Police Chief David Erwin Must Not Undermine Democracy At Wisconsin State Capitol
The latest flare-up at the Wisconsin State Capitol concerning protestors, and the desire of Capitol Police Chief David Erwin to crack down on them leaves me unsettled.
It may surprise some to read the reason I feel upset about the news from under the dome has almost nothing to do with the actual reason for the protests. In other words it is not the politics that is frustrating to me, but rather the crackdown of the process which allows citizens to weigh in on the issues of the day that upsets me.
There have been demonstrations of varying sizes since Governor Scott Walker made severe changes to collective bargaining laws, gutted education programs, and signed a voter ID bill. For the record I was there often in the cold and snowy days of early 2011, and added my voice with the tens of thousands who traveled from around the state to participate in democracy.
Most of the large vocal protests ended when the first of the senate recall elections started taking place around Wisconsin last year. Since the heady days when the capitol was surrounded by voters the protests slimmed down to a much smaller and determined effort. In order to sway opinion, and alert the public there is a rousing noon-time sing-a-long with a few people holding signs.
In the scheme of things the protests over the past months leading up to the hiring of Erwin can be labeled as rather sedate. Yet they are important, not just for the issues that are being discussed, but more importantly for the process of democracy!
It is vital that the average citizen of this state have the right to petition their government, and have their voice heard. If the protestors were carrying campaign checks from an interest group there would be far less concern for the ‘noise’ they make.
Let me state at once I am not advocating turning the statehouse into a non-functioning arena of confusion which does not allow for those elected to serve their constituents. I am not in any way seeking to place those who work in the building in harm’s way.
But that is not happening.
The few cases where a protester made a provocative move, or entered a space not allowed has been met with swift action. But those rare occasions should not define the entire protest movement, or force a blanket solution on those who only wish to participate in government.
There is something severely wrong with those who wield power if they are unnerved by some folks with a songbook and a jazzy lyric!
I am befuddled over the psychology of the Erwin strategy to get tough and use harsh measures on the protestors at this time.
While talking with a mild-mannered professional woman this weekend in my neighborhood I was surprised to hear her desire to stop in this coming week for one of the singing noon rallies. “I do not sing very well” she told me “but I want to let them know I am supportive.”
That is the rub for Capitol Police Chief David Erwin.
Playing the role of the Republican tool at the statehouse is only inflaming the situation. It is hard to say how long the protests would have lasted, but given the shelf-life of any political protest there was every reason to think the numbers would continue to decrease, as they had been doing.
By stirring the pot, and declaring harsh penalties for those who only wish to petition their government has created a desire among others to yet again feel the need to stand alongside the persecuted and defend democracy.
Attacking the process of democracy is not something that looks good on television, or reads well in the newspaper. It stinks when it happens in nations around the globe, and it really reeks when it happens only a few blocks from where I live.
I was most fortunate to have had wonderful years of employment and experiences at the capitol. I fully understand and appreciate the legislative process that creates laws. But I also am aware of the need for a robust dialogue with the citizenry, and the right of the voters to demonstrate and present their concerns about policy.
As I conclude my thoughts about this latest issue at the statehouse I am mindful of the much quoted line from H.L. Mencken.
The cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy!
Capitol Police Chief David Erwin might ponder that line before he starts another work week.