Five students chose to stay and get arrested today when the Lansing rally and protest against Governor Rick Snyder’s “financial martial law” (among other rights Snyder’s bill takes away) was interrupted by state police demanding that the protesters leave the interior of the Capitol. As protesters banged on the doors from the outside and protesters on the inside chanted, “Let them in! Let them in!” police tried to convince the protesters inside the Capitol to leave.
As the 50 or so students still inside the Capitol weighed the decision, arguments for being arrested were, “The only way we have to have our vote is to be arrested.” And, “I’d rather face state troopers than a privatized police state.” They debated the cons against staying, which centered around a lack of bail money and lack of time to fight the arrest in court.
Listening to them make this decision reminded me of one of a speaker’s warnings during an earlier rally speech to Synder, “You took our houses, you took our jobs, now you’re raising taxes on the poor, we have nothing left to lose!” (Please note: I’m paraphrasing this from memory.) At one point in the earlier speeches outside the Capitol, one of the speakers refereed to the “…Leeches, blood-sucking parasites who call themselves Republican legislators!” to thunderous cheers. These are people who’ve already been driven to the end of their rope by a terrible state economy. They now face a Governor and Republican led legislators who are coming for their rights along with their jobs and imposing higher taxes on the poor while giving corporations a huge bonus. If they’re not angry, they aren’t paying attention.
Five students chose to stay, saying they wanted to set the precedent that they would fight for their civil rights, citing their right to vote as the most important civil right they have. They are very concerned about Snyder taking away their voting rights by replacing elected officials with anyone he chooses. The students cited the undemocratic takeover of the cities of Michigan via the Emergency Financial Management aspect of Snyder’s bill (aka: “financial martial law”). The student protesters included Jonathon Jones, Max Kooes, Mike Schall and Brett Kelly.
Those that stayed were mostly students, though one young man said he had to drop out of school due to high tuition costs and was now unemployed. They came from all over Michigan — from the Detroit area to Kalamazoo — to the rally at the Capitol in Lansing, Michigan. They sat linked, arm in arm, waiting to be arrested. While they waited, one of the young men said, “We just want to be clear, this isn’t the way we’d prefer to do this. It’s the only way we have to be heard.” By tomorrow, of course, Fox News will be reporting on these evil student thugs who dared to get upset when Governor Snyder took their voting rights away. But that will be inaccurate.
After they spoke privately with the police, the five protesters apologized to the police for causing the police to miss their dinner but said they are still not leaving. The police agreed then to give them another twenty minutes before arresting them. The protesters sat peacefully on the floor, clearly engaged in a non-violent sit in. Behind them, ironically, flew several US flags, a testimony to the rights they were fighting for.
As they sat waiting to be arrested, exceptionally loud sirens blared continuously and rather ominously through the Capitol. I hadn’t felt we were watching a police state until then. It’s not as if they needed to be warned or shut up or pushed back. They were sitting quietly and peacefully on the floor. And while I realize the state police were just doing their jobs, I can’t help but wonder how much longer they can continue to do so before they are aiding Governor Snyder’s power grab.
Then it became eerily silent as the sirens stopped blaring at 7:36 and the clock ticked closer to countdown time of 7:45. The livestream died at 7:45 but came back up as the students were being arrested. At 7:52 all five of them were arrested for “trespassing.”
Earlier in the day, there were five other arrests for trespassing and there was another person arrested for a felony “obstruction” for after attempting to crawl in a window of the Capitol. Protesters had been upset that they were not being granted the same rights to their Capitol as they had seen granted in Wisconsin. Captain Burry Nicks said the entire day went really well, that the protesters were Americans exercising their constitutional rights and he observed that the five who got arrested at the end of the day were not a part of the earlier rally. He reiterated that the protests went very well several times.
Governor Synder is begging for a protest tougher than this. He’s driven the good people of Michigan to drastic action. The protests today had an edge we didn’t see in Wisconsin yet, probably because Snyder is coming for their very voting rights on top of collective bargaining and other Draconian measures. While all of the protests have been inspiring and moving, the Michigan protests were heart-breaking at the same time, because no human beings in a so-called democracy should be driven to such desperation by a despotic leader. It’s shameful that the people of Michigan have less rights in many ways at this point than a few nameless countries we supposedly liberated in the name of freedom.
No matter what happens, the people of Michigan will know that they were there, fighting and standing up for The Great Lakes state. The protesters should take great pride in inspiring us all, and I hope the students’ message gets heard. They want their votes to count, Governor Walker. That doesn’t sound like too much to ask for in America. How many more people will need to be arrested in order to be heard?