Wisconsin protests: How a bunch of pro-union, anti-Republican activists turned the hallways of the state Capitol into a commune.

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Feb. 25 2011 1:02 PM

Das Capitol

How a bunch of pro-union, anti-Republican protesters turned the hallways of the Wisconsin state house into a commune.

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"We've been here 10 days and I'm starting to get used to the marble floor," she says. "It actually helps that we're more exhausted." What about the constant noise? "It's fine. It's like living in a dorm."

1:01 a.m.: The Assembly debate dragged on for hours after Republicans started to force the vote—by now, it's been going on for more than 60 hours, and Republicans are fed up.

"Everything that's being said has been said three or four times already," said Speaker Pro Tem Bill Kramer. "Until seven minutes ago, no one was listening. Except me." Minutes later, Kramer gavels in a quick vote. Democrats explode, furious not just at the result but at the fact that the vote lasted less than 15 seconds.

They start to file out of the chamber, and one by one they go to a railing and wave to the hundreds of people crammed onto the floor below. Rep. Leon Young tosses his orange T-shirt into the crowd; a protester grabs it as if Eddie Van Halen has tossed a guitar pick.

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"This is a travesty!" says Rep. Bill Hulsey, who'd yelled, "Shame" at Republicans louder than almost anyone. "What do I want to do next? I don't even want to say." He joins his colleagues in a caucus meeting.

1:20 a.m.: In the first-floor atrium, Rep. Cory Mason joins the Cuddle Puddle, who have a megaphone at the ready, and thanks the protesters. "I've never been so glad that we have two chambers," he says. In the other chamber, of course, striking Senate Democrats are not present for a vote, so the bill is stuck.

The megaphone is passed to Damon Terrell, CJ's brother. He's wearing a cut-off shirt that displays a fresh tattoo, a fist in the shape of Wisconsin with "SOLIDARITY" written alongside. "For the first time in my life," he says, "I know I am doing what I was born to do."

Reporters try to talk to Terrell, but he gives them a little information before holding up. "I really want to be in the moment now," he says. He returns to the circle for hugs.

2:14 a.m.: Every night there's a rumor that the Capitol will be cleared. It's not being cleared tonight. Some protesters are sitting up straight; some seem to have slept through the apocalypse.

"How can you sleep?" says Mary McDonald, a representative of AFT Healthcare in Washington. "It's so dramatic! It's so upsetting! How can these people possibly work together now, you know? There have been so many double-crosses."

7:45 a.m.: The doors to the Capitol are about to open again, and before they do I take a quick survey of the feeding/sleeping areas. Some of the sleepers, roused, are doing TV interviews through heavy eyelids. The food has been replenished, with stacks of bagels and cream cheese in the breakfast nook. (There's no fresh coffee just yet.) There are rumors, as there are every day, that the Capitol will be closed to protesters, but there's a massive rally planned for Saturday. Tom Bird, the first of the Cuddle Puddle to wake up, stops me and speaks happily about the sleep he managed to get, after Democratic staffers left and handed him and other protesters the cold remainders of their Ian's Pizza.

"I had to sleep," he says, "because this is going to be a big weekend."

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