At 4:00 Sunday, state troopers told protesters they would clear the Capitol building in Madison as a big crowd massed at building entrances chanting "Whose House? Our House!" and "Let Us In!"
A protester drum corps got together at the State Street entrance, as off-duty police and firefighters joined protesters sitting down and waiting to be arrested inside.
Outside, state troopers guarding the doors were polite -- asking protesters to form a line if they wanted to enter, and only letting more people in as the protesters inside came out.
4:00 came and went and the troopers locked most of the entrances and stopped letting more people inside, but there were no arrests. Instead, some protesters who wanted to leave filed outside peacefully, and those who wanted to stay were told to move to a higher floor inside the building.
Jackie Oldenburg, an administrator from Green Bay, stayed until after 5:00. "The police were completely at ease," she said. "They kept telling people, 'If you're staying move up a level.' Then they were even picking up trash on the ground floor."
Todd Wegener, a lieutenant in the Tomahawk Firefighters, who works for the city of Merrill, also noted how peaceful it was inside the building. "I saw older people and people in wheelchairs," he said.
Both were motivated to come to Madison by what they see as the injustice of Governor Scott Walker's union busting bill. "I'm not in a union," said Oldenburg. "But I am a state employee. This is so much bigger than the pension and insurance. It's how he tried to make educators the scapegoats. It's just the principle. Follow the money. It's a test case for the nation. It's about rights. Stripping people's rights doesn't balance the budget."
Wegener, who was wearing his fireman's hat and jacket, said he was president of his local for four years. "That was an eye-opener," he said. "Contract language is bargained for and both parties agree, so it's always a fair deal. Even in divorce court you sit down and negotiate. The powers that are pushing this thing are going beyond anything I can fathom. To create this much hatred and unrest in this place." Wegener noted the strong support of police.
Outside the building a big cheer went up as off-duty police carrying "Cops for Labor" signs joined the crowd.
Oldenburg and Wegener both identified with the forces of order: "Actual union people -- people with kids who are marching behind banners," as Wegener put it, as opposed to "the youth -- a lot of college kids with loudspeakers".
Oldenburg even seemed unsure about the level of intensity around staying in the building. "I can understand why they want to clean, honestly," Oldenburg said, "And it is going to open again tomorrow at 8:00."
On the other side, Kevin Suennicht of the Student Labor Action Coalition from Milwaukee, felt impatient that there hasn't been more direct action. "Their needs to be more civil disobedience," he said. "We had a meeting and decided we need to keep the occupation going. Successful labor and social change movements are built on direct action -- without exception."
Suennicht says there have to be more strikes, sit-ins, and other forms of civil disobedience, with large-scale support like that of the crowd outside the Capitol building. "My critique of these protests is that that's not happening enough," he said.
In this view, the holding of the Capitol represented an important victory for the people resisting Scott Walker. "It's symbolic in that this building is ours," Suennicht said. "It's a direct challenge to the power that would prevent actions that could make this happen."
Throughout the chilly late afternoon, protest leaders repeatedly called for peaceful, orderly behavior. A couple of students came around handing out cookies in the midst of the shoulder-to-shoulder, chanting, drumming crowd. The atmosphere was increasingly raucous, but cheerful, as the crowd grew and those exiting the Capitol raised fists and were greeted with cheers and chants of 'We'll be back!'
At 4:30 the crowd started chanting 'We're still here!' and began to form a human chain around the Capitol building. There were loud cheers when a protester with a megaphone announced that those inside would be holding the building.
Republican state senator Dale Schultz announced, after the protesters suceeded in holding their place in the Capitol, that he would vote against the bill.
The crowd erupted in cheers.
If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Biggest Rally Ever in Madison."
Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter.