MADISON, WI - Opponents of Gov. Scott Walker's plan to curtail collective bargaining among public employees continued their seventh day of protests Sunday, though organizers moved the rally inside the Capitol due to a winter storm.
Thousands of energetic protesters gathered in the Capitol rotunda for a noon rally and continuing demonstrations through the day to send a signal they would not back down from their opposition to Walker's plan, their chants, cheers, drumming and horns once again thundering through the Capitol.
Jesse Peterson, 24, a student from Mahtowa, Minn., said he came to the rally to support Wisconsin workers.
"I believe that the right to collectively bargain is the right to engage in democracy," he said.
Outside, smatterings of protesters, many carrying signs, hung around or circled the building.
Sunday's rally may be a brief respite from the enormous amount of protesters who have descended on the Capitol in recent days, closing schools, sparking chaos in the Legislature, and capturing the attention of the nation.
Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the state AFL-CIO, told the crowd at the noon rally that a "kill the bill" chant had even erupted on New York City's Times Square and that he expects solidarity rallies in at least 38 states on Monday. "The nation will be watching. The nation will be participating," he said.
Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin, said his union is exempt from the governor's legislation but is standing with union brothers and sisters. "If they come into the house of labor and try to burn it down, we've got to come in and put the fire out. If it does fall, we'll help rebuild it."
Jamie Domini, a teacher from Badger Rock Middle School in Madison, echoed to cheers, "This is not just a Madison thing. It's a Wisconsin thing. It's a United States thing. It's a world thing."
Police estimated that 68,000 people crammed Capitol Square on Saturday, including 60,000 on the grounds outdoors, in the largest day of protests yet. Saturday featured the first time that Walker supporters joined the throng, but their numbers were swamped by his opponents.
The state Department of Administration could not be reached for an estimate of Sunday's crowd, which was enthusiastic and peaceful but much smaller than those of previous days. Madison police said they had no estimate.
As darkness fell, the protest continued as some munched on free pizza or snacks and others stole a nap in a nook or cranny of the building.
Erika Wolf of the United Council of UW students said hundreds of people have been staying overnight in the Capitol and have been getting donations for food and other kinds of support from around the globe.
"We're here and we're here until it's over," she said.
Monday could be the biggest protest day yet. As a furlough day for state workers, union organizers are planning to bring in protesters by bus from across the state. Rallies are scheduled at the Capitol for noon and 5 p.m. A Rock for Your Rights concert, featuring former Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, is expected to start on Capitol Square at 5 p.m.
U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., back from a federal budget battle in Washington, D.C., said her Democratic colleagues this week told her that they fear their states are next for a rollback of collective bargaining rights if protesters don't stand firm.