Look at the protests in Wisconsin to see how America has changed

Summary:  Thinking of holding protest meetings as part of your Reform America movement, perhaps with a little civil disobedience to demonstrate seriousness and attract media attention? That’s an American tradition going back to Thoreau. But that was the-America-that-once-was. It does not work so well with New America’s indifferent, apathetic public. And the police are pushing back hard, as usual (police bashing heads of reformers is another American tradition). Look at the protests in progress at Madison WI — formerly a stronghold of progressive politics in America. Brave dedicated people; indifferent results after 2+ years.



Since 2011 people have been almost daily at noon gathered to protest the policies of Governor Scott Walker, most often singing or carrying signs in the Capitol rotunda. The near-daily Solidarity Singalong had been mostly peaceful for the more than two years (they occupied the Capitol building in February – March 2011).

Sometime in 2011 or early 2012 the WI Department of Administration  imposed new rules requiring permits for groups smaller than 20 to protest in the Capitol building. ACLU attorney Larry Dupuis filed a challenge to the rules. In July Federal Judge William Conley temporarily barred police from enforcing the new rule until he makes a final ruling on the challenge early next year, but allowed the rule requiring permits for groups of 20+.

Early this year the Capitol Police began issuing citations to the protesters. None of the citations have been upheld in court, and the Department of Justice has chosen to drop many of the cases because the attorney general’s office has decided it could not obtain a conviction.  {Wisconsin Public Radio, 12 April 2013}

Tensions have grown in recent weeks as police have cracked down on protesters for refusing to get a permit, with more than 300 people arrested. Also, the arrests have grown increasingly brutal, including use by police of the wonderfully named “pain compliance”, probably as informal street punishment.

For the rest of the story

Police violence


Press release
Madison Chapter, National Lawyers Guild
28 August 2013

According to attorneys who represent many of the more than 140 people arrested since July 24, the defendants have generally been polite and cooperative, and use of handcuffs and physical force has been far out of proportion to what police need to issue a civil forfeiture ticket. Most people arrested have been charged with participating in an “unlawful assembly” under the Wisconsin Administrative Code, which is not a crime and carries a maximum fine of $500.

… Two well publicized arrests of African Americans at the Solidarity Sing Along August 26 in the Wisconsin State Capitol showed Capitol Police officers using excessive force and pain compliance techniques. Christopher (C.J.) Terrell’s arms were wrenched behind him and police applied to pressure to the front and side of his neck to immobilize him, after he sat down during his arrest, then he was dragged out with arms pinned behind him. Six officers tackled Damon Terrell, pinned him to the marble rotunda floor, twisted his wrist, and carried him out in a prone position face down; he was later charged with felony assault of an officer although he appears to be the victim.

On August 21 a young woman was arrested using pain compliance as well. 

{See the full text}

Next Steps by the government

These are just early days. If they have not already done so, police might infiltrate the protests with agents provocateur (see Wikipedia), to stir up trouble. This is an ancient and effective tactic.

We know that Governor Walker and his team have thought about it. From the conversation with Walker staged and recorded by Ian Murphy — pretending to be David Koch.  From the transcript:

Murphy: We’ll back you any way we can. But, what we were thinking about the crowds was planting some troublemakers.

Walker: You know, the only problem with that — because we thought about that — … is if there was a ruckus caused that would scare the public into thinking maybe the governor has gotta settle to avoid all these problems.

For More Information

Videos of the Solidarity Sing-Along

Posts about protests:

Ghandi's advice about civil disobedience



17 thoughts on “Look at the protests in Wisconsin to see how America has changed”

  1. Nonsense and faux reasoning, FM. Blame the Public for the “ineffectiveness” of civil disobedience and the growing Police over reaction to such Civil Disobedience?

    To wit: ” It does not work so well with New America’s indifferent, apathetic public.” Take a nap. Or even better get some professional help.

    Your entire meme of blame the public is designed to inject hopelessness and cynicism into any and all. I have watched you for many years with this Arm Waving diatribe blaming the Public for the acts and results of the acts of a very disturbed and violent element running this Government.

    Clearly you have absolutely no experience with Civil Disobedience. You have never engaged in it obviously. There has never been a time in the USA when an apathetic public did support ongoing Civil Disobedience.

    It is that simple. CD is always a very small minority of citizens. You are out of your league, Maximus and it is clear to all.

    What is historically accurate is that these over reactions by these stupid violent members of some Police Force eventually galvanize more and more disgust with such actions in a larger and larger populace..

