The Luck of the Irish

Irish flag draped over the rail in the Wisconsin Capitol rotunda.  Photo by Callen Harty.

Irish flag draped over the rail in the Wisconsin Capitol rotunda. Photo by Callen Harty.

Apparently we Irishmen are either unwitting or unrepentant lawbreakers, but due to the luck of the Irish we get away with it with no consequences.

For the past two years the Solidarity Sing Along and other protesters of the Scott Walker regime in Wisconsin have been coming to the Capitol to exercise their rights of free speech, assembly, and petitioning their government. The Wisconsin Capitol rotunda has historically been the town square for the state, where citizens can come with signs and voices to speak out for or against legislation or on any topic of interest. But the Walker administration has apparently deemed the group lower level terrorists (as they always sing on the ground floor). They have issued hundreds of tickets and arrested dozens of citizens for standing up for their beliefs, clearly all in the interests of safety and guaranteeing everyone’s rights.

Most of the cases have been dismissed by the courts, but the powers that be continue to amend the administrative rules so that citations and arrests may continue. They have arrested people for holding signs, singing, and more. Which brings us back to the miscreant Irishmen.

On St. Patrick’s Day I attended the annual Irish flag ceremony at the State Capitol, an event I have been going to for several years and which as a proud man of Irish heritage I have always enjoyed. But this year I noticed several hooligans engaging in behavior which many of those in the Solidarity Sing Along have been cited for in the past year. The difference was that none of my Irish brethren were arrested, cited, or even questioned for the same behaviors that have landed others in handcuffs. Perhaps, I thought, the Capitol police chief is also Irish, but the name Erwin is typically either Scottish or German.

The shenanigans that unfolded on St. Patrick’s Day were truly disturbing to watch. I was aghast to see a young girl, five or six at most and apparently already a hardened criminal, carrying a helium balloon right in the middle of the rotunda, a place where helium balloons have been banned by administrative rule. I was shocked at the brazen way she marched in circles around the rotunda, right under the noses of the Capitol police, who seemed too shocked to do anything. I later noticed a member of the Shamrock Club walking around asking for donations (even though solicitation is also against the rules) while carrying two helium balloons–two!–and then I saw at least two other juvenile delinquents carrying more of these balloons. Somebody was smuggling them into the building and somehow none of them were arrested or even asked to remove the dangerous balloons.

A short time later I saw a man sitting on the steps up to the first floor, something that at least one of the protesters I know was told was not allowed and for which he was threatened with arrest. He was told it was dangerous to block those stairs. Yet this man sat there as if he owned those stairs. I presume none of the Capitol police noticed him or they would have called a paddy wagon.

Many of the Solidarity Singers have been accused of and cited for blocking access because they form a circle around the outer ring of the rotunda when they sing. They always move out of the way of others needing to get through and typically there are not enough of them that they are in the way in the first place. Yet, several hundred people on St. Patrick’s Day filled all of the available space leading into the center of the rotunda. I thought perhaps the Capitol police felt overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of Irish revelers and perhaps were waiting for backup from the Department of Natural Resources and the State Patrol before moving in with riot gear. But then I noticed that several of them were hanging out on the first floor just chatting with some of the criminals and I suddenly felt even luckier with my heritage. Clearly we were getting a pass and selective enforcement of the rules was to our benefit on our special day.

When the Forward Marching Band–another group formed out of the Walker protests that started two years ago–filed for a permit to perform in the Capitol rotunda they were warned about keeping the noise to a certain level. If they didn’t do so it was intimated that their percussion might face repurcussion. So when I saw that the Zor Shrine Pipe and Drum Corps was on the schedule for the flag ceremony I assumed they would be marching in and just showing off their instruments. Bagpipes really only have one volume, so clearly they wouldn’t be able to play. Then suddenly I heard a command, a drumbeat, and soon the entire building was reverberating with the sound of more than a dozen bagpipers and drummers making so much noise that I couldn’t hear the people around me anymore. I got my camera ready to shoot pictures of the noise police rushing in to tackle these old men making so much noise but again nothing happened. Not only were they not ticketed they mocked the rules by playing several tunes before turning around and haughtily marching out.

My heart was feeling badly for those in the Solidarity Sing Along. While they have been threatened, ticketed, harassed, had to take off work to go to court to fight their citations and more here was a whole building full of people getting away with the same crimes right in front of several law enforcement officers. I thought it couldn’t get worse. Until it did.

As a woman was beautifully singing the Irish national anthem several men and women on the second floor started to unfurl the Irish flag from the railing above everyone. I’ve lost count of how many of the Walker protesters have been cited for dangerously holding signs over that rail, and here was a giant flag being unfurled from a large piece of wood or piping right above the event’s dignitaries. Virtually all of those ticketed for large banners over the last year or so were told that signs and banners that large were incredibly dangerous, but here was a giant banner in the form of a flag dangling above the next floor down. Certainly, I thought, the police would come rushing in to tear it out of their hands as I’ve seen them do with old women in the last couple months. After all, the safety of the dignitaries was at stake.

But nothing happened. It was left to dangerously hang there, dangling over the heads of innocent citizens. I no longer felt safe in the building, so I decided to flee. The place was in chaos. There were still children running around with helium balloons, dozens upon dozens of people blocking access to and from the rotunda, and a giant flag that could fall and kill important people at any moment. I managed to make my way through the crowd and out into the safety of daylight, no thanks to the Capitol police whose job is to protect visitors to the Capitol, but who were clearly negligent in their duties on this day. All I can say is, thank God I’m Irish.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Luck of the Irish

  1. If I don’t know you better, I’d think you were being sarcastic or ironic…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s