Susan Kaye's plot in the Capitol.
Through the massive outer wooden revolving doors of the Capitol building, down the marble hallway lined with children and teachers holding signs, past the throngs of public employees chanting "What's disgusting? Union busting!," up two flights of dimly lit stairs lined on one side with students fiddling with their touchscreen phones and laptops, sits Jamie Hanson, a graduate student at UW-Madison.
He's been here since Wednesday.
Hanson picks at his Qdoba burrito bowl and washes it down with sips of Mountain Dew as his eyes flick across the screen of his MacBook. He's alone right now, but he says he's waiting for a few of his friends to show up. "I've been going to grab things from time to time, but other than that I've been right here," he says. "I've got a toothbrush, toothpaste, face wash, all in my bag right here. My friends were bringing blankets and pillows for the nights."
Hanson is just one of, he estimates, one or two thousand people who have been protesting Scott Walker's proposed budget bill by spending the past few nights sleeping inside the Capitol while legislative sessions bloated by public speakers stretch far into the night. "It's kind of like a weird sleepover atmosphere," he says. "Last night people were watching movies, playing music, throwing footballs around, playing hacky sack. It's a party atmosphere, but it's made up of people who care a lot about this issue."
With no public showers, no lodging area and no food preparation area, the Capitol's temporary tenants have created makeshift quarters, giving parts of the nearly century old building the approximate feeling of the world's most luxurious refugee camp. Blankets, coats and pillows are clumped in otherwise abandoned stairwells and hallways. Granola bars, water bottles and pudding packs are jammed into corners of ornately decorated nooks and crannies on the second and third floors.
Down on the ground level, over drum, tambourine, and chants of "Recall Walker," Booth Wilson and Evan Davis, both teaching assistants in the UW-Madison's film department, talk about the role of the Teaching Assistants Association union in supporting the protest efforts.
"They've been unbelievable providing food," says Davis, who spent Thursday night in the building. "Not just for T.A.'s but for anyone who needs a bite to eat. They can go up [to the fourth floor, where the TAA has put out a spread of fruit, water, and snack food] and grab some snacks or a bratwurst. I think the TAA has been absolutely integral to what's going on here."
Wilson, who spent both Wednesday and Thursday nights at 2 East Main, says he's had to leave a few times to run errands, but other than that the stay has been smooth. "The biggest inconvenience is that everyday I pack up all my stuff, thinking that it's going to be over. It's a bit uncomfortable, a little noisy, but it's worth it."
Directly above their heads sits Susan Kaye, a middle aged woman with bright red highlights on the roots of her hair. Actually, sits is the wrong word. Rather, Kaye has spent most of the day lying on a yoga pad, rising at intervals to greet friends walking by. "The reason I'm here," Kaye says, gesturing to the floor, "Is because I'm having spine surgery Monday and I can't stand up."
After turning down a friendly offer of snacks from a random union rep. because she's gluten-free, Kaye pulls a rice cake and peanut butter out of a woven bag by her side. She's a public employee, though she doesn't say with whom, and has missed work since Monday, going without pay to protest the bill.
"It's mainly to defend our country," Kaye says, downplaying her personal stake in the debate. "If they destroy public education and they destroy good jobs for Americans, then our country is going down the toilet."
Kaye seems optimistic that the efforts of the protesters will accomplish their intended goal. "The right to organize and the right to collectively bargain is going to prevail," she says. "No one is foolish enough to think that this is about balancing the budget."
Not everyone is so sure. For his part, Jamie Hanson wonders whether Walker has picked a fight he now can't afford to lose. "I have a feeling he'll be unflinching," says Hanson. "He won't want to back down in his first month."
Still, his next words betray his faith in the power of the organized masses. "Yeah," he says, "I'll be here again tonight. If they let us."