The Wisconsin Senate succeeded in voting Wednesday to strip nearly all collective bargaining rights from public workers, after Republicans outmaneuvered the chamber's missing Democrats and approved an explosive proposal that has rocked the state and unions nationwide.
"You are cowards!" spectators in the Senate gallery screamed as lawmakers voted. Within hours, a crowd of a few hundred protesters inside the Capitol had grown to an estimated 7,000, more than had been in the building at any point during weeks of protests.
"The whole world is watching!" they shouted as they pressed up against the heavily guarded entrance to the Senate chamber.
All 14 Senate Democrats fled to Illinois nearly three weeks ago, preventing the chamber from having enough members present to consider Gov. Scott Walker's "budget-repair bill" — a proposal introduced to plug a $137 million budget shortfall.
The Senate requires a quorum to take up any measure that spends money. But Republicans on Wednesday took all the spending measures out of Walker's proposal and a special committee of lawmakers from both the Senate and Assembly approved the revised bill a short time later.
Meade, who is in the building now, tells me, by phone, that he saw a window on the Wisconsin Avenue side of the building opened and protesters entering through that window.
He thought it seemed as if someone in one of the Democratic legislators' offices had opened a window to let them in, and — once they were in — many doors have been opened all around, and people have streamed into the building. He says he counted 3 "troopers" — I'm not sure what the official job title is for these security people — and that they were absurdly overwhelmed by the crowd.
He told me that just now, by phone. He got out, and is warning others not to go in. Obviously, it's a terrible fire hazard to make it so people cannot get out of the building easily. Presumably, protesters think it's a good idea to keep the police out, but it is dangerously stupid.
ADDED: Meade called back to say, some of the doors are handcuffed shut and some are wide open. "ANYBODY CAN GET IN AND ANYBODY CAN BRING ANYTHING IN. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO SECURITY WHATEVER."