Ryan vs. Huebsch

Demonstration Area. Ground Floor Rotunda. Photo by Callen Harty.

Demonstration Area. Ground Floor Rotunda. Photo by Callen Harty.

More than four years ago thousands upon thousands of protesters descended upon Wisconsin’s Capitol to protest Scott Walker’s attack on public employee unions, among other things that were in his “budget repair bill”. Please note that despite media insistence it was never just about Act 10. There were many horrible things in that bill. After a time the Department of Administration pretty much maneuvered security in the building to keep out any more than a handful of protesters at one time. They then started harassing those who were there by trying to set up specific areas of protest in the building.

One group, led by Jeremy Ryan of Defending Wisconsin, decided to hold signs on the first floor of the building (which is actually the floor above the ground floor). Ryan received multiple citations and some of the other members of the group received several also. Like almost all of the arrests that came about as a result of the protests against Walker and his Republican allies the citations were clearly illegal. The Capitol police were making up rules as they went along, the Department of Administration was changing their rules on an almost weekly basis, and none of the small government Republicans in office said a word about the trampling of their citizens’ Constitutional rights of assembly and speech.

These citizens sued the state and the trial was finally held today.

The attorneys for the state seemed as incompetent as the Capitol police. One has to wonder if they even have the stomach for these cases in which they clearly know that the Constitution has been violated. How can lawyers for the Attorney General’s office, which is sworn to uphold the Constitution, even sleep at night when they are defending the state in a case such as this? How can they justify taking it on? And how can the Attorney General let a case like this continue instead of settling? The plaintiffs were clearly within their Constitutional rights to hold signs in the Capitol. There was no danger to anyone and they were simply stating their political opinions in a building that has historically been seen as the state’s town square.

The sign that Ryan was holding said, “ALEC = GOP Greed”. At the time not that many people knew about the American Legislative Exchange Council. Now it is well-known as an organization that allows big business easy access to legislators who are convinced to introduce their boilerplate legislation into law in their home states. Many Republican legislators in Wisconsin belong and Governor Scott Walker was a long-time member as an Assembly representative. The sign that my niece was holding simply said, “Our nation is a union.” Apparently Walker and his minions felt that these were treasonous words and shouldn’t be displayed in a building that they had taken over and made their own palace. Both were ticketed. My niece’s ticket was for just over $200. Today the judge awarded Ryan $750 for each of his many tickets, my niece $4,000 for hers, and several other plaintiffs several thousand dollars each.

If I thought that today’s decision would help the Republicans in power in Wisconsin learn something I would be overjoyed. But they are used to running roughshod over our laws and citizens and the wishes of the people. My expectation is that they will appeal. If it goes all the way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court there is a conservative majority that seems to care much less about the Constitution than about power, so the victory today may prove to be short-lived.

The state has already spent a considerable amount of money taking hundreds of citizens to court over illegal arrests like these and cases that have been summarily dismissed by the courts. I had a ticket that was dismissed a couple years ago for videotaping in the gallery of the legislature. Walker and his cohorts claim we are broke. Yet they continue spending taxpayer dollars on cases like this when it is clear to the greenest of lawyers that they have no case. I’d like to see them finally give it up. Then again, I’d also like to win a million dollars. That is probably more likely.

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 Amazon.com (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.
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