Several protests against Governor Evers’ safer-at-home extension will go ahead tomorrow at the Wisconsin State Capitol. Protest organizers say they plan to hold the events even after being denied permits.
In a press conference earlier today, Governor Evers said that he has no plans to interfere with the rallies.
“We’re making the assumption that these are all good Wisconsinites that are practicing their right, under the first amendment, to express their views. We also believe that they will make sure that they’re physically distant to each other,” he said. “Using the first amendment to express yourself is quite sacred, but I don’t think that should prevent people from using common sense.”
The permits for the protest were denied by the Department of Administration due to the current moratorium on gatherings.
The capitol police have confirmed they will not be interfering with the protests.
In an email to WORT, Department of Administration spokesperson Molly Vidal wrote, “…the Capitol Police Mission Statement is to protect everyone’s civil liberties, which includes the freedom of speech and freedom to assemble. It is also their mission to protect the health and welfare of the people of the State of Wisconsin.”
The Dane County Sheriff’s Office and the Madison City Police Department also confirmed to WORT that they’ll be standing by to provide logistical support, but the protests fall under Capitol Police jurisdiction. That means neither law enforcement office will be able to interfere unless asked.
The “Freedom Rally” is the latest in a line of similar events over the past two weeks. Protesters have leveled criticisms at state governments for extending safer-at-home orders. They say the extended orders will do further damage to state economies and businesses.
The Wisconsin event’s Facebook group has been removed after the website announced earlier this week that it intends to remove protest events that violate safer-at home orders. Before its removal, the event had 3300 confirmed attendees and another 12,000 who said they were interested, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
Speaking with the Journal, event organizer Madison Elmer said, ”It’s OK to be concerned about people getting sick from a virus. But it’s also OK for people to be concerned about how people are doing mentally, physically, emotionally. It’s OK to be concerned about the effect on the economy.”
The nationwide rallies have faced accusations of being artificially propped up by republican donors. A New York Times investigation found several connections between conservative groups and the protests.
Speaking with the YouTube program IITV, Conservative commentator Stephen Moore, who has ties to the groups, said one Wisconsin donor is even willing to cover bail for those arrested during Friday’s protests.
“We have one big donor in Wisconsin, I’m not going to mention his name, and I told him about this and he said, ‘Steve, I promise I will pay the bail and legal fees for anyone arrested,” Moore said. “This is a great time for civil disobedience. We need to be the Rosa Parks here.”
In response to the rally, some local healthcare workers say they’re planning a counter-protest to start at 8 pm tonight. The group is planning on arranging 1300 candles around the State Capitol building, representing each resident in the state who has been hospitalized with COVID-19 so far.