Nearly 30 activists upset by pending state budget cuts tried to camp out a fourth straight night Saturday in the state Capitol Rotunda. The State Patrol forcibly ended the "sleep-in" around 9 p.m. Saturday.
About nine people refused to leave when asked by troopers and the Department of General Administration. So troopers physically lifted them out the door to the Capitol steps and issued warnings. WSP spokesman Dan Coon said the the cited protesters would be arrested for criminal trespass if they show up on the Capitol or campus grounds in the next 30 days.
"Why did I want to stay?" community-college student Nikolas Koehler asked after receiving the bum's rush. "Because I'm not willing to walk out on my principles – unlike the Legislature."
The move came two days after authorities arrested 17 people when home care workers tried to storm the Governor's Office. An ensuing lock-down of the Capitol ended only after Senate Democrats refused to work in a locked building.
The protests yielded few results so far and House Democrats approved a budget targeted by protesters late Saturday afternoon. The nearly party-line House vote sent the Senate a $32.4 billion proposal that slashes real dollars for education, healthcare and higher education.
Koelher and others joined a wave of four daily protests this week against the budget cuts. And they also urged votes to close tax exemptions that might raise revenue, such as a mortgage-interest tax break used mostly by out-of-state banks.
About 7,000 people attended the largest rally, staged Friday by the Washington State Labor Council and Washington Federation of State Employees.
Overnight sleep-ins began Wednesday with about 75 people, many of whom left in the night, and groups of about 30 continued Thursday and Friday evenings.
Authorities had accommodated the protesters. But after lawmakers adjourned for the weekend, leaders with General Administration, the Senate and House, and Governor's Office conferred and decided to close up the Capitol as they normally would, spokesman Steve Valandra said.
GA would have locked up the building, but protesters remained. Building hours are from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends.
"The Capitol is not a hotel," Valandra said.
Valandra said protests had cost his agency about $10,000 including overtime for some staffers. The State Patrol also had considerable overtime, but Coon had no total yet.
Protesters had a good time, and many chanted and danced in front of a Seattle television crew's camera during the eviction.
When Koehler was hauled out and set down, he jumped to his feet in celebration and was mobbed by the others. They embraced and jumped in a pod like athletes who scored the winning points in a closely fought game.
Some chanted, "Whose house? Our house!"
"We're trying to get the budget cuts stopped," said a woman who gave her name as Jillian Simpson. "We'll be back tomorrow. This won't pull us down."
Cassandra R. Sinclair-Nixon said she spent three nights in the Capitol because she wants to fight for a sustainable community and closure of corporate tax breaks that could raise money to support that. The Capitol Rotunda's marble floors are hard and she only had a sleeping bag for padding. But Sinclair-Nixon said it was worth it to be fighting alongside others who are fighting for the same thing and that people shared food and water.
State Rep. Chris Reykdal, D-Tumwater, said he bought pizza for protesters one day. Other Democratic lawmakers dropped off pizza, apples and other snacks at different times.
Original 12:30 a.m. post updated to fix typos.