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This Week’s Citations at Capitol Abridge Our Right to Freely Assemble

11 Sep

The Wisconsin State Capitol Police began ticketing protesters in the Capitol Rotunda last week for holding up signs without a permit. According to a Department of Administration spokesperson, on Monday police issued more tickets both for “unlawful display of a sign and not having a permit.” The citations were served at the protesters home to “avoid confrontation and maintain order at the Capitol.”  

Since the extraordinary events of February 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin has stepped up its efforts to protect the free speech rights of all Wisconsin residents at the Capitol and our volunteer legal observers are now at the Capitol Rotunda every day during the noon hour.

Today, in response to the State Capitol Police Chief’s new enforcement strategy, Chris Ahmuty, Executive Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin made the following statement:

David Erwin, the State Capitol Police Chief since July 2012, has had a rocky start.  His on-again, off-again, on-again enforcement of regulations governing events and protests in the Capitol Rotunda suggests problems. Either he lacks an understanding of our constitutional rights or is willing to abridge the rights of all Wisconsin residents to peaceable assembly and free speech at the Capitol. 

Monday’s tickets are unconstitutional. It is ludicrous to say that it is illegal to hold up a sign or that groups as small as four people need to apply for a permit 72 hours in advance if they are promoting any cause. 

The police served the tickets at the protesters homes. This suggests that the police know the identity of many of protesters who regularly exercise their rights at the Capitol. It also suggests that this new enforcement effort is a high priority for the Capitol Police. The ACLU believes that there are better uses for the Capitol Police force’s limited resources. 

In a related matter, in an interview posted on wisconsinreporter.com on September 10, 2012 and on the eve of the anniversary of September 11, remarks from Chief Erwin have exposed another problem. According to the site, Erwin said, “And so we have a group of people that come here, and last week they were holding signs and they are part of this group that, for lack of a better word, are terrorizing people at this Capitol.” 

It is unclear what group of people he’s talking about; it may just be people who allegedly are disrespectful or call others names. Regardless, in our post-9/11 world, it is inappropriate to accuse someone of terrorizing others in this loose way. It is hard to imagine former Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs making such an accusation. Erwin admits that Tubbs did a great job during the large-scale protests as evidenced by the small number of arrests and the fact that no injuries occurred under Tubbs’ leadership.  Perhaps Erwin needs to learn how to defuse situations rather than engage in name calling. 

ACLU Legal Observers Witness Racine Rally for Fair Immigration Reform.

18 Jun

Legal observing isn’t always reserved for rainy days.

This Monday, June 15, ACLU of Wisconsin legal observers hit the beaches of Racine to watch the end of the year rally and party for some 250 students who gathered to support fair immigration reform.


Many parents, various school staff and Voces de la Frontera staff and volunteers were on hand to assist at the event. The rally/party on the beach was scheduled to end at 3:00 p.m., but as the day wore on more and more people from the beach and the city poured in.

There was a large police presence throughout, but they and city medics were available to attend to a small altercation at approximately 3:00 p.m. Unfortunately, it was reported that after the legal observers had left, more altercations occurred and larger police presence was deployed.

According to the Racine Journal Times there were 22 squad cars in the parking lot at one time. Two arrests were made in connection to the incident. The ACLU of Wisconsin encourages people to both exercise their right to PEACEABLY assemble as well as active participation in community.

Legal Observer Training: April 3, Madison

30 Mar

This free workshop is for anyone who wants to defend free speech and assembly by becoming a volunteer legal observer for the ACLU of Wisconsin. The workshop will be offered to prepare volunteers for protests in Madison this spring (antiwar, 4/4; workers rights, 5/1). Bilingual (English/Spanish) volunteers are especially encouraged to get involved.

Friday, April 3rd – 5:00 – 7:00 pm

UW Madison Student Activity Center
4th floor Caucus Room
333 E Campus Mall


RSVP to sharbaugh@aclu-wi.org or call (608) 469-5540 if you plan on attending the workshop. Please forward this announcement to friends who are also interested in supporting everyone’s right (even if not always the content) to free speech, assembly and protest.

For more on the ACLU of Wisconsin’s legal observer program and for pictures of observers in action, visit the Cap City Liberty blog reports on legal observers in Milwaukee and at last year’s antiwar protest in Madison.

What are Legal Observers?
Legal Observers are trained volunteers who are legal witnesses to political demonstrations and who document the events of public protests, including any incidents of police misconduct or violations of the rights of protesters. Legal Observers are committed to defending free speech in a way that is as objective as possible so that their documentation can be used as evidence if police misconduct or obstructions to Constitutionally-protected free speech are challenged in court. As Legal Observers, volunteers can commit to being among others who are free speech defenders, but aren’t expected to be a every rally – volunteers pick which protests to observe with neutrality and can choose not to volunteer at protests where they wish to be participants.

Legal observers document large Milwaukee protest

12 Jan

On the afternoon of Tuesday, January 6th, five volunteers and staff from the ACLU of Wisconsin stood in the Milwaukee rain and slush making certain that the approximately 230 protesters who had gathered to protest Israel’s actions in Gaza were able to exercise their Constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms of speech and assembly.

