MADISON (WKOW) -- Hours of negotiating with weary protesters in the Capitol rotunda led to the peaceful departure of four dozen demonstrators, declaring victory over a court decision to return the building's access to a more open state.
The last half dozen demonstrators left nearly an hour after the larger group left triumphantly, allowing law enforcement officers to carry out the court's directive to clear the building overnight without having to make any arrests.
After the court session on Capitol access completed in a courthouse blocks from the building, word of what it meant for demonstrators began circulating. Capitol police chief Charles Tubbs reassured the crowd the court's decision meant a return to normal public access, and urged them to prepare to leave for the night.
As Tubbs spoke in the Capitol rotunda, several dozen officers ringed the building's center, standing two deep and shoulder to shoulder to separate demonstrators in the rotunda from a crowd that had surged into the building through the west entrance.
UW Police chief Susan Riseling read a copy of the court order to a hushed demonstrator crowd. Some organizers worried about whether the order's return to normal Capitol access rules Monday would be followed, or whether demonstrators were being duped after occupying the building for nearly three weeks in protest of Governor Walker's plan to eliminate most collective bargaining rights for public employees.
Among the crowd, some people initially talked of civil disobedience and the consequences of arrest. But as the hours-long discussion continued and included labor lawyer and former attorney general Peg Lautenschlager, demonstrators increasingly rejected the option of being arrested for leaving the building to return next week.