We first posted the “Top 5 Things to Know at Protests” on Feb. 16, 2011. The basics haven’t changed much, despite last year’s Capitol lockdown and the new rules restricting the rights of demonstrators issued by the state Department of Administration in December.
But as we gear up to send volunteer legal observers to the state Capitol to witness the rallies responding to Governor Walker’s second State of the State address, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation would like to reaffirm the rights of protesters to peaceably assemble at our Capitol. We want to remind activists about the top five things to remember when demonstrating:
1. Signs with sticks are not allowed in the Capitol building for safety reasons. New rules prohibit signs that attach to walls or that lean, so keep the banners hand-held. Newer prohibitions against musical instruments, including drums, may also be enforced.
2. Peaceful demonstrations are allowed, so long as they don’t violate other people’s rights. However ignoring police orders is not allowed. The police may not shut down a demonstration entirely, but may put reasonable limits on the time, place and manner of a protest, including closing the Capitol building after the State of the State speech event is over. If police issue orders to protesters to leave an area or to otherwise conform to announced rules, protesters who ignore orders could be subject to citation or arrest.
3. Be a good observer. Document any problems at demonstrations with notes (time, location, details) and especially with cameras. The National Lawyers’ Guild has a guide for trained legal observers that is an excellent resource on how to document protests (PDF). Be friendly to the ACLU observers who will be there in yellow t-shirts or safety vests.
4. An individual under arrest should say nothing to law enforcement without their attorney present. Please see the ACLU of Wisconsin Guide for Demonstrators (PDF) for more details on what is constitutionally protected activity. Criminal behavior is not protected by the First Amendment. For more information on interacting with law enforcement, please see our bust cards for Milwaukee (PDF) and Madison (PDF).
5. Protests in public spaces like sidewalks and in the Capitol within a reasonable time, place and manner are allowed. In general, protesters have the most rights in outdoor public spaces like public sidewalks and the Capitol grounds. As long as the protest is peaceful and does not block traffic, most protest activities are allowed in such spaces.
As protests continue, we remind everyone to take care of themselves, cooperate and continue to exercise their free speech rights without problems or incidents.
If you or your organization face restrictions on your right to demonstrate within these guidelines, contact the ACLU of Wisconsin Madison Area Office at (608) 469-5540 or give your contact information to an ACLU legal observer.