Wednesday, 22 April 2020

“Reopen Wisconsin” protest permit denied; organizers say it’ll happen anyway

Organizers of a protest against Governor Tony Ever’s “Safer at Home” order say the Department of Administration (DOA) has denied their permit application citing “the state of emergency,” but the protest will go on. It is scheduled for 1 pm Friday at the corner of Mifflin and Pinckney Streets.
“I personally feel disappointed, because the right to peacefully assemble should still apply,” organizer Madison Elmer said Tuesday.
A DOA representative said Friday that all permits for events inside the Capitol building were being denied because the building is closed, and that permit applications for outdoor events were being considered on a “case-by-case basis.”
“DOA will deny permit requests for events that violate the ‘Safer at Home’ order,” DOA representative Molly Vidal wrote in an email to Madison365 on Friday. “DOA will also exercise its authority to deny a permit if the event poses a hazard to the safety of the public.”
Elmer also said she had been calling the governor’s office and DOA asking for the building to be opened temporarily in order for protesters to use the restrooms. She said sanitation companies have refused to deliver hand-washing stations and portable toilets for an event without a permit.
“There are only a few businesses open on the square and we don’t want to overwhelm them and freak them out with bathroom requests,” Elmer said. “Where are all of these people going to go to the bathroom?”
As of midday Tuesday, 3,200 people indicated that they were planning to attend on a Facebook event promoting the protest. Another 12,000 indicated that they’re “interested.” Elmer said organizers have also been promoting the protest by flyers and word-of-mouth, so it’s difficult to predict what the turnout will be.
The event has also been heavily promoted in the “Wisconsinites Against Excessive Quarantine” Facebook group, one of dozens of similarly-named groups started last week by gun rights organizers from Minnesota.
Elmer reiterated that she intends people to attend on foot, not in their cars, as other protests have done.
“I personally don’t support the ‘stay-in-your-car’ to protest,” she said. “It’s an inconvenience to other people who actually have somewhere to be. What if an emergency vehicle needs to get through to someone at the rally? … The speakers at the rally also need to be heard.”
She said speakers will include a few medical professionals, small business owners, farmers and possibly a religious leader. She also said last week that at least one lawmaker had committed to speak.
The protest follows another in Brookfield on Sunday, where hundreds of people lined a street and where at least on Confederate flag was spotted.
“I hope people are mindful of the history with the Confederate flag and realize that it might represent rebellion to one person but chains to another,” Elmer said.
Public health and other officials have said the protest is a bad idea.
A Public Health Madison and Dane County representative said in an email that it’s not realistic to expect a large crowd to follow state guidelines.
“Orders are in place for the safety of our community and gathering to protest them puts everyone’s health in danger,” PHMDC communications supervisor Sarah Mattes wrote. “While people may intend to stay six feet apart, maintaining that distance in reality will be difficult.”
In an interview with Madison365 publisher Henry Sanders released Tuesday, Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes said protesters are putting essential workers in danger.
“We understand people’s frustration. It’s very real,” he said. “We have people who are being put in some very difficult positions. We have everyday working folks, we have small business owners. But we also have our front line workers who are still going to work every day, despite the challenges. And these people are already putting their lives at risk … people who are working hard every day. Our healthcare professionals, nurses, grocery store workers, police, EMTs … what (protesters) are calling for is the compromised safety of those front-line individuals.”
Evers said he wasn’t frustrated at the urge to protest.
“First Amendment rights are really pretty cool,” he said in a media briefing Thursday when asked about the protest. “There’s a lot of sacrifice we’re asking … in order to save lives. Some people may not get the message and focus on what’s being taken away.”

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