And among the chorus of chants being heard from upwards of 75,000++ people who rallied from the Library Mall, down State Street, and up to the overflowing grounds of the State Capital last Saturday was: "This is what democracy looks like!" Indeed!
Madison has much to be proud of when reflecting upon last weekend's march and protest rallies. WE consistently demonstrate to the world what "civics in action" was meant to be. Citizens who organize, work with the police, and stage a living and breathing example of First Amendment principles (freedom of assembly and freedom of speech) that result in voices being heard, rights being upheld, and the police are there in the midst of it all---facilitating both constitutional safeguards as well as managing the logistical challenges of rerouting traffic and managing huge crowds--and doing it all with gusto!
Our Department received a deluge of calls, emails, Tweets and Facebook shout-outs as a result of our hosting the Women's March. Protestors commented favorably that MPD Officers were smiling, gracious, engaging and open to "selfies." :) Similarly, our officers felt that the level of cooperation exhibited was nothing short of outstanding! Officers were also reporting numerous "thank you's;" timely validation that our efforts were seen as important and appreciated. This "symbiotic" relationship wherein the protesters and cops work together for a common goal is not by accident and is not an anomaly to Madison. . . .this City routinely showcases "successful" peaceful protests; that in spite of emotionally-charged issues of contentiousness and volatility, we have responsible citizens who work WITH the cops to avoid threats to people and property! Over 75,000 people, assembled for hours and interacting with MPD's finest . . . .and this event yielded no arrests or citations!
Working behind the scenes with event organizers and other City departments (i.e., Madison Metro, Traffic Engineering, City Clerk's Office, Madison Fire, and others) as well as a host of collaborations and planning with other law enforcement agencies, our Central District and Special Events Team (SET) Command Staff pore over a litany of details, trying to address every conceivable contingency that could arise. But let me be clear on this: this is what MPD thrives on! When considering the role of police in a free society, it is imperative that we seize upon our duty to elevate constitutional precepts. . .not suppress or lament the process of exercising those lessons learned from the Bill of Rights!
Between Freakfest, the annual "non-party/party" Mifflin Street "event," "Shake the Lake," dignitary visits from various campaigns, issue-focused protests/marches/rallies, and dozens of downtown-based happenings, our SET members and police officers are no strangers to crowds. MPD is very intentional at reaching out to organizers and trying to find a mechanism that supports and respects the event while still balancing the needs of the public to be able to move about our City with the least amount of restrictions and inconvenience.
Crowd "control" is distinctly different than crowd "management." For those who have been lifelong residents, our approach wasn't always so "enlightened" (See Exhibit "A:" "The War At Home," documentary). Thankfully, we have learned and evolved. For decades now, MPD's basic operating premise is that "managing" crowds is infinitely superior and allows for greater communication and cooperation. There are definitely steps that must be taken in order to "launch" a protest march (i.e., securing parade and street closure permits) but MPD welcomes contact(s) with organizers in an attempt to find a "win/win" proposition. Saturday was a classic example of how everyone benefits from pre-event planning! Thank you, MADISON!!!