I was too young for Woodstock, but now I have the overnight protests inside Wisconsin's Capitol. For the last week, demonstrators have turned the building into the world's largest commune, a combination party and crash pad for those rallying against Gov. Scott Walker's union-curbing budget bill.
At 9 p.m. on Thursday, people stream into the Capitol with sleeping bags a rainbow coalition of parents with kids, bearded older dudes, college students, and musicians toting instruments. At the moment, drummers are pounding away in the Rotunda while others chant: "Hey hey, ho ho, Scott Walker's got to go!" Substitute "Lyndon Johnson" for "Scott Walker" and you get an immediate 1960s flashback.
In this circus environment, you're not surprised by anything you see. A guy in a devil costume passes by, followed by a guy blowing a huge conch shell, followed by Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz. Performance artists lie on the Rotunda floor with big signs saying "SERF." A three-man string band plays a Johnny Cash song while a little girl does a jig. Meanwhile, a middle-school documentary crew, with camera and tripod, roams the corridors, interviewing people camped out for the night.
For all the indignation inside the Capitol evident in the anti-Scott Walker posters covering the marble walls the mood among Protest Nation is positive, even utopian. Little kids play in a roped-off corridor, and volunteers serve donated food from a stand on the second floor. Several posters remind everyone that "This Is a Peaceful Protest."
Henri Slocum, a certified EMT from the Twin Cities, is one of the young volunteer medics trying to keep the crowds healthy. They've been passing out Tylenol, performing acupuncture, giving massages, and reminding people to wash their hands. "We're here to provide holistic wellness for everyone, no matter what side you're on," Slocum says. "Scott Walker, if he needs help, we're here to help him."
A teaching assistant from the UW Library Science department looks cozy in her sleeping bag in a ground-floor hallway. She's brought a laptop for studying and grading, along with cheese and sausage sticks "like a good Wisconsin resident."
The T.A. has been protesting Walker's budget bill for 10 days, but this is her first overnight in the Capitol.
"I want to remind the legislators that this is our house," she says.
Tonight, no one could possibly deny that fact.