There's a splinter faction forming on Capitol Square, and you can recognize them by their rubber gloves. Saturday morning, as protests against Scott Walker's proposed budget bill continued for the sixth consecutive day, a small crowd met near the piles of bagels, bottled water and fruit outside the TAA office on the third floor of the Capitol building. A man holding a megaphone fiddled with its switch and dials, tested it twice without success, then gave up and addressed the group.
"Does everyone have a trash bag?" he asked. "Just so you know - if you have a full bag of trash you can just put it by a trash can. You don't have to put it in."
Nearly a week into the public employees unions' organized dissent, some of the rhetoric on the Square has taken a turn for the inflammatory. From day one there were signs comparing Walker to deposed Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, but that fringe sentiment has coalesced and grown legs over the course of the protests, ending where all false analogies involving politics eventually end: Hitler. Signs like "Impeach der Führer Walker" and "Dictators are bad government" were plentiful Saturday, especially in the streets surrounding the side of the building being used for pro-bill and Tea Party speakers.
But a few people, apparently organized through a Facebook group called "Kill the Bill with Kindness," have decided to take a different approach. "There were these claims that we were making a mess," said one member, Oriol Mirosa. "So we're just going to go around and pick stuff up."
It's an understated approach to protesting - less "Nazi-Tea Party," more "Outside agitators please go home" - and the practitioners were careful to stay on message in all aspects of their behavior.
After taping paper signs to the backs of their coats that read "Please remember: This is a Peaceful Protest," the group moved into the hallway to discuss a chant. The original effort, "Pickin' up trash/ Put it in the bag/ Pickin' up Walker/ Put him in the trash," was quickly and unanimously edited down to only the first two lines. Mirosa piped up near the middle of the group of about 20, "We're not going to go over by where the Tea Party is, are we?" he asked. "We don't want to cause any sort of conflict."
As it turned out, the chant was superfluous - the group dispersed into ones and twos upon leaving the Capitol building. Ian Wall worked on the Capitol's northwest lawn, picking up plastic bottles and scraps of discarded signs. "I kind of lost the group back there," he said "but that's all right. We're meeting up three more times today."
Wall and Mirosa's crowd weren't the only ones with the idea that doing a little clean-up work might be beneficial (nor were they the first with the idea; Tea Partiers have long touted their record of leaving rally sites in good condition). A contingency from Youth Services of Southern Wisconsin and a few independent Samaritans worked the other side of the Capitol.
It's not glorious work but, according to Wall, niceness and civility are just as important as speeches and signs. "We're just trying to help out," he said, bending to pick up a wrapper that had drifted off of the sidewalk onto the lawn, "any way we can."