Madison, Wis. — For days, the state capitol has resembled, at various times, the parking lot of a rock concert, a dorm room, and a homeless shelter. Labor activists have been sleeping, eating, and protesting under the rotunda, living off of donated pizza, snack boxes, and noodles. Now, by Saturday night, many of them will have to leave.
According to the Wisconsin State Journal, the Joint Committee on Legislative Organization will “restrict access to hearing rooms and legislative offices after normal business hours starting Saturday.”
The move to start clearing out the capitol has been spearheaded by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, a Republican, who is working closely with Gov. Scott Walker (R., Wis.) to pass a budget-repair bill by the end of this week. Fitzgerald told reporters on Wednesday that law-enforcement officials are growing increasingly concerned about public safety.
“I think what law enforcement is worried about is, they have no idea how many people are in one office at night, sleeping bags everywhere,” Fitzgerald said in an exchange with David Weigel of Slate. “And there were concerns about exiting people out if something would happen, not having any idea how many people are in those legislative offices.”
No word on how this will play out: Young educators, through the University of Wisconsin Teaching Assistants Association, have been managing a commune of sorts over the past week from the third floor, coordinating volunteers and passing out food.
Alex Hanna, the group’s co-president, is unhappy about Fitzgerald’s maneuver. “Last night, they were playing protest footage on [televisions] in the rotunda extra loud, I think just to annoy the people occupying the building,” he complains. “Symbolically, they’re trying to make us less entrenched. But I think we can still mount an effective occupation.”