    A “Kent Sate” moment may be arising here and god help these brave and daring people who have a personal courage beyond that of most of their fellow citizens.

    Applaud their efforts even if you disagree….THAT is the First Amendment.


    1. Egagbreton,

      In fact civil disobedience has often gained public sympathy, and proven effective in changing public opinion.

      Thoreau’s protests got himself thrown in jail, but public sympathy made the stays brief.

      The suffragettes events gained them a great deal of attention, and probably account for much of their rapid success.

      The civil disobedience events in the civil rights era were fantastic successes.

      I wonder why you ignore the contrast between these events and today?

      Also, I do not “blame” the public for the police overreaction. That is a misreading of this post. In fact I expressly say otherwise.

  2. I think part of the reason the public is apathetic is that the powers that be have done a remarkably good job of dividing the public on social issues.

    Liberals support Obama despite his right wing economic and foreign policy because “If I don’t vote for him, abortion will be outlawed.” Conservatives vote that way even as their jobs are being off shored because, “If I don’t support a Republican, gay marriage will be the law of the land.”

    The press does a great job keeping these issues at the top of the news. I think the public will eventually sort things out and we will see wide spread protests. The overwhelming lack of support for yet another war in Western Asia (Syria) shows we the public can get it right. Eventually.

    1. SDW,

      I agree. Divide et impera. The Roman’s knew all about ruling.

      Reforming America will, I believe, require forming new coalitions that break the existing co-opted ones.

    1. asdfg,

      That’s the question! However, it depends on your definition of “it”.

      I define “it” as excessive police force, of which this is just another example. The evolution from police to para-military forces, from law enforcement to security services. I believe this is a serious problem; we probably don’t have an unlimited time to fix it.

    2. “The evolution from police to para-military forces, from law enforcement to security services. I believe this is a serious problem; we probably don’t have an unlimited time to fix it.”

      Add near universal surveillance; detention without judicial rights whenever a national security interest is asserted; absolute immunity for prosecutors:

      When Michael Nifong was disbarred in 2007 for his obvious criminal — yes, criminal — actions in pursuing the charges in the Duke Lacrosse Case, people involved in the legal system prattled on about how such procedures were unprecedented and even amazing. Yet, Nifong got off easy. He lost his law license and his job, but still receives a large pension from North Carolina taxpayers. He also has his freedom. One should never forget that he and friendly judges in Durham had created and maintained an atmosphere in which three young men faced 30 years apiece in prison for something that Nifong and his peers knew never had occurred.

      — William Anderson, “What “Absolute Immunity” Actually Means“, The Agitator,

      and the growing obsolescence of trial-by-jury:

      “In today’s criminal justice system,” Justice Kennedy wrote, “the negotiation of a plea bargain, rather than the unfolding of a trial, is almost always the critical point for a defendant.” Quoting from law review articles, Justice Kennedy wrote that plea bargaining “is not some adjunct to the criminal justice system; it is the criminal justice system.” He added that “longer sentences exist on the books largely for bargaining purposes.”

      — Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, quoted by The New York Times

      We have all the apparatus of a police state ready and waiting for the first Commander-in-Chief bold enough to take advantage of it and given the right circumstances (or the vision to create them). Indeed, we might have very little time… the (Russian) roulette wheel spins every four years.

      1. Coises,

        “We have all the apparatus of a police state ready and waiting for the first Commander-in-Chief bold enough to take advantage of it and given the right circumstances (or the vision to create them). Indeed, we might have very little time”

        Exactly. I have said that many times. When more people begin to see this, then perhaps there will be the potential for change.

    3. I don’t what the story is, but in that video, there’s a nasty racial vibe to this — watching the police hold that black guy by the neck and haul him away.

      “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always”.

      Maybe Ghandi had the right idea. It is true, that tyrants and murders do always fall. Still, with the Ghandi method — sometimes they just kill you.

      1. Cathryn,

        Yes, that was my first thought as well.

        Also, Ghandi was wrong. Tyrants often thrive, dying in bed peacefully. Tyrannies often last a long time.

  3. In the UK, Cameron’s kneejerk support for Obama’s next war was thwarted by my country’s centuries old tradition of Parliamentary Democracy.

    In the USA, Democracy has been subverted by corporate greed, coupled with individual selfishness and an ingrained unconcern for global issues, past, present and future.

    Direct action and confrontation ought to be the very last resort for American dissenters. Two hundred years of hard-won freedom from tyrannical rule have left many more sophisticated options still available.

