of protesters being arrested at the Capitol is slated to be heard before a federal judge.

For NPR News, I'm Marti Mikkelson.

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