It has been over a week since I was able to head downtown to protest, but I made it down to the Capitol today. When we arrived around 11:00 AM, it was clear that the members of the National Association of Letter Carriers were out in force. Crowded on the front steps of the Capitol, a rally was already in full swing with guest speakers, most of whom were union representatives or members. By 12:00, the crowd had grown, and there was a steady stream of protestors circling the Capitol as well. In addition to Letter Carriers, the Wisconsin AFL-CIO was out, and were collecting signatures for thank you letters to the "Wisconsin 14". They were also handing out "pink slips" for Scott Walker (printed, appropriately, on pink paper) that they were encouraging people to sign on the back and then mail to Walker's office on Monday.
Other unions represented today included the Teamsters, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, and AFSCME. There were also police officers with "Cops for Labor" placards, librarians, nurses, carpenters and joiners, and even though the Wisconsin Education Association Council did not have any official protest plans today, there were members of WEAC present today, as they have been every day. And true to the spirit that has infused these peaceful protests, people were handing out free sandwiches and other food to protestors. A woman was circulating with subs from Jimmy Johns, and we saw the partner of the owner of a local bar, the Harmony, handing out sandwiches as well.
One speaker mentioned that the Americans for Prosperity "rally" that was occurring at the Alliant Energy Center a few miles away had been infiltrated by a member of the UW Teachers Assistant Association. That person reported that there were less than one hundred Tea Partiers at the rally to hear "Joe the Plumber" speak and show their support for Walker, while there were about one thousand anti-Walker protestors lining the drive to the arena and parking lot. However, a conservative news outlet, Channel3000.com, reported that there were 700 Walker supporters at that rally with only a few hundred anti-bill protestors outside. Perhaps they don't know how to count at Channel3000.com. The accompanying photo they provide with the article does indeed show a crowd of protestors - crammed inside the Capitol rotunda, which is odd because the AFP rally today did not take place there. Channel3000.com does not bother to label or credit the photo.
I have not been in the Capitol building itself since the Department of Administration instituted a police state early this week, but with a court ruling by Judge John Albert three days ago stating that the Capitol had to reopen to the public during normal business hours, protestors have been allowed to reenter. However, prior to this week the public was allowed to freely come and go, without searches of bags or hand-held metal detector screenings. Since the "reopening", the public is allowed through only two of entrances, and must be searched. There is now a posted listing of all of the items prohibited inside (including snakes, fyi) and there are also posters displayed that declare "Demonstrations Area Ground Floor Rotunda".
The mood inside the building is, unsurprisingly, far more sedate than it was in the weeks before the crackdown. I counted just over 100 demonstrators inside the building at approximately 2:00 PM Sunday, and although there were spontaneous and intermittent chants, it could not replicate the energy and magic of the around-the-clock protests from the weeks before.
Of note, although the numbers of protestors were significantly reduced, the number of law enforcement officials was markedly increased. Inside the building, I counted eighty law enforcement officials that I could see, mostly guarding closed entrances, sitting at the end of hallways in front of offices, or standing and observing the crowd, and that was excluding the officers employed in the entrance security screening (of whom there were approximately twenty that I saw between the two entrances). To rephrase that, there were at least eighty law enforcement officials at work to watch over approximately one hundred somewhat subdued protestors once inside the Capitol. The majority of those were sitting on folding chairs away from any civilians, and looked bored stiff. Since it was a Sunday and they were all being paid overtime, it struck me as a colossal waste of money.
As for the $7.5 million in damages, an estimate which which now appears to be an enormous exaggeration (or lie, depending on how cynical you are), I saw none. I spent thirty minutes walking through the first and second floors, examining the areas where protestors slept, where signs were taped on walls and over banisters, and saw no damaged marble. I found no discoloration of the stone, no graffiti, no gouges, and found only two spots with minimal adhesive clinging to the marble. And after I scraped the adhesive off of those two spots with my fingernail (for free, no less!) there was no indication that anything had ever been there. I also checked two of the women's bathrooms, and my guy checked one of the mens, and both were pristine without any visible damage.
I have been in the Capitol building about twice a year for the past decade, bringing family or friends from out of town, or taking the kids for an outing. Had I not been at the protests in the building two weeks ago, I would never have guessed that anything out of the ordinary happened there in February.
Overall, for a day with no widely publicized rally at the Capitol, we still managed to gather what I would estimate was 5,000 to 8,000 people. I continue to be amazed by my fellow Wisconsinites and supporters from all over America. We will not go quietly.