Ann Althouse asks a question that's been bugging me: how is that leftist protesters in Madison have been able to occupy the State Capitol Building, covering the Rotunda with signs, and even sleeping there? If this were happening in, say the Republic of Georgia or The Ukraine (and actually, it did happen there), people would wonder if the government was about to fall. So what the hell is going on?
In the current Wisconsin situation, the protesters are being allowed to do many, many things that ordinarily no one does. It's hard to imagine how the state could operate in the future if other groups were given equal treatment and permitted to stay overnight for days on end, to post thousands of signs all over the historic marble walls and pillars, to prop and post signs on the monuments, to bang drums and use a bullhorn in the rotunda to give speeches and lead chants all day long for days on end. Tell me then, what will happen when the next protester comes along and the next and the next? Hasn't the state opened the Capitol as a free speech forum in which viewpoint discrimination will be forbidden under the First Amendment?
Even asking the question, I know the answer: during the early days of the protests, the teachers and their allies entered the Rotunda en masse and simply haven't left. Gov. Walker, and the Capitol Police (or whoever it is has jurisdiction over the building) have quietly concluded that forcibly removing them would not be worth the hysterics and bad publicity that would entail. And, that's fine. The point of the last two weeks is to reform the way public employee unions organize themselves and negotiate with the state, not to pound on hippies. Still, why is it that left-wing goons can benefit from this sort of restraint while others would be evicted post haste?
Althouse looks at the question from a free speech perspective: what is to stop other groups from occupying the Capitol now that the unions have set the precedent? I think the more important question is political: doesn't the state have a sort of privacy right that would protect it from invasions of this sort? Althouse has cited the fact that the Rotunda had previously been a solemn, contemplative place befitting its dignity as Wisconsin's legislature, and the occupiers have ruined that. But, the state's dignity seems more a matter of tradition than of law. It hasn't previously occurred to anyone to invade the Capitol. Having debased the state in this manner, I can promise you that it will be hard to recover, not because everyone will want to occupy the Rotunda, but because the occupiers will either not want to leave, or will consider it their special right to return at their whim.
It seems hardwired into us, whether by history or education, to view the occupation of government buildings as somehow romantic, while the defense of such buildings by the state as somehow autocratic. One thinks of Boris Yeltsin, the man on the tank, sending in tanks of his own when recalcitrant leftists refused to recognize that the old order was well and truly gone (hmmmm). But, the state - even one as earnest and progressive as Wisconsin - has a claim on defending its dignity from invaders, even earnest progressive ones.