Milwaukee protest, 1/6/09
ACLU legal observers document protesters’ rights
Legal Observers work as non-partisan legal witnesses at protests, demonstrations, elections and other events to apprise people of their rights and record any unusual or unlawful actions perpetrated by law enforcement.

ACLU volunteer makes notes about protest details
“We’re not here to make any judgment regarding the opinions of the protesters: we’re here making sure they can exercise their right to protest”, said Emilio De Torre, Youth and Program Director for the ACLU of WI. “You can see us all around the state. We’re the ones with the bright yellow shirts that say “legal observers” and the tattoos that say, “attorney work product”.

Emilio coordinates legal observation with a volunteer
For more information about how to become a non-partisan legal observer, contact Emilio in the Milwaukee office or Stacy in Madison.

More legal observer trainings scheduled, attitudes about race and the election and more

21 Jul

Here’s the news round up for today and an announcement about a great opportunity to volunteer for the ACLU and have a direct impact on civil liberties in Madison.

Protest Rights/Free Speech
Reminder: the next ACLU of Wisconsin Madison Area Legal Observer training is coming up on Thursday!

These free workshops are for anyone who wants to defend free speech and assembly by becoming a volunteer legal observer for the ACLU of Wisconsin. Volunteers only have to participate in one workshop to be trained. Bilingual volunteers are especially encouraged to get involved.

Thursday, July 24th – 6-8pm; Madison Public Library, Central (downtown) location, 2nd floor, room 202

Monday, August 18th – 6-8pm; Madison Public Library, Central (downtown) location, 2nd floor, room 204

RSVPs required: email sharbaugh@aclu-wi.org or call (608) 469-5540 if you plan on attending a workshop. Please forward this announcement to friends who are also interested in supporting everyone’s right (even if not always the content) of people’s right to freedom of speech, assembly and protest.

What Are Legal Observers?
Legal Observers are trained volunteers who are legal witnesses to political demonstrations and who document the events of public protests, including any incidents of police misconduct or violations of the rights of protesters. Legal Observers are committed to defending free speech in a way that is as objective as possible so that their documentation of public protests can be used as evidence if police misconduct or obstructions to Constitutionally-protected free speech are challenged in court. As a Legal Observer, volunteers can commit to being among others who are free speech defenders, but also aren’t expected to be at every rally – volunteers pick which protests to observe with neutrality and can choose not to volunteer at protests where they wish to be participants.

Speaking of protest…
Did anyone catch the Madtown Liberty Players at the Farmers Market this weekend? They did a skit on wiretapping which has been recently amended: the updated skit shows the now-legal wiretapping occurring with the aid of a democratic donkey.


In the skit, a puppet representing a spying Bush eavesdrops on Franklin and Jefferson’s communications about how people who give up some liberty for a little security deserve neither.


Sadly, the street theater skit is more relevant than ever.

Immigrant Rights
Here is an interesting LA Times feature about the anxiety undocumented students feel about getting their education, but remaining “illegal” after they graduate. Courts ruled that public schools can offer education to children of undocumented immigrants (and recent grants such as the ones to the Wisconsin Department of PUblic Instruction go to teaching English and culture to immigrant children), but higher education continues to be either a haven or out of reach.

Racial Justice
If anyone still doubts that race will play a factor in the 2008 elections, check out this story about the results of a UW-Madison PolySci/WisPolitics poll. Note that the respondents to the survey were mostly white making it more of an example about the motivations they feel on the issue, rather than the opinions of people of color in Wisconsin as they look to November.

Voting Rights
WI statewide voter database is still working out kinks. The expensive Accenture database is supposed to be a system to ensure that properly registered voters are identified at the polls, but flaws in the system still exist and the potential for non-matches can be connected to common errors. All the more reason to register early and get a confirmation before you get to the polls.

Data collection on WI voting admin, new FISA law as 4th amendment insult and ACLU on The Mic

15 Jul

Here are a couple of tidbits for today…

In a direct critique of Senator Obama’s FISA vote, Truthout’s Director Marc Ash writes, “The problem is that what was at stake in the FISA legislation vote was more than a political ideal; it was the rule of law. You ratified an unconstitutional and egregious degradation of the Fourth Amendment. That won’t go away easily. The United States’s Constitution is not merely the security blanket for ‘civil liberties groups.’ It is the birthright of all Americans. It is our national treasure… The alternative to the rule of law is the law of rule.”

Did you know that of about 9000 election clerks nationwide, about 2000 are in Wisconsin? Our highly decentralized voting administration system is great for localized registration and voting, yet a challenge to get a clear picture of whether or not we have uniformity in the system. Check out this story about data that will be collected this fall on how we do elections.

And check out the Madison Area ACLU Community Advocate Stacy Harbaugh on the progressive radio morning show yesterday morning:

http://www.youtube.com/get_player

Defend free speech – become a legal observer

11 Jul

Legal Observer Trainings Scheduled for Summer!

