Wisconsin Rising Is a Powerful Documentary about the Protests against Gov. Scott Walker


By Dean Robbins
October 8th, 2013

Lower Third Productions

Wisconsin Rising screens at the Barrymore Theatre on Wednesday, Oct. 9, at 7 p.m.

You hear the wail of the vuvuzela, and it all comes rushing back. Most of us who lived through the 2011-12 protests against Gov. Scott Walker will have an emotional response to the sights and sounds of Wisconsin Rising, an hour-long documentary from the protesters’ point of view made by Sam Mayfield. Along with the vuvuzela, the noisemaker of choice at the Capitol, the film records the chanting, drumming and singing that accompanied the fight against Walker’s Act 10, which stripped most collective bargaining rights from most of the state’s public-sector unions.

Did thousands of Wisconsin citizens occupy the Capitol? Did Senators leave Wisconsin to delay a vote on Walker’s bill? Did Walker take a phone call from a prankster posing as David Koch? Did Fox News show fake footage with palm trees to make it seem like the peaceful protests had gotten out of hand? Only two years later, these have begun to seem like mythical events. But Wisconsin Rising will prove to future generations that they really happened.

The film screens at the Barrymore Theatre on Wednesday, Oct. 9, at 7 p.m. Afterwards, Mayfield, a Burlington, Vermont-based filmmaker, will answer questions. One of those questions may well be, “Aren’t you preaching to the choir here?”

The answer will have to be yes. But if you’re a union member or a progressive, Wisconsin Rising serves as an effective summary of the principles behind the protests. Familiar local faces like journalist Ruth Conniff, former state Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, and union leader Mahlon Mitchell discuss the Republicans’ attempts to reduce union influence. Despite all the talk of solving Wisconsin’s budget problems, they argue, Walker and Co. simply wanted to cripple their political enemies.

And that’s just what they did. The film’s target audience certainly won’t like the ending of Wisconsin Rising: Act 10 surviving the protests, Walker surviving the recall election, and the Legislature remaining in Republican control. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine a progressive activist anywhere in the world who won’t thrill to the sight of a hundred thousand passionate people waving signs on the Capitol grounds. As Mitchell puts it before the credits roll: “We’re going to keep fighting.”

If the film proves anything, it’s that Wisconsin progressives know how to fight.

Watch a trailer for the film.

Back to Sam Mayfield’s Artist Page