The People's House

Madison, Wisconsin is laid out in a conventional way, with two of the state's most important institutions (the Capitol and the state's flagship university) facing each other. In this instance, a mile-long stretch of restaurants, bookstores, and shops separates Bascom Hall, headquarters of the University of Wisconsin's administration, from the headquarters of the state's government.

For any number of reasons (including fire), Bascom Hall isn't as exciting for visitors as the hill upon which it sits. The gathering place on campus is the Memorial Union (or "the Union"), on the shore of Lake Mendota.

The size of the community built up around Wisconsin's largest university, a public university, never ceases to amaze me. Even in Upstate New York, I'm never far from another Badger. Even with the size of our extended family, the University makes room for visitors to sit on its terrace, munching on bratwurst over a game of checkers or a free concert. How could it not? It is, after all, Wisconsin's university-- our university.

On a less imposing hill on the other end of State Street from Bascom Hall sits our Capitol. It's a beautiful building, and a symbol of the Capitol city. Madison does not allow construction of buildings downtown that are taller than the Capitol, and skirmishes have been known to break out over efforts that would block views of our building.

The first four years was in Madison, I lived on Mansion Hill (in the sitting room), a mere three blocks from the Capitol. It was part of the neighborhood. The Capitol looms large in the life of the city. Between winters, Madisonians, as well as people from throughout Wisconsin and beyond shop for veggies (and cheese!), attend concerts, and generally relax on the square surrounding the Capitol. When the temperature drops, we ski around it.

We also make use of the insides of our Capitol. I've toured the grand building. I've celebrated the life of a late Senator. I've used the bathroom. I've walked through it just because, and yes, I've attended protests. There were no metal detectors, no dogs, no questions.

When my sweetie and I got married, we did it in the Capitol rotunda (and not :ahem: on the first floor). In hindsight, there's plenty of symbolism behind two women getting married in the seat of state government as curious onlookers cheered. But that's another story, really. All we were thinking at the time was that the Capitol was an a gorgeous building that was open to us, that was already part of our lives.

While we did have to fill out a request with the Capitol Police, it was a formality. You can't have too many lesbians getting married in the same place at the same time, I suppose. As at the University to the west, there are some restrictions. You can't hold a kegger in the Assembly chambers, just as you can't walk off the street and reserve any room in the Memorial Union for any purpose at any time. The public's buildings are available to all, but we manage them cooperatively, with an eye toward their purposes. Particularly in the case of the Capitol, public assembly to discuss the state of government is one purpose of the space, and not one that conflicts with a handful of elected officials discussing legislation. I believe these sorts of priorities are why there was no skiing this year, too.

It is with great sadness that I observe Governor Walker's decision to close our state Capitol. And to bring in police dogs for some reason. I don't believe the people who designed and oversaw the building of our Capitol nearly 100 years ago were ardent trade unionists, but I hope that they'd welcome the people of Wisconsin into the house that the people of our state built and paid for. And the people of Wisconsin includes the pizza delivery person.

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