The following free workshops are for anyone who wants to defend free speech and assembly by becoming a volunteer legal observer for the ACLU of Wisconsin. Three workshops are offered this summer: volunteers only have to participate in one workshop to be trained. Bilingual volunteers are especially encouraged to get involved.

Monday, July 14th – 6-8pm; Madison Public Library, Central (downtown) location, 2nd floor, room 202 – WORKSHOP FULL!

Thursday, July 24th – 6-8pm; Madison Public Library, Central (downtown) location, 2nd floor, room 202

Monday, August 18th – 6-8pm; Madison Public Library, Central (downtown) location, 2nd floor, room 204

RSVP required: email the Madison Area Office or call (608) 469-5540 if you plan on attending a workshop. Please forward this announcement to friends who are also interested in supporting everyone’s right (even if not always the content) of people’s right to freedom of speech, assembly and protest.

For more on the ACLU of Wisconsin’s legal observer program and for pictures of observers in action, visit our blog entry on a recent downtown protest.

What Are Legal Observers?
Legal Observers are trained volunteers who are legal witnesses to political demonstrations and who document the events of public protests, including any incidents of police misconduct or violations of the rights of protesters. Legal Observers are committed to defending free speech in a way that is as objective as possible so that their documentation of public protests can be used as evidence if police misconduct or obstructions to Constitutionally-protected free speech are challenged in court. As a Legal Observer, volunteers can commit to being among others who are free speech defenders, but also aren’t expected to be at every rally – volunteers pick which protests to observe with neutrality and can choose not to volunteer at protests where they wish to be participants.

Indiana ID at polls OK by SCOTUS, border searches of electronics OK, Day of Silence under fire and more

28 Apr

Homelessness
Madison’s discussion on homelessness registers in the Chicago Trib radar screen. The article describes other civil liberties concerns such as the “banned from State Street” list enforced by local police and describes how cities nationwide have cracked down on visible homelessness via law enforcement measures.

Immigration
Another citizen and Wisconsinite gets snagged in the flawed immigration/Homeland Security system.

At the border, agents can search laptops and electronics without cause. An appeals court ruling agreed that electronics weren’t too personal to search. However it was left unclear how individuals would be required to help agents with their search by providing passwords to protected devices. How do I set a passcode lock on my iPhone again?

A vet group is making a fuss over a Spanish class recital of the flag pledge in espanol. Didn’t Jon Secada sing the Star Spangled Banner in spanish at the white house for the inaugural back in 2001?

LGBT rights
Gay-Straight Alliance sponsored Day of Silence promotion is attacked at a Janesville school district board meeting. Anyone else fatigued by people who pit religion against gays and lesbians? U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin’s office issues a statement in support of the Day of silence and how it recognizes LGBT rights, especially as anti-gay violence and school harassment is a lingering problem.

Privacy
Some of the more conspiracy-minded might think that citizens should be leary of giving the government their private indentity data because of the risk of its misuse. Actually the biggest threat these days is simply a lack of oversight of keeping that data secure and private. After some data bungles earler this year, the Governor set out to increase data security. Here is some of the new news about a report that assessed the state’s privacy regs, Doyle’s reaction and the ACLU of Wisconsin’s response.

The story didn’t end in January though. Here is another story about gaps in security for database info on Wisconsin seniors.

Taped fight at Toki makes it to YouTube, but admins say that security cameras may be next. Example may introduce the need for communities to discuss how to handle new technologies and privacy protections.

Voting rights
There is bad news on the voting rights front. The US Supreme Court upheld the Indiana voter ID legislation. While this will be heralded as a victory for “election integrity,” it should be pointed out that Indiana had no cases of fraud via in-person voter misrepresentation. Indiana also does have free IDs, however the dissenting justices’ opinions clearly laid out reasons why obtaining an ID is a barrier to voting. The ACLU got involved in the case on behalf of Indiana voters.

The ACLU of Wisconsin will continue to fight efforts to require photo IDs at our polling places. This is especially important because currently WI state DMVs charge money for state-issued ID cards ($28 for an ID; $34 for a renewal – up ten dollars to pay for the Real ID program that hasn’t been implemented yet).

Read the full opinions from the Supreme Court.

Reproductive rights
The pharmacist who denied patient birth control will seek a State Supreme Court review. While forum posts on on-line articles tend toward the bizarre if not psychotic, trends in reader feedback tend to reflect an understanding of the importance of not allowing religious beliefs to impede a woman’s access to birth control.

Heard of cybersquatting? A fake family planning site makes cybersquatting hit close to home (namely, Wausau).

Women’s rights
What explains the difference in our paychecks? Wisconsin Women still make only 78 cents on a man’s dollar.

Other news
Hey look! It’s our board president! Guenther gets interviewed about his involvement in a project to teach Afghan lawyers about civil liberties and the rule of law.

Watch for ACLU Legal Observers at the May Day march. The rally starts at 11:30am at Brittingham Park on Thursday, May 1. For more information about how legal observers serve as volunteer witnesses at public protests, or to find out how to become a legal observer for the ACLU of Wisconsin, contact the Community Advocate, Stacy Harbaugh.