As the Capitol building reopened following two judges' orders to stop prohibiting public access to the building, another huge, sign-carrying crowd massed in downtown Madison, Wisconsin on Saturday, March 5.
Once again, there was a festive, playful mood. Protesters carried inflatable palm trees in the frigid weather and signs that read: "Fox News Will Lie About This" (a reference to video of union members screaming and shoving at a rally on Fox's "O'Reilly Factor," which O'Reilly claimed was from Wisconsin, but which clearly showed palm trees and sunshine in the background.)
Capitol Kids, a high-end toy store on the capitol square, was selling bright red t-shirts for kids, with the legend "Teach Me How to Protest," and the Wisconsin Solidarity sign: a blue fist in the shape of the state of Wisconsin and a white star in the middle.
In addition, the store advertised "a new shipment of noise-makers" "mini-tambourines, train whistles, kazoos and bells which join our very popular vuvuzelas and drums. Make some noise!"
Some customers were unhappy about the solidarity display, a store manager said, "but you know, sometimes you have to draw a line in the snow." If Walker's budget bill goes through, she added, local businesses will suffer as people lose jobs and income.
Singer Michelle Shocked entertained the crowd on the King Street side of the Capitol, singing "I've come a long way, I've come a long way -- to Madison in solidarity from L.A."
As she left the stage she told me what's happening in Madison is "amazing." "You have a dream of democracy. But this is the closest I've ever come to experiencing a truly active citizenry." She said she is working new lyrics inspired by the protests in Wisconsin. "Something like: 'They wanted us to be workers, then they wanted us to be consumers. What they never wanted us to be was citizens.' I'm still working on it."
Michael Moore took the stage to tell the crowd "I am so proud of you."
"For three weeks you've stood in the cold, slept on the floor, skipped out of town to Illinois. Whatever it took, you did it. And one thing is certain, Madison is only the beginning," Moore said.
He connected the protests in Wisconsin to the struggle against economic and political inequality nationally and around the world. The movement is "a little bit of Egypt and a little bit of Madison," he said.
Revving up the crowd, he talked about how a tiny minority of billionaires bought our political process, and torpedoed public spending on things that benefit most people like education, suppressed wages and benefits, and concentrated wealth in a few hands. "But that wasn't enough for them," he said. "Now they want your soul.... They want your dignity." Now they are arguing that working people can't even have a place at the table, Moore said. He described a pilot making $19,000 a year who can't even negotiate for a few more hours of sleep in his car at the O'Hare parking lot.
He begged reporters to write down a statistic: that 400 people in the United States now have more wealth than half of all Americans combined -- 155 million people.
"The few who have the most money don't want to pay their fair share of taxes," Moore said. Furthermore, "They are the very people who don't pay their taxes crashed our economic system."
"The nation is not broke, my friends," Moore said. "Wisconsin is not broke. There is plenty of money to go around."
Matt Nelson, co-owner of Brewing Grounds for Change coffee shop and community organizing center in Milwaukee, and manager of strategic initiatives for colorofchange.org -- a national organization -- also praised the crowd of Wisconsinites for their courage, contrasting it with Scott Walker's intransigence "That's not courage, it's arrogance," Nelson said.
He, too, described Wisconsin as a starting point for a bigger national movement.
Unlike many speakers, he also criticized President Obama for buying into the same austerity argument Scott Walker and other Republicans are making.
"The program -- call it what you will -- austerity or heartlessness -- will take the last of what remains of the social safety net," Nelson elaborated after his speech.
"And by that I mean having prospects for stable housing, food.... People need to understand these basic needs and services are what allows people to even participate in democracy."
A bill in the U.S, Senate that cuts the federal W.I.C. nutrition program, Planned Parenthood, and low-income heating assistance is part of that assault, Nelson added.
"It's important to put it to even President Obama," he said.
"It's clear people want to have a government that actually prioritizes the needs of the public. What's happening in Wisconsin shows that it's not only possible, but popular."
"Wisconsin shows how broad and deep those demands have to be," Nelson said. "We're not in a situation where the only possible outcome is a minimal compromise."
If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Judge Clears Out Protesters Occupying Capitol Thursday night, Re-Opens Building on Monday."
Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter.