On Feb. 15, hundreds of Madison residents flooded the hallways of the Wisconsin state Capitol in protest of Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill. Many slept in the building that night and every night following.
A look inside the Capitol
Phil Weyers, a sophomore at UW-Madison, kneels in the corner of a back hallway in the Capitol building. He wears a red tie-dye T-shirt, sweatpants and a knit hat—an outfit he has likely worn for several days. His eyes are barely open behind his thin black frames. Today marks his 11th day protesting.
""I have only slept for about three or four hours a night,"" he says over the lull of drums playing in the rotunda. ""The marble floor is not really conducive to sleeping.""
Thousands of people, including Phil Weyers, have called the Capitol hallways home for two weeks.
The hallway where Weyers sits is filled with people in sleeping bags and on air mattresses trying to grab a quick nap before returning to the rotunda area—a cauldron of peaceful, political protest.
Hundreds of signs condemning the bill hang on almost every inch of the ground-level walls. Local nurses man the first aid stations located on every floor of the building. Several women helped set up a family center where children and their parents can convene for playtime and food. Boxes with free items such as coffee mix, cleaning supplies and water line almost every corridor.
""As soon as all the energy gets going, you are revitalized instantly because you know you are fighting for something bigger than you,"" Weyers says. ""The inconveniences you feel sleeping are so insignificant in comparison to the inconveniences people would feel if this bill were to be passed.""
Saturday marked the biggest rally in two weeks, as nearly 100,000 people gathered at the Capitol to protest. Some of them drove in from states as far away as Virginia.
""What's most striking is how sporadic this all was. There are people everywhere supporting the cause,"" Weyers said. Everyday you see it get stronger and stronger for no overriding reason.""
Weyers, along with thousands of other young people from the Madison area, have protested every day and night since Feb. 15.
Maxwell Love, a sophomore at UW-Madison, organized dozens of political rallies and sit-ins as soon as Walker introduced the bill.
""That night the bill was introduced my friends and I sat in the TAA office until two or three in the morning figuring out how we were going to get people involved,"" Love said. ""After that I slept in the Capitol for three or four days straight. I think I know every place in the Capitol right now.""
Although Love said the days are starting to blur together, one night of political protest stands out in his mind—the day the Joint Finance Committee cut off public testimonies, Feb. 15.
""I think I went to bed for two hours that night. That was when we didn't know how long the protests were going to last,"" he said.
But thousands of people continued to come back to the Capitol every day to protest the bill. Although police made many people leave the building Sunday, those who refused remained peacefully protesting in the rotunda.
A sense of community
One teacher from the Menominee School District, who chose not to disclose her name for fear of being fired, said she drove three hours to Madison to protest. Saturday marked her fourth day participating in the rallies.
""Everyone here is treating each other so well. We are all standing together strong,"" she said. ""I do not come from a strong union at my school and here I see everyone supporting each other.""
Although thousands of UW-Madison students and working-class Madison residents attended the political protests, young children also participated in the rallies. They even held signs calling out Gov. Walker.
Laura Berghahn, a Madison resident, said protesting at the Capitol has become a family affair. She and her husband switch off nights so that someone can stay with their children, who also participated in protesting. She spent Friday night in the Capitol protesting with friends.
""This is the first night that I haven't had tears in my eyes by just watching everyone chant and protest together,"" Berghahn says. ""It's all very emotional.""
Weyers, who says he has always been ""disenfranchised with politics,"" never thought he would find himself in the midst of a political rally.
""I wasn't sure I had a political bone in my body until this,"" he said. ""It has been truly incredible. I have never experienced something like this in my entire life ... the sense of community, of unity, it's just ... it's just amazing.""