Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs speaks on the phone while another law enforcement officer speaks to a man reading on the ledge.
How tense are things getting at the Wisconsin Capitol? At 11 a.m., a guy was sitting on a second-story ledge on the outside of the building, above the King Street entrance. Five members of the Capitol police surrounded him, but at a respectful distance, lest he slide off the ledge to his death.
The Capitol has been the site of massive demonstrations for the past two weeks, with tens of thousands of Wisconsinites protesting Gov. Scott Walker's union-curbing budget bill. The rallies have been notably peaceful, including the noisy, messy, all-night sleepovers inside the Capitol. But the relationship between the protesters and the Capitol police became strained this weekend after the announcement that the building would be cleared for cleaning at 4 p.m. Sunday. Some protesters refused to leave and were finally allowed to keep sleeping in the building.
But on Monday morning, the Department of Administration ordered the Capitol locked down except for those on official business. Police stood in front of a velvet rope, guarding the King Street entrance. The guy on the ledge threatened to give the tense situation a turn toward the tragic.
Both police and protest organizers tried to keep their cool. As a crowd gathered in front of the Capitol to watch, police officers begged for cooperation. "Please help us out," one of them said to a group of protesters trying to edge past the line of cops. "Go to the other side of the building and make our job easier."
The protest organizers also tried to herd the crowd to the State Street side of building, where a rally was getting under way. They worried that the guy on the ledge would attract negative attention.
"He's not representing any groups," said a grim-looking Iris Patterson, of Wisconsin Worker Solidarity. "He's just been up for 10 days, with no food, and is feeling stressed."
Patterson emphasized the civility of the protests to date. "It's been a very calm and thoughtful process," she said. "We're trying hard to be proactive and not reactionary. We've been working hand in hand with the Capitol police to keep the protest as peaceful as possible."
Patterson expressed concern about the Capitol lockdown. She awaited an update from Chief Charles Tubbs of the Capitol police, who was speaking with Gov. Walker. And she left no doubt about what would happen if Walker insisted on keeping the protesters out of the building.
"We're going to do civil disobedience," she said. "Gov. Walker is just a guest in our house. And we're going to stay in our house until he listens to us. [Democratic state Sen.] Lena Taylor told us directly -- 'occupation of this Capitol is vital.'"
The standoff on the ledge ended happily, with Capitol police leading the man back inside around 11:30. As for the larger standoff between protesters and Gov. Walker, a happy ending seemed doubtful as officers remained at their posts in front of the velvet rope.