The enormous "protest village" that has taken hold inside the state Capitol the past two weeks will officially end this weekend.
Capitol police announced Friday that they would kick out protesters and close the Capitol doors at 4 p.m. on Sunday, a move that would allow crews to begin cleaning up after possibly the longest and most intense protests in state history.
"Everyone agrees that our state Capitol is a source of pride for our state and that we should take a break to take care of the building," said Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs.
Since protesters first arrived Feb. 14 and 15, the Capitol rotunda has become home to thousands of people opposed to Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill.
First aid and family care centers, food catering, activity boards and scheduled performances have taken hold in nearly every nook of the historic building.
At night, when the strobe-light dance parties and drum-circles end, hundreds huddle together under blankets and sleeping bags and try to sleep.
Hundred of posters adorn the walls and there is a ripeness to the air that comes with crowds of people turning a work space into a living space.
Capitol police started on Friday enforcing a new set of rules for the rotunda, most of them aimed at ending the situation.
Cold, hard marble floors
While the protesters were allowed to stay Friday night, they were limited to sleeping on the first two floors and were not allowed to keep many items that have helped them endure long nights on cold, hard marble floors — folding chairs, air mattresses, coolers and cooking devices, for example.
On Saturday, police will no longer allow blankets or sleeping bags inside the Capitol. Then, on Sunday the protesters will be asked to leave.
Tubbs said the building will return to normal business hours Monday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
"It's something we knew was coming," said John Zinda, a protester and member of the Teaching Assistant's Association union. Zinda seemed disappointed, but resigned. "It is how it is," he said.
On Friday, Zinda was among a group of union members clearing boxes of food off the first floor and taking them to another location outside the Capitol. A few feet away from him, volunteers cleared the family center of blankets and boxes.
"If we have to move, then we will move peacefully," said Tom Doherty, a nursing instructor at Edgewood College. "This is just one more tactic they are using to try and keep us from being heard."
Doherty has attended the protest nearly every day, usually with his wife Anastasia, and their two daughters. The family uses the family center — a hallway that families have taken over and turned into a makeshift nursery — to store their coats and take breaks.
"We will keep protesting," Doherty said. "We might be a little less comfortable, but we will still come out and show our support."
Tens of thousands of protesters
Tens of thousands of protesters have come to the Capitol the past two weeks, angered over Walker's bid to curb the collective bargaining rights of public workers. While the vast majority of people have attended the rallies and gone home, thousands have refused to leave the Capitol.
The crowds have gotten support, with local restaurants donating food and other groups sending over water and other necessities.
On Friday, the head of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, the state's largest police union, expressed support for the protesters and called on the governor to keep the Capitol open to overnight campers, and even urged members to join them.
"As has been reported in the media, the protesters are cleaning up after themselves and have not caused any problems," said WPPA Executive Director Jim Palmer, who urged the governor "not do anything to increase the risk to officers and the public."
Going one step further, Palmer suggested fellow officers come to the Capitol Friday night to sleep among the protesters.
"Law enforcement officers know the difference between right and wrong, and Gov. Walker's attempt to eliminate the collective voice of Wisconsin's devoted public employees is wrong," Palmer said. "That is why we have stood with our fellow employees each day and why we will be sleeping among them tonight."
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said he understood why the building was being shut down, but he expressed a desire for the crowds to stay.
"This is not a normal situation, and some consideration should be given to that," he said, praising the crowds for maintaining order and being peaceful.