Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a Solidarity Sing Along in Madison, Wisconsin. The Sing Along began in March 2011 in protest of Governor Scott Walker’s budget repair bill, Act 10, which (among other controversial provisions) stripped collective bargaining rights from many of Wisconsin’s public sector workers.
Despite the frigid January weather, a group of about thirty singers met outside the state Capitol building. (Singing usually takes place inside, unless the Capitol’s Rotunda is reserved for some other purpose.) Along with mittens and warm hats, they brought their musical instruments—a concertina, a drum, a guitar, and more. The singers’ repertoire consists of a 56-page songbook, which includes classic union tunes, original songs, and new lyrics set to familiar melodies. Inside the songbook’s front cover is Article 1, Section 4 of the Wisconsin State Constitution, which guarantees the right of the people to peacefully assemble and petition the government.
The Solidarity Singers are using a timeless method of preserving and sharing a community’s history through storytelling and music. In addition to its function as an ongoing protest of Governor Walker and his policies, the Solidarity Sing Along also works to ensure that the month-long occupation of the Wisconsin Capitol will not be forgotten by writing into song the events of the Act 10 protests, emotions of protesters, advice for fellow union supporters, and exhortations for the people of Wisconsin to stand united against anti-union politics. One stanza of “Watch Him Stew,” for example, tells the story of a singer whose bag was searched without cause upon entering the Capitol, while a verse that was added to “Have You Been to Jail for Justice?” helpfully provides the phone number of the Lawyers Guild for protesters who have been arrested. In honor of Pete Seeger, a perpetual friend of labor who had recently passed away, we sang “If I Had a Hammer.” The Sing Along concluded with “Solidarity Forever” as Singers marched with fists raised in tribute to the strength of organized labor.
The Solidarity Singers gather to celebrate the power of organized labor, and to remind Wisconsin politicians that the voice of the people cannot be silenced. They can be found at the Wisconsin Capitol every Monday through Friday at noon. All are welcome to attend, and more information can be found on the Solidarity Sing Along Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SolidaritySingAlong.