  4. As to what we should do about all this, the answer seems clear from your other articles. 4GW is extremely effective and usually prevails against the state, even if the state employs genocidal levels of military force against the 4GW combatants.

    Of course, once the American population descends into 4GW warfare against its putative government, there’s won’t be a United States of America anymore. And there’s the little problem that the aftermath of revolutions is typically much uglier than the regime the revolution overthrew. We got lucky in the first American revolution. We’re unlikely to be as lucky in a second revolution. Judging by the caliber of political figures infesting America today, the most likely result of a second American revolution after prolonged destructive 4GW would be some Francisco Franco-type warlord (New Gingrich? Stanely McChrystal? Ralph Reed?) conducting periodic purges of the disloyal.

    This may be the most basic reason why the American population doesn’t rise up against the current system.

    1. More,

      I have a different perspective… If we had the will and energy to wage 4GW, we could run the Constitutional machinery — and there would be no problem.

      The problem is our disinterest and apathy, which precludes 4GW as a solution.

      The cost of 4GW to the people waging it is immense. Their casualties are typically 10x those of the troops involved. It is extreme dramatization to imagine us trying anything that involves such sacrifice.

    2. The most basic reason that the American population doesn’t rise up against the current system is that we don’t want a revolution. We simply want things to be “the way America was always supposed to be.”

      George Carlin quipped, “They call it the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.” Yet most of us retain some version of it. If it is a false beacon, it remains a compelling one.

      FM frequently refers to Col. Boyd’s OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) loop, in which the most critical step is the second. I think it’s fair to observe that orientation, whether figurative or literal, always happens with reference to some set of known, fixed points. When we begin to question seriously our customary fixed points, we greatly increase the cognitive load of orientation.

      I suspect that in practice the efficiency of orientation based on oversimplified or even patently false, but familiar, reckoning points frequently outweighs the advantages of slower but more accurate understanding, at least in the short term. My guess is that this is the source of our instinctive refusal to correct provably false notions to which we are accustomed.

      We see our country as a wonderful machine which is malfunctioning (though we’re a bit confused and not at all agreed as to exactly which of its parts are damaged or dislocated). We are not yet ready to see it as machine which is working as intended, but is set to an evil purpose.

      It is not yet clear to me which view, if either, provides more effective orientation.

  5. One thing about that video is the singing. It’s like they knew that the music is key, but the spell just didn’t work. The cops come in mid-song and choke all the blacks. It’s just sad.

    Somehow, maybe the 60’s was different? You know? “It’s a hammer of justice. It’s a bell of free-e-dom.” We’re all so cynical now. But was there a time when you could say that music could change the world and be serious? I think this was part of it. Actually, this was part of the trade union movement also, going years back.


    The thing is, the song isn’t for the protesters. It’s for the police. That they’ll hear it, and they’ll see the humanity of the people they’re bludgeoning just at the moment. “Maybe I shouldn’t choke-hold this black guy.” But, now for some reason it doesn’t work anymore. We’re all too deeply indoctrinated, perhaps?

    1. “But was there a time when you could say that music could change the world and be serious?”

      It no longer mattered very much whether one person was able to walk on water without fear of drowning or not drowning besides or another be raised from that quality of sleep we misrepresent as death, for there was no longer anyone around to believe in such miracles that would allow them to happen, simply because the climate for belief in miracles no longer existed.

      —Gerard Melanga, as quoted at the end of the introduction to Don Snyder’s Aquarian Odyssey

      It was perhaps better understood in the sixties that our social institutions derive most of their power from shared beliefs. Change what you believe, and you experience the world differently; change what a critical mass of people believe, and surely the world itself must change. Much of the counterculture was a grand experiment to see what would happen if a large number of people simply stopped believing in some things and began believing in others.

      I think the results of that experiment are in, and they indicate that in practice just trying to change beliefs is usually a failing strategy—the critical mass is a much larger fraction than one might imagine. Social systems (and the beliefs that allow them to exist) are incredibly resilient: half a century after the victory of the civil rights movement, it still sucks to be black in America.

      (Another lesson might be that it is easy and dangerous to get caught up in the power of shared belief and lose sight of the line between social constructions, which are contingent on belief, and facts, which are not.)

      Music can help to change the world, but it has never been enough all by itself. I am, by nature, a non-confrontational sort. It deeply depresses me to recognize that nothing has ever been accomplished without overt confrontation, anger and usually violence. But it hasn’t.

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