A promise by activists to keep the state Capitol building open Tuesday night came to an anticlimactic ending around 6 pm when the protesters agreed to leave, promising to be back tomorrow instead.
For over two hours, a group of 45 protesters loitered around in the Capitol’s rotunda — first in the basement, then on the first floor. A group of Michigan State Police troopers and Sergeant-at-Arms staff watched warily from the building’s second floor balcony. But when officials told the group at 6 p.m. that the building was closed and they needed to vacate it in ten minutes or face arrest, some went immediately, while a group of 10 protesters remained. They sang, talked and then packed up their sleeping bags and pillows and marched out past the MSP troopers and Capitol staff.
“We’re leaving tonight,” they said, “but we’ll be back tomorrow, and we aren’t leaving then.”
The only excitement during the protest occurred when Ari Adler, spokesman for Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger, came out and got into a heated conversation with Lance Enderle, a former congressional candidate from Michigan’s 8th District who had organized the rotunda occupation.
Within a few moments, the protesters had surrounded the two men and were listening intently to the argument, with one or two people shouting protest slogans like “why are you selling us out” to Adler. When Adler finally left the discussion, some in the crowd shouted at him while he walked back to his office.
The protesters promised to spend the night on the steps of the state Capitol in preparation for a massive rally Wednesday being hosted by a group of progressive organizations. The Capitol confrontation was the end of a day of protesting at the Capitol that started at 11 a.m., with a crowd estimated by state officials at 1,500 people challenging budget proposals made by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.
The protest was sponsoredby the AARP and the Michigan League for Human Services. The AARP is troubled by a proposal in Snyder’s budget to tax pension incomes, while the League is worried about the impact of a budget proposal to eliminate the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit. The League says that credit helps boost thousands of working poor families out of poverty. Wednesday, union advocates and others will protest what they say is an assault on the middle class of the state. Among the pieces of legislation they point to is the Emergency Financial Manager legislation— which cleared a final hurdle on Tuesday when the House approved the Senate passed version of the bill. That legislation, activists say, will undermine collective bargaining rights and the right of voter control of local communities.
“The final passage of the Emergency Manager legislative package is not only a heavy blow to Michigan’s communities – these bills are an affront to the bedrock principle of a representative democracy that our nation was founded upon,” said Mark Gaffney, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO. “Michigan politicians have capitalized on our state’s budgetary woes in order to ram through legislation that rather than create jobs, takes away even more rights and resources from Michiganders and instead gives an unprecedented amount of power into those connected to the governor.
“These emergency managers will have the ability to remove officials elected by the people of Michigan. As hundreds of thousands have chanted in Wisconsin, ‘This is not what democracy looks like,’” Gaffney continued. “Democracy is following the will of the people, and Michiganders spoke out loud and clear in November. Working families want the politicians to set aside agendas and come together to focus on strengthening our economy.”
The Capitol rotunda protest was organized by Enderle, who ran against Rep. Mike Rogers in the last election, but it was not sponsored by a particular organization. Those protesters had promised to keep the Capitol opento bridge the Tuesday protest with the Wednesday protest, but when it was clear MSP troopers would make arrests of those who defied orders to leave the building, they agreed to leave quietly.
Before, during and at the end of the protest, Enderle repeatedly told those assembled that they needed to “respect” the police officers who were there doing their job. Pointing out that those officers were members of a union whose collective bargaining rights as public employees were being threatened, he reminded the protesters, “We’re fighting for them, too.”
Here is video of the confrontation between Enderle and Adler, courtesy of Lansing Online News. Warning: There is some foul language in this video.
And here is Enderle, at the beginning of the protest, urging everyone to comply with the law and be respectful of the police: