It was a small moment but a telling one, on the Capitol Square, when the one Walker supporter waving a lawn sign (stakes still attached) around got tired from holding the thing over his backwards-capped head and let it slip. It struck the union-t-shirted fellow standing beside him right in the head.
"Whoa, sorry man," said the Walkerite, as everyone around him went tense and silent.
The union fellow smiled. "It's all right," he said, and people took deep breaths again. "I'm fine."
Once NBC and MSNBC called the election for Walker, the crowd of a thousand faded, people walking one by one and two by two off into the night. Now and then someone would turn to a fellow protesting stranger and talk in terms of long-shot hopes: Absentee ballots, and remember the 2000 election, how wrong everybody was then? But there had been no swings all night, no movement in Barrett's favor, and everybody was tired.
None of this is all right, and now they get to do whatever they want, Walker and his supporters. None of this is fine, and now it's open season on everything it makes a teawad feel good to kick: Teachers, cops, firefighters, janitors, professors, prison guards, students, women, kids, the environment, hunters, journalists, liberals, people who look like liberals, people who used to be liberals, people who once said something that could be construed as liberal, people who are insufficiently conservative, and people who just don't like bullies, no matter their political stripes. Now we get to see if giving everybody just one more tax cut is enough to restore harmony, if this time it might work magically.
But before we get to all that, before the second-guessing and the post-campaign back-stabbing, before the stories from disinterested national observers about how this was all a stupid idea anyway and we should have known better, we have to appluad some people. Some people who everybody gave up on, nobody noticed, everybody made fun of, and nobody believed in.
Some people who stood at the Capitol day after day in the snow and the rain, as TV pundits yammered on about how the day of the union was over, and we'd never see a demonstration of union power in our lifetimes again.
Some people who disregarded Very Serious Advice that a recall would be too hard, and gathered a million signatures in the bitter Wisconsin winter, over the Thanksgiving holidays, while talk radio blathered about what traitors they were.
Some people who took a look at a long shot no one else wanted and said what the hell, what's the worst that could happen? Some people who refused to listen to their own party when the party wanted nothing to do with anything that wasn't a sure thing.
Some people who forced this fight to be a fight, this fight which should have been a fight. What Walker did should have been as hard as it was, because otherwise nobody fought back, and if there's one thing you need when you aren't winning, it's the example of people who refuse to agree to be beaten.
Leaving Madison this morning, I stopped at a parking lot to look back at the city, across the lake smooth as glass. It's my favorite sight in the world, that skyline, and this morning joggers and bikers passed on the path, in the sun, and fishermen cast their lines over the sides of their small motorboats. And I thought of a line I saw carved on a statue in Dublin, from a song called The West's Asleep:
Be sure the great God never planned
For slumbering slaves a home so grand.
We don't know where this ends. We don't know how many of them will stay in politics, how long it'll be before Walker's actually indicted, if the Senate flip will hold, if anything else is lurking out there. We don't know how far it reaches, how many people heard it, how many of them were changed.
This hasn't ended, if only because things like this don't end, and we have some people to thank for that.