First, police in riot gear, and then, the protestors: tens of thousands made Saturday's crowd the biggest in four days of unrest -- enough to clog the capitol and the heart of Madison.
Most were state workers angry over proposed budget cuts that slash benefits, and perhaps, seek to neuter what gives unions power, the right for workers to band together and bargain collectively.
It was enough to bring shouts of recall for a governor who took office just six weeks ago.
"We need a strong middle class, and that was built on the backs of unions," one protestor said.
But also Saturday, a smaller yet equally passionate crowd appeared, supporting the Gov. Scott Walker, peopled by Tea Party activists, including a holdover from the 2008 presidential campaign.
"Unions don't deserve anything. You don't deserve anything. You work for it yourself," said "Joe the Plumber."
Pitched rhetoric filled the Madison air. Among others, Karen and Walt Nocito wanted to be heard.
"Public employees have been the Cadillac of employees, and it's got to stop," Walt Nocito said.
"We cannot continue this La La Land about paying union people so much money. There's going to be no America left," said Karen Nocito.
Frustration simmered all day as the college town found itself the focus of a national discussion over who suffers most in deficit-saddled states. More than a dozen states are now targeting union workers and their benefits.
Eventually, Governor Walker's plans are expected to come to vote in Wisconsin, but as of Saturday, Wisconsin's 14 Democratic senators remained outside the state.
"If they get one of us back there, then there's a quorum established, and we no longer have this ability to slow things down," said Democratic State Sen. Mark Miller.
Wisconsin's governor is trying to close a $3.6 billion budget deficit.
Doctors from numerous hospitals set up a station near the capitol to provide notes to explain public employees' absences from work. One said many of the people he spoke with seemed to be suffering from stress.