Sunday, Feb 27 (Day of Civil Disobedience)
Sunday was the first day I felt nervous about the situation inside the Capitol.
A lot of folks slept elsewhere Saturday night, as the wet day of marching in the snow had left many without warm, dry clothes. Our numbers were likely around 100 or 150 when we first got moving.
Some folks slept in to prepare for what was anticipated to be a possible night in jail. Others busily got preparations together for 4:00pm. That was our deadline to leave the Capitol or risk arrest by refusing.
The night before many had vowed to stay after 4:00 and do various actions. Others would be arriving throughout the day to stay with us after 4:00.
As noon approached, the nervous feelings affected peoples’ faces. There was an unspoken fear that we might not have the numbers we needed to pull off a successful civil disobedience that would have the political impact we desired. We couldn’t fall short this far into the occupation.
Organizers texted and made calls to make sure folks were going to turn out. Others got the open-mic started and began beating away at the circle of drums in the atrium. Others just relaxed and tried to prepare for arrest.
Around 12:00, numbers started to pickup, to our relief. Like the other days, marches came and paraded through the atrium. Firefighters, teamsters, teachers, steamfitters, and more. When the firefighters came upstairs, many with their helmets on, anxiety started to ease. We we’re gonna be fine.
A steady stream of people came in the doors from two directions after noon, and by 1:00 the police had shut the doors due to the overflowing crowd. There were 2,500 people inside with us according to the police.
Many headed outside as 4:00 approached, to stand in solidarity with those risking arrest.
Inside a huge group stood listening to speakers until the Capitol loud-speaker crackled at 3:30: “The Capitol is now closed,” a voice announced. “Those who wish to leave should go downstairs.”
Slowly, a few dozen folks headed for the ground floor, but to the surprise of some of us, most stayed: firefighters, the head of the police union, steel workers, hundreds of students, teachers, folks from the AFSCME union, and more. I estimated that at 4:00 we had up to 600 or 700 people inside with us.
4:00 rolled by without incident, and a festive atmosphere emerged with drums, dancing, a 100-person sit-in, and a 200-person human chain linking around the entire second floor balcony. We just partied and enjoyed what could be the end of the transformative space folks had created inside the Capitol.
Sometime around 6:30 or so, word came to organizers that Republican Rep. Dane Schultz had announced he would switch his vote to stand against the anti-union bill. A massive cheer went up followed by a long session of dancing, music, cheering, hugs, and phone calls.
Unfortunately, this turned out to be a rumor. Schultz’s office today denied the Senator made a statement, but Schultz remains silent about how he will vote, leading many to think he may stand with labor.
Still festive from what would have been amazing news, at 7:00 we got official word from the police: We would not be arrested, we could have dinner delivered, and we would move to the ground-floor to allow cleaning crews to do their job upstairs. A huge party followed that didn’t end until 9:00.
$2,000 worth of pizza was waiting for us as we moved sleeping materials, bags, random belongings, and organizing materials downstairs. Exhausted and perhaps absurdly calm following all the preparation for the worst, most folks just laid back and talked.
Shortly after dinner I was moved to perform some of my songs to a crowd of folks in the atrium, which was one of my goals for the weekend! The show was lovely, a very meaningful setting for me to offer my words and music in exchange for the massive amount of leadership, commitment, and sacrifice that so many in the room embodied and displayed in the work they had done in building this movement.
Folks slept shortly after my performance, laying all over the atrium and hallways of the Capitol.
I said goodbyes to new friends as I left the next morning for my trip back to Baltimore. It was sad to say goodbye to this creation, this community of massive energy and spirit. What was created inside was truly a beautiful thing, a temporary home that really grew on me.
As I sat on the plane, a laid-off school teacher and friend of mine, texted me. “They are not letting anyone into the building, State Police are blocking the doors.” A crowd gathered outside, reaching up to 1,000 people by the afternoon.
Governor Scott Walker’s big budget announcement is on Tuesday, and a massive march has been called for to confront it. And though the Fab 14 have still not returned, this week could yield huge results for the better or worse.
For victory in Wisconsin, and for a revived U.S. movement for justice and human rights!