The dedicated singing activists who meet every weekday at noon at the Capitol to protest the policies of Gov. Scott Walker will celebrate seven years of solidarity on Sunday.
On a good-weather Friday, 50 people might show up to sing outdoors at the Capitol near State Street, but during the winter doldrums it’s sometimes only a handful inside the rotunda. But at least a couple of stalwarts show up each weekday to keep the Solidarity Sing-Along going.
When there are events going on inside the Capitol, sometimes the protesters are outside in winter, too, which was the case on Thursday, day 1,820 since the protest started on March 11, 2011.
“We’re not going away!” shouted Will Gruber, 53, while singing a song of the same name rewritten by Mary Ray Worley, of Madison, to the tune of “I’ll Fly Away.”
The chorus is: “We’re not going away, oh Scotty!/ We’re not going away! (at the noon hour)/ Until that day when justice holds sway/We’re not going away!”
The singers will be marking the anniversary with a party from 6 to 9 p.m. Sunday at the Harmony Bar. Entertainment will be provided by the Raging Grannies, the Learning Curve and Forward Marching Band with the others singing along.
Kathy Liska expects about 50 of her fellow singers to attend. But she stresses that the singers are a “non-group” with no member list. “We do not agree to support a candidate for a particular office,” she said.
Instead, the singers are motivated by the policies of Wisconsin’s Republican leaders who “are consistent in destroying our Wisconsin,” she said.
The sing-along started amid the massive protests at the Capitol against the governor’s controversial legislation now known as Act 10, which mostly ended collective bargaining for almost all public employees.
From July to September 2013, Capitol Police made almost daily arrests and issued more than 350 citations — most since dismissed — to those participating in the Solidarity Sing-Along.
In 2013, Bill Dunn, a sing-along regular, sought recognition from the Guinness Book of World Records for staging the world’s longest-running protest but was denied.
“Unfortunately we cannot accept your proposal due to the sensitive nature of the activity and the inherent difficulty in defining what constitutes a ‘protest,’ ” the organization wrote in its denial.
Matthew Kearney, a postdoctoral fellow who completed his dissertation at UW-Madison last year on the Wisconsin Uprising of 2011, called the response from Guinness interesting.
He was puzzled that Guinness called the activity “sensitive,” since the Capitol building is intended for public use.
“People are supposed to assemble there, and singing in public is legal. There’s a reason that so many charges against participants were dismissed,” said Kearney, who has participated in the sing-along over the years, but was never ticketed.
Guinness had a point, however, when it called “protest” hard to define, he said.
“They do break every day and come back the next day, unlike the Capitol occupation in February and March of 2011, which was continuous around the clock,” Kearney said.
Still, Kearney said the sing-along isn’t the longest-running protest of any kind. Concepcion Picciotto held a one-woman vigil against nuclear weapons in Lafayette Square near the White House for 34 years before her death in 2016.
For singer Susan Cee Cee Cohen, a retired teacher, the motivation is “the cascade of bad legislation that keeps coming out of our government.”
Cohen was one of six members who showed up Thursday outside under an alcove of the Capitol on its Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard Street side to sing. A handful of others protested near the State Street side.
“The story isn’t that there were 200,000 people here seven years ago,” Cohen said. “The story is that we’re here seven years later.”