MADISON, Wis. — For a third straight day, police arrested protesters gathered inside the Wisconsin Capitol on Friday, cracking down on the sing-along organized by opponents of Republican Gov. Scott Walker's administration.
Seventeen people were arrested and led away in handcuffs, and Walker's office said 14 additional tickets will be sent based on video evidence showing who was participating. Since Wednesday, 82 tickets have been issued, with several people receiving multiple citations.
There was no end in sight to the standoff, as protesters pledged to return every weekday and sing without the required permit.
"Every day at noon we're going to be here. We're not going away," a group sang Friday to the tune of the gospel song "I'll Fly Away."
A federal judge three weeks ago said Wisconsin could legally require permits for groups larger than 20, but stopped the state from enforcing its prior permit requirement for groups of four or more. The singers argue their constitutional right to free speech allows them to gather without getting a permit.
Every weekday since March 2011, the singers have gathered for renditions of classic protest songs such as "If I Had a Hammer" and "We Shall Overcome," using lyrics that skewer Walker and other Republicans. The "Solidarity Sing Along," as it's come to be known, is an outgrowth of the 2011 protests over Walker's law effectively ending collective bargaining for most public workers.
The size of the gathering varies from a few to hundreds. Folk singers Arlo Guthrie and Billy Bragg have showed up in the past, but most days, it's largely the same group of locals.
On Fridays, the group usually sings outside and about 60 continued that tradition this week. But another group wouldn't budge from inside the Capitol, even though police said a permit had been issued for a wedding. When no bride or groom showed up, the protesters started singing.
Some had duct tape over their mouths on Friday.
More than 100 others, including many who work in the Capitol, came out to watch from the two floors above.
Walker spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis issued a statement reiterating that all the group needs to do to avoid arrest is obtain a permit.
"The Capitol Police have already stated they would approve a permit for the noontime singers if they would apply. The permit is free and the group could continue to say and sing the same things they are today," she said.
On Wednesday, 22 tickets carrying $200 fines were issued for gathering without a permit. Another 26 non-permit tickets were issue Thursday; three other citations were issued for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Friday's total was 31.
Several of the participants are older individuals and many others have been arrested multiple times over the past two years. One woman ticketed on Wednesday was 80 years old.
"This is ridiculous," said Thor Backus, who held a sign Friday that read "Got a Gun? You're Okay. Got a songbook? You will pay."
Backus said he does not need a permit to exercise his free-speech rights.
Five Democratic state representatives observed the event at various points from the ground floor and supported the protesters.
"People have a constitutional right to be here," said Rep. Sondy Pope, D-Cross Plains.
The ongoing conflict has been fodder for conservative talk radio, which lambasts the protesters, and at least one Republican lawmaker has publically applauded the arrests.
"If these attention-starved individuals really wanted to contribute something helpful to society, they would spend their days volunteering in soup kitchens or homeless shelters rather than putting on infantile demonstrations for public gratification," state Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, R-West Allis, said Thursday.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit over Walker's permitting requirements, prompting U.S. District Judge William Conley to issue a preliminary injunction on July 9 stating groups of fewer than 20 people don't need a permit.
He didn't rule on the constitutionality of the permit policy as a whole, however, setting a trial for Jan. 13.