MADISON, WI - The Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, ordered the Capitol police to close the Capitol building at 4:00pm (CST) today, just a few hours from now. Protesters who have occupied the building for 14 days, with no arrests, have been prepared for this eventuality, and have devised a number of strategies to combat this. Tom, a graduate student who has been leading the continuous protests inside the Rotunda for several days, had a phone number written in black marker on his arm last night. When I asked him what it was, he explained it was the number of the lawyer who would help him out after he got arrested.
The Wisconsin State Journal described the potential actions today:
There were several indications late Saturday that some won't walk out of the building when asked. Posters went up in several places announcing that three "non-violence training" sessions were scheduled for late Saturday night.
Also, organizers distributed instructions for those who choose to peacefully refuse to leave. Among the options listed was going limp and being carried out by officers.
"I will leave peacefully," said Neil Graupner, one of the protest organizers, Saturday. "But I can't speak for my friends."
Another protester spoke to the crowd about what to expect Sunday and how to behave.
"Don't fight with the people who carry us out tomorrow," she told the crowd. "They're not who our fight is with. It's with Scott Walker and the people who support his bill."
I have the fliers being distributed to protesters. The first describes basic rights. "If faced with a request to leave the building, the protester has two choices: to stand up and leave (the lawful choice), or to ignore the request and stay (the unlawful choice). Attorneys cannot recommend that a person violate an ordinance or commit a crime."
The flier continues that protesters are likely to be forcibly removed from the building if they refuse the order. They advise that the protester not resist and go limp, or walk out in the company of the officers. They expect protesters to be charged with disorderly conduct. This may or may not result in the protester being immediately taken into custody, as part of a criminal misbehavior. They can get out of jail through the posting of bail. A separate flier asks that any non-citizens not get arrested, as it could impact their immigration status. College students are warned that disciplinary action from the college could arise from the disorderly conduct, but that may only result in a formal reprimand. There are even "arrestee support forms" from a local legal collective that protesters expecting to get arrested can fill out, with various personal information, to give to legal support teams.
Most expect the arrests to occur peacefully, but with a large crowd (there are probably over 1,000 in the building at this time), you never truly know. Some could push the envelope more than others. It will be interesting to see whether any notable figures, like local politicians, choose to get arrested, or if city and county police sympathetic to the protesters will refuse to leave the building as well. That could create a spectacle of cops from the Wisconsin State Patrol throwing out cops from city and county police departments. Ministers, rabbis and priests are in the crowd today as well, so they too may risk arrest.
Governor Walker has been chipping away slowly at the protests for days. First they closed the upper floors to sleeping. Then they restricted what could be brought into the building. Bedrolls, air mattresses and sleeping bags were first on the list. Yesterday, they stopped all food from coming in, forcing protesters inside the Rotunda to leave in order to feed themselves. They have been closing the building earlier and earlier each night, including at 6:00pm last night. People can leave at that point, but not return.
The AFL-CIO called the closure of the building an "unprecedented power grab" by Governor Walker, who gives the order on such matters.
"First Governor Walker tried to take away workers' rights, now he is trying to take away our Constitutional right as Americans to peacefully assemble," said Steelworker Roy Vandenberg. "I have a message for Governor Walker, your plan to silence us won't work. We are not going away, and we will not be silenced."
"This is a critical moment for Wisconsin and for so many states," said Rev. Leah Lonsbury of Memorial United Church of Christ. "Clearly, this is about far more than a budget. It's a moral issue, and the rights at stake here are so basic to our common good and our common humanity, to the very idea of justice, that we are willing to risk arrest to protect them and have our voices be heard. Our faith calls us to stand with the vulnerable and speak truth to power. This is what we are called to do."
The building will open again at 8am Monday morning, after an overnight cleaning. Protesters may return to occupy the Capitol at that point, or they may set up shop on the snow-covered lawn on the square.
There is a press availability at 3pm with some of the protesters, I'll know more then.