"Whose house?' "OUR house!" Showdown looms at Wis Capitol | WisCommunity

"Whose house?' "OUR house!" Showdown looms at Wis Capitol

Whose house?

OUR house!

The chant has been echoing off the marble of the Wisconsin State Capitol for two weeks, as demonstrators opposed to Gov. Scott Walker's attempt to break public employee unions have filled the building and maintained a round-the-clock presence.

But in a few hours, at 4 this afternoon, Walker has ordered the Capitol cleared for "cleaning," and declared an end to overnight sleep-ins. 

That could set the stage for confrontation, and Walker -- who admitted in a taped telephone conversation he had considered planting some troublemakers -- would not be disappointed if there's some scuffling that makes the demonstrators look bad.

That seems unlilkely, but it appears there will be at least some organized civil disobedience by people willing to be arrested rather than leave the building on their own.

By all accounts, including those of the many law enforcement people on the scene, the protests and rallies -- which drew 100,000 people on Saturday -- have been remarkable peaceful and trouble-free.  The demonstrators, for the most part, have policed themselves, 

Relations with police have been outstanding. In fact, members of the Wisconsn Professional Police Assn. slept overnight with the protesters one night this week, and have urged Walker to keep the Capitol open.

So there is unlikely to be any major problem today.  But there is always the potential, in a tense situation, for an individual or isolated incident to spark an uproar and dominate the media.  That would be a grave disservice to the hundreds of thousands who have participated in a peaceful protest the last two weeks.  But it could happen.  Let's hope not.

In a release today from the Wisconsin AFL-CIO said that dozens of ministers, rabbis, and priests have joined workers and students from across the state, risking arrest to protest the closing of the State Capitol to the public.

“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.”

In all likelihood, some will be arrested, perhaps go limp and be carried from the building.  It is impossible to gauge the potential numbers who will choose that option.  The Capitol will no doubt be jammed with people who come to witness what transpires.

One fear among the demonstrators is that once the Capitol is closed their access will be restricted.  The understanding is that the Capitol will reopen at 8 a.m. on Monday and be open 8 to 6 daily.  But in Ohio, the capitol was closed to everyone but staff and legislators, and many don't trust Walker not to follow suit.

What's planned, we are hearing, is that people will be encouraged to leave in a peaceful procession at 4 p.m. CST, with others outside to greet, applaud and thank them as they leave.  Some may submit to being peacefully arrested, and others may go limp, based on individual decisions.

My concern in these situations is always that some individual not make a bad decision that undermines the greater good.  The goal of these ongoing protests is first and foremost to maintain collective bargaining rights for public employees in the state.  It is also to protect state health care programs for children and the poor, and prevent many other lesser but nefarious changes Walker has incoported in his so-cslled budget repair bill.

People make their own decisions about what's right for them, of course, and I respect those who choose to make a statement by submitting to arrest and/or going to jail.  I'm proud to count people like the late Sam Day and Nobel Peace nominee Kathy Kelly among my friends, and both chose that route many times. 

Based on how things have gone in Madison the last two weeks, there is probably no reason to be apprehensive about what will happen later today.  But the anxiety is there nonetheless.

Let's hope that everyone involved in trying to stop Scott Walker's assault on Wisconsin rights and values keeps his/her eyes on the prize.


February 27, 2011 - 1:55pm