Students for a Better World: The Beyond the Classroom Blog

Stories, Resources, & More from the Beyond the Classroom (BTC) Program at University of Maryland

“We are Wisconsin” Illustrates Lessons in People Power

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By Ross Heise, BTC Student

The nonprofit “We Are Wisconsin” continues to advocate for the state’s worker’s rights.

On February 25, I attended Beyond the Classroom’s viewing of the documentary “We are Wisconsin” as a part of the “People Power: Activism for Social Change” faculty and film series.  The film showed the historic events that happened last year in Wisconsin and the people that were a part of it. The film details everything that happened at the state capitol starting from when Governor Scott Walker proposed the bill SB11. The bill was his solution to the struggling economy.  He claimed Wisconsin was in a “budget crisis” and the only way to fix it was to cut benefits and wages for public employees. Not only that, but the most surprising development was legislation that would end employee’s right to collective bargaining.

The protest began with a number of University of Wisconsin-Madison students angry at the effects this bill would have on the teachers and staff at the university. They began organizing through social media and gathering students from all around Wisconsin. Others off campus soon joined in and eventually the Madison School District shut down due to the protests. The protest soon turned into an occupation as the public hearing at the state capitol began and the only way to keep it going was to continually have testimonies from the public. The Republicans wanted to shut it down but the community slept overnight inside the Capitol and testimonies continued.

The people Wisconsin attempted to have the governor recalled for introducing legislation unfriendly to state employees.

The author.

Another controversial element that the film touched on was the media’s portrayal of the protesters, specifically Fox News. They were being labeled as violent and from out of the state, but as the film showed, this was not the case at all. One man was shown in the film using Ustream as a way of broadcasting to the world what was really going on. And when I say the world, I mean “the whole world was watching” which was also a popular chant by the protesters. Pizzas were called in and paid for by people from all over the world to help feed the occupiers.

Finally, the film captured the intensity of the situation when the bill was going up for vote and the Senate Democrats did not show up to in order to delay the voting process. After a 3 week standoff, chaos ensued when, through some legislative loophole, the Republicans were able to ultimately pass a portion of the bill. Over 100,000 people gathered around the Capitol yelling “shame on you!” as they walked out. In the end, the people of Wisconsin put in the effort to help gather 1 million signatures in only 3 short weeks for a petition to recall Governor Walker. He ended up having to spend millions of dollars, almost all of it coming from out of state donations, in order to defeat that recall and win back the rest of his term. However, they still were able to recall 2 Senators out of the 3 necessary to shift the balance in the House which was still a big accomplishment. You could look at this as the people being defeated, but I see it as a win. Wisconsin helped to reveal the power of direct democracy, and the power we as citizens have when we unite to enact change – a lesson we learn in Beyond the Classroom.


Edited by Dr. Caitlin Haugen, Adjunct Instructor, Beyond the Classroom


Author: btcblogger

Beyond the Classroom (BTC) engages talented and diverse upper level undergraduates from across the university in a selective interdisciplinary living and learning community focused on civic engagement and social change in a global context. The BTC program prepares students to be active and responsible citizens and leaders in a complex, multi-cultural, and global society. We encourage students from all disciplines and majors to realize and develop their potential through an integrated program of academic, experiential, and service components. The Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, the world’s largest nonprofit and nongovernmental sector, becomes a place of learning through exciting internships and civic learning experiences.

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