MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin Capitol was eerily quiet Thursday night following three weeks of protests against anti-union legislation that drew tens of thousands of demonstrators to Madison. While people had been sleeping in the building for weeks, all eventually left after the Assembly voted to approve a bill eliminating public employee's collective bargaining rights.
The Senate had passed the bill the day before, and with the Assembly's action, the bill pushed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker was certain to become law with his signature.
The demonstrators' mostly peaceful departure ended a tense day that started with about 50 protesters being hauled from a hallway leading to the Assembly chamber. Police carried them out one at a time, dragging some in a seated position and holding others a few inches off the ground.
The protesters, who didn't resist, were set down behind a line of officers about 20 yards away. Other protesters walked out voluntarily. No one was arrested.
Danny Spitzberg, 26, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said officers gave protesters vague explanations for why they had to leave. He walked out on his own after being ordered to leave.
"This is grossly undemocratic," he said afterward. "It stinks up the whole process."
The protesters had gathered in anticipation of the Assembly's vote scheduled for 11 a.m. But when Democratic representatives showed up, they found the Assembly's doors locked and began pounding to be let in. Police had closed down the building while they performed a security check.
Republican lawmakers showed up after the doors were opened about a half-hour later. Protesters sat quietly in the gallery as the lawmakers spent several hours debating the bill and then passed it 53-42.
Outside the Assembly, dozens of state troopers, state special agents and local police formed multiple lines to prevent protesters from rushing the room following the vote. No one made a move to do so, but as Republicans left the Assembly under heavy guard, protesters showered them with boos and shouted "Shame!"
Democrats emerged minutes later. Protesters exchanged high-fives with them and chanted "thank you."
When the Capitol closed at 6 p.m., most of the more than 100 demonstrators remaining left quietly, although two women were dragged out, Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs said. One sang "Solidarity Forever" on her way out. About 100 protesters remained outside the building later in the evening.
The women were not arrested, Tubbs said, but a total of 16 people had been arrested since the protests began, the Department of Administration said.
Pro-union forces held a rally outside the Capitol on Thursday evening, and some protesters said they would continue to speak out against the bill.1 comment on this story
"We're not giving up. You only lose when you give up," said Debbie Beck, 56, a retired health care worker from Madison. "We still have a voice."
Sam Forbes, 57, of Ridgeway, turned up at the rally to show his support for Walker's bill after hearing about the protests on local talk radio.
"One thing I found out about the liberals is that they want you to hear every word they have to say," he said, "but if you have to say anything back with your viewpoints, they don't want to hear it."
Associated Press writers Todd Richmond and Jason Smathers contributed to this report.