Despite the Department of Administration announcing the Capitol would be closed starting 4 p.m. Sunday, protesters refused to leave, some prepared for arrest, but police never forcibly removed demonstrators from the building.
Religious leaders, union members and University of Wisconsin students said in a press conference they would practice civil disobedience and allow officers to arrest them if law enforcement began forcing protesters out of the Capitol, which opponents of Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill have occupied since Feb. 15.
Alex Hanna, co-chair of the Teaching Assistants’ Association, said he would stay and risk arrest because he said the move to close the building was political and only masked as a cleaning requirement.
“This is a politically motivated decision to close the building. Students have been stewards of this building and have helped to keep it clean,” Hanna said.
Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, took the floor at 3:30 p.m., encouraging protesters to follow him out when the building closed.
“We are winning,” Hulsey said. “What we need to do now is walk out those doors at 4 p.m.”
However, at 4 p.m., nearly 300 people chose to walk up into the rotunda, ignoring Hulsey and an intercom message announcing the building was closing and asking protesters to leave. However, after an hour of drumming, dancing and chanting, police had not made any arrests.
Charles Tubbs, Capitol Police chief, said no one would be arrested if protesters obeyed the law and remained peaceful.
The decision from DOA to close the building at 4 p.m. came after a series of restrictions limiting access and carry-in items were announced last week.
The implementation of restrictions, forcing the protesters to leave, would be a travesty for what the Capitol building stands for, said Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine.
“It would be a departure from the idea that this building has always been the people’s Capitol,” Mason said.
He added the concern is the actions to close the Capitol would be done in an effort to quiet protesters and change the scene in the building before Gov. Scott Walker’s budget address Tuesday, Mason said.
Tubbs cited public health and building maintenance reasons for closing, asserting safety is still the top priority of the Capitol Police.
“Everyone agrees that our state Capitol is a source of pride for our state,” said Tubbs. “We should take a break to take care of the building.”
The Joint Committee on Legislative Organization approved a rule Wednesday restricting public access in certain areas of the building beginning at 4 p.m. Friday. By 6 p.m. Friday, the South Wing was closed while political statements and rumors circled the Capitol’s halls.
Cullen Werwie, spokesperson for Gov. Scott Walker, said in an e-mail the list of items to be removed from the building, which included potential fire hazards such as mattresses, tables in hallways, folding chairs, storage of food and cooking appliances. The e-mail sparked further concerns about forcibly removing protesters.
Beginning Saturday, people were not allowed to carry blankets or sleeping bags into the building, according to Tubbs.
As of Sunday night, no arrests were recorded.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.