Despite rejected permit, organizers forge ahead with Friday rally in Madison to reopen state

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Despite having their permit rejected by Gov. Tony Evers’ administration, organizers of Friday’s rally to reopen the state said they plan to move forward with their event on the grounds of the state Capitol in Madison.

“We’re going to peacefully assemble,” Madison Elmer told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Wednesday.

There has been a string of protests against the extension of Evers’ safer-at-home order, even as most businesses and residents are following the governor’s guidelines. The governor is trying to stem the coronavirus pandemic.

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Elmer, who lives in Walworth, said she applied for the permit April 14 and received an email from the state Department of Administration Monday night.

She said the email stated: “Due to do the Wisconsin Department of Health Services safer at home order the permit request is being denied.”

In a statement, the Department of Administration said that on Monday, “the Capitol Police denied a permit from an individual requesting an event on the Capitol grounds that estimated a crowd of 1,000 people.”

“The request for the permit was denied due to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services ‘Safer at Home’ order, which aims to limit the spread of COVID-19,” the statement said.

Two statutes were referenced in the denial.

“It is also important to know that one of the declarations within the Capitol Police Mission Statement is to protect everyone’s civil liberties, which includes the freedom of speech and freedom to assemble,” the statement said.

“It is also their mission to protect the health and welfare of the people of the State of Wisconsin. But, as Chief (David) Erwin always says, ‘A good day for a Capitol Police Officer is to not make an arrest, not take anyone to jail, to not need to cite anyone, and have helped others.’ ” 

There are actually three events planned for Friday in Madison, with all of them set to start at 1 p.m. The group Elmer and others created plans to gather to hear speeches at the Capitol.

A group of business owners is to assemble in Waukesha County in the morning for a caravan to the Capitol.

And a third group, led by Ben Dorr of Minnesota Gun Rights, has called for a “drive-in rally, operation gridlock.”

Asked how many people she expected to show up, Elmer said: “This is so hard to tell. It’s a really hot topic and lots of people are passionate about it.”

“We have a lineup of speakers that include a doctor, a nurse, a couple of small business owners,” she said. “We have two farmers lined up to speak on how this is affecting their farms. We’re also going to put out a call to action to encourage people to contact their state legislators and local sheriffs.”

Bob Tarantino, a Realtor who is organizing the business owners caravan, said anywhere from “dozens to hundreds” could be participating in the drive from Waukesha to Madison.

“The business owners that I talk to on a regular basis, we’re kind of all at the end of our rope with Governor Evers’ order to keep the state shut down,” he said.

Tarantino said it was important to open up soon because businesses are running out of money.

“We want to show support for our business owners,” he said.

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