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Wednesday, December 24, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 35.0° F  Overcast
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Small, committed group hopes to remain inside Wisconsin Capitol Monday night
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State Rep. Brett Hulsey (D-Madison) addresses the holdouts left in the Capitol Monday night.
Credit:Jason Joyce

A lap around downtown Madison's Capitol Square Monday evening reveals a very uncharacteristic calm, with the exception of a few hundred protesters assembled for a quiet vigil on the King Street side. It's the dullest I've seen it around here since Valentine's Day.

Compared to the clamor produced by throngs parading around the Square and assembling for protests each afternoon and evening over the past few weeks -- accompanied by satellite trucks, bagpiping fire fighters and curious onlookers -- the corner of Caroll and Mifflin Streets is deader than downtown Dodgeville.

To anyone who witnessed the serial sleepovers for a few thousand late last week, the scene inside the Capitol tonight seems barely possible. A group of about 70 are gathered on the ground floor, speaking in tones so hushed that state Rep. Brett Hulsey (D-Madison) can be easily heard with a small bullhorn.

"Governor Walker is trying to turn Wisconsin into a banana republic," Hulsey says. "And we're not gonna let him do it."

Maybe not, but it's clear that Walker, with help from many of the protesters themselves, has been able to turn a raucous, days-long occupation of the Capitol into a quiet collection of nervous, but committed, resisters. Tag Evers, a Madison music promoter, says he left the building Sunday night confident that no protesters would be arrested. When he returned Monday morning, police weren't allowing anyone in.

"I heard the only way you could get in was to have an appointment with your legislator, which in my case is Terese Berceau," Evers says. "I spotted her outside and she escorted me in. I've been here ever since. I'm not leaving. I think it's important for some older people to be in here in addition to the college students."

Jeff Burkhart, executive director of the Literacy Network of Dane County, belongs in that group as well. Burkhart says he was escorted into the Capitol at 5 pm by a legislative assistant with the intent of testifying before a panel of Assembly Democrats. Once inside, he was told by a police officer that nobody was allowed above the ground level without a white sticker, but when he asked the officers posted at the King Street entrance for a sticker, they told him they weren't giving any more out.

"They seem to be changing the rules," Burkhart (who is tweeting from the rotunda at @jeffburkhart) says. "And they're not telling anyone."

Burkhart and others say they've heard that none of the law enforcement agencies want to make arrests, and the officers from places like Marquette County and Maple Bluff, accompanied by a snoozing German Shepherd, are downright cheerful and quick to chat. But he's still unsure if he and his fellow demonstrators will be ejected tonight and notes that officers were stationed outside restrooms.

"There are a lot of police officers in here," he says, indicating a group of eight state troopers nearby. "And they keep getting closer and closer."

Hulsey doesn't know much, either, when asked if the protesters will be removed. But he, along with his Democratic colleagues in the state Assembly, have scheduled a public hearing for 8 am Tuesday with the idea that the Capitol needs to be open to the public if there's a hearing in session.

News reports suggest access to the hearing will be limited, however, and those testifying may be escorted out of the building immediately after speaking.

"Our goal is to have thousands of people in this building," Hulsy says.

Evers encourages everyone who left the Capitol to return in the morning and remain through Walker's budget address to a joint session of the legislature, scheduled for 4 pm.

"I think numbers count," he says. "If they don't let people in, I hope we have enough people to ring the Capitol, holding hands."

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