I just left the Wisconsin state Capitol. It was 5:30 p.m. exactly when I walked out the door. A half hour later, no one who wasn't already here would be allowed to enter.
There was a long line coming in -- two of them actually, leading to doors on either side of the building. The lines were long because the 3 p.m. rally at the top of State Street had just ended. It was unclear if people knew they were among the last ones who would be allowed in. The people in the line around me didn't know. But the sheriff's deputy at the door confirmed it.
I spoke in line to a state employee who came for the afternoon rally, the third time he's been at the protests this week. He talked about his fear that Gov. Scott Walker might eliminate not just his position but his unit, which deals with workers' rights. (I am declining to be more specific, in case cutting these jobs is not something the governor has already "thought about." I imagine he's an avid reader of TheDailyPage.com.).
Just outside the entrances were garbage cans packed with protest signs, and other signs stacked against the Capitol wall by people who hope to later retrieve them. The officers at the door were making sure no signs with sticks were brought inside, as they have been doing for some time, and no food. Is someone really thinking it may be necessary to starve them out?
Inside the building, I spoke with several police officers and sheriffs deputies and a state game warden. Most of them knew enough to confirm that the building will be shut off to new visitors at 6 p.m. and cleared at 4 p.m. tomorrow for cleaning. Anyone already inside -- and there thousands of people, throughout the building, including a surprisingly large number of families with children -- can stay as long as they want tonight.
No one seemed to know what the cleaning would entail. Would the signs that have been hung from every banister be taken down? What will happen to them? When the clerks of court in Wisconsin get rid of old files of court cases after the mandatory retention periods have passed, they make these available to the state Historical Society. Will someone allow the signs that are part of this moment in Wisconsin history to be destroyed?
All this week I've been talking to the law enforcement officers converged in and around the Capitol. The other night I had a ten-minute conversation with a sheriff's deputy moments after leaving one of Gov. Walker's press conferences, the notes from that encounter burning a hole in my pocket. Today I spoke at some length with the conservation warden, one of the quasi-law enforcement employees who will not be spared the loss of collective bargaining under Walker's divisive plan.
He praised the protesters for how kind and well-behaved they've been, as have the officers I've spoken to over the last week and a half. Something remarkable has happened here: The protesters and the law enforcement officers who have been sent here from every corner of the state to keep them in line have come to like each other, to see each other as being on the same side.
I think that means -- I hope that means -- that the building will be sealed off peacefully tonight and will vacate peacefully tomorrow, leaving the building as clean as they can. And then, Monday morning, everybody can come back.