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Appleton, WI: FRSO members and allies confront the mayor and condemn police response to protests

By Audari Tamayo |
July 3, 2022
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Appleton, WI FRSO stands up to police repression, defends reproductive rights.
Appleton, WI FRSO stands up to police repression, defends reproductive rights. (Fight Back! News/staff)

Appleton, WI – On June 29, a group of Fox Valley activists led by members of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization gathered together to demand that Appleton Mayor Jake Woodford take action against the renewed abortion ban in Wisconsin and to hold local police accountable for their response to weekend demonstrations. Others joining FRSO included Food Not Bombs, Appleton Students for a Democratic Society, and a handful of community members, all of whom were present at the rallies since the decision came down on June 24.

During the rallies, demonstrators were harassed by Appleton police, with march leaders and the people with megaphones being targeted for tickets or citations. The participants suffered through projectiles being thrown by passing cars and by individuals from a nearby parking ramp. There were many instances of demonstrators nearly getting hit by aggressive drivers until someone actually was struck by a vehicle. Fellow protesters promptly called emergency services.

Unsurprisingly, the police apprehended the person who’d recorded the attack, a friend of the individual who was struck, charging them with “disorderly conduct with a weapon.” On top of that, the police either ignored or failed to respond in time to a multitude of calls by demonstrators being assaulted by anti-choice passersby. The police repression and inadequate response of the police to protect people from being assaulted prompted the meeting with the mayor.

At the meeting on June 29, Mayor Woodford – a self-described progressive – gave a show of what being a moderate politician looks like, avoiding a straight answer to the demand for an official statement calling on the state legislature to repeal the anti-abortion law. Before things even got started, the mayor took notice of the activists taking photographs and videos and stated, “Just to be clear though, there's sorta camera Jake and Mayor Jake on the camera.” The use of photographs and video for documentation purposes, especially when speaking to a silver-tongued politician is important so there is evidence of what was said and done. The mayor did not seem to appreciate the activists using such mediums to hold him accountable for what was said at the meeting.

While the mayor stated his support for the protesters and those who are affected by the ban, he asked the activists at the meeting “to be realistic.” He also claimed to be unable to provide a statement because the staff in his office normally responsible for this type of work was on maternity leave which struck an odd chord among the activists.

The activists used the meeting to also bring up the issue of police repression, inadequate police response, and the nonsensical Appleton city protest guidelines. The guidelines state that protest organizers are responsible for all violence that occurs, but the violence was instigated by the reactionaries to whom the police largely turned a blind eye. Some demonstrators at the previous rallies were also subject to citations for noise complaints for using a megaphone during the rallies, citations that the police didn’t have enough courage to give in person and had to send through mail.

The mayor and the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Coordinator Timber Smith, who was also present at the meeting, took to defending the police and describing their response as adequate and as the police doing what they were trained to do. The group reminded Mayor Woodford and Mr. Smith of police ignoring distress calls by the demonstrators, their decision to apprehend the individual whose friend had just been struck by a vehicle, and their general hostility when dealing with demonstrators and organizers.

Despite the conditions, the people of Appleton will not be stopped from demanding their rights. A large rally and march is being planned for July 4. The demands for Mayor Woodford and for police accountability will be raised again, but this time with many more people to echo them. Additional demands for Appleton police to not enforce the abortion ban and for Outagamie County to not prosecute any abortion cases.

The past week's events have been enough of a sign that the police, politicians and judges of this country are not on the side of the millions of working-class and oppressed nationality women and others impacted by the overturning of federal abortion protections. The working class must organize together to put pressure on the ruling and political class to take back our rights. Our rights are not to be asked, bargained, or discussed for, they must be demanded and taken back. We must fight back against the reactionary ruling class because their cruelty knows no boundaries.