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Chris Rickert: Look to Madison's Sing Along for nonviolent response to hate
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Chris Rickert: Look to Madison's Sing Along for nonviolent response to hate

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Solidarity Sing Along protest

The weekday Solidarity Sing Along protest has been going on at the Capitol since 2011.

In the wake of the tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia, President Donald “both sides” Trump made clear his sympathy for America’s violent racist subculture.

A week later, far-left demonstrators blurred that morally uncomplicated and galvanizing revelation by throwing urine at police, knocking down an old lady and generally acting like jerks because a small group of right-wing “free speech” activists wanted to hold an event in Boston.

When it comes to standing up to racists, somewhere between the non-engagement of a sheet-cake eating Tina Fey and the black-clad violence of the antifa is a better approach honed by Madison’s own Solidarity Sing Along.

For the uninitiated, the Solidarity Sing Along is a regular protest at the Capitol that began in 2011, about a month after Gov. Scott Walker introduced legislation to eviscerate public-sector union rights. Its signature issues are free speech and unions; its targets, Walker in particular and Republicans in general.

During their lunch-hour events, the Singers put out signs and sing old songs updated with new lyrics to lampoon Walker and his allies, including “When Scotty Goes Marching Home Again” and “Roll Out the Recall.”

The Singers can’t claim much practical success. The anti-union legislation became 2011’s Act 10, Walker has won re-election twice, and Republicans have tightened their grip on state government. Although, a victory came in a court’s decision allowing the Singers to sing without having to get a free permit.

Their endurance and approach to protest, however, have been wildly successful. Some activists have trouble getting people to show up for one-off events. The Sing Along has been drawing people five days a week for more than six years.

And despite past crackdowns by the Capitol Police and efforts by counterprotesters to get their goat, the Singers have never resorted to violence. They keep their negativity toward their enemies impressively positive, and enjoy themselves to boot.

“When I stop having fun, I’ll stop coming,” said Bill Dunn, who was participating in the Monday Sing Along. He noted that the whole 2011-12 “uprising” against Walker was nonviolent, as was Madison’s response to a 2006 demonstration by neo-Nazis.

“If you make people happy, they tend to listen to you,” said Don Johnson, who was at Monday’s Sing Along, too. “If you’re shouting at them, it doesn’t work.”

What better ways than song and snark to counter an alt-right movement whose members seem made up mostly of troubled, less-than-successful young men who seek power, belonging and purpose in hate.

These are people who want to be taken seriously, don’t like to be laughed at and resent those living better than they are. Nothing more serves their purpose than giving them a fight, because to give them a fight gives them legitimacy.

I get that it’s easy for a white guy like me to downplay the threat from hate groups, and yet their rally in Charlottesville — believed to be the biggest display of such hate in modern times — still only drew a few hundred people.

Racists might deserve a knuckle sandwich, but for now, a well-aimed song could be more effective.

Contact Chris Rickert at 608-252-6198 or crickert@madison.com, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@ChrisRickertWSJ). His column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

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