I am making a feature length documentary film, Wisconsin Rising, about the people of Wisconsin’s response following Governor Scott Walker's announcement of his controversial Budget Repair Bill. We hope to roll it out in time for the November, 2012 elections. If we are successful in our Kickstarter campaign and receive needed funding, we’ll stay on schedule.
I live in Burlington, VT, and am a video journalist. I was initially dispatched to Wisconsin on assignment for the media outlet The Uptake. Having worked for them in the past, The Uptake called and asked if I could go to Wisconsin soon. I left a soon after the phone call and thought I was going out for four days. Seven months later, I came home. It is safe to say that I fell in love with what I saw on the streets of Madison, Wisconsin: History unfolding, a new, nonviolent, angst in people that lead to many animated forms of direct action and citizen participation. In my lifetime, I have never seen a movement of this scale. People turned out in numbers over 100,000 week after week, and thousands of people marched around the capitol building, day after day, with signs and banners, while drivers honked their horns constantly to the now infamous “This is what democracy looks like” chant.
This movement was different than the other actions I had experienced in America. It successfully brought people together across multiple platforms on a large scale in a way that is unique from other social movements in this country. The anti-globalization movement in the late 90’s certainly drew in thousands of people, but not like this. Wisconsin’s movement has successfully engaged a population of people who were not previously participating in political activism. We are talking about teachers, firefighters, nurses, farmers, snow plowers, and everyday working people. Don’t get me wrong, the radical activists were there in Madison too, no doubt in heavy numbers. The heart of the movement though, was lead by the rank and file, the people everyone in the country can, or at least should, be able to relate to, that is, the people who sustain our communities.
“I don’t know when working people became the enemy, but we are under attack.” This was a sentiment I heard regularly during the months I spent interviewing. Jim Hightower calls the actions in Wisconsin the “reanimation of the American labor movement.” I am hopeful it is.
The increasing disparity between the working class and the owners of the means of production was perhaps the tipping point for this uprising. The people’s response, week after week, has no doubt changed our country’s approach to citizen participation and direct action. Some say it laid the groundwork for the Occupy Wall Street movement.
I am making this film because I feel that I have to, I feel that I can, and because I know this story will not be told by major media outlets or Hollywood production companies. That is why I am seeking funding through Kickstarter. The online fundraising platform that facilitates grassroots investment. I have until noon on Saturday, January 21st to raise $40,000 toward the post production of Wisconsin Rising.
Fox News showed footage of people protesting with palm trees in the background: the footage was clearly not from Wisconsin, but shot in another state or another country entirely. Big media lies to protect the interests of their advertisers. Stories about Americans upset by their government do not lead people to shop in malls, or to stay isolated. It does just the opposite: It brings people together; it could lead to conversations about changing the very system that is taking away people’s healthcare or pinching out an extra $500.00 per paycheck (as many of my friends in WI are now experiencing, thanks to Walker’s cuts.)
But even given the injustices experienced by Wisconsinites, the uprisings were, at times, lightly referred to as the “Thank You Revolution.” Wisconsinites are the most politely agitated people I have ever seen. Most rallies ended with the crowd of thousands chanting “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” to whoever spoke. And, when the people were locked out of their own Capital building on March 9th, I filmed as the angry yet polite crowd screamed “Let us in, please!”
In Wisconsin I felt that I was seeing a new gorgeous awakening of working Americans who were fed up. I am hopeful that the strength and courage that I saw demonstrated by Wisconsinites is contagious throughout the country. We have much to learn from the people who occupied their State Capitol for weeks, who set up tents and slept in the streets in June, and who were arrested more than once while exercising their right to speak. Their challenge is not easy to overcome, and the road is not clear, but they demonstrate a courageous stand against greed, corruption and injustice.
Wisconsinites show us that when your elected government decides to strip away your rights, right in front of you, you don’t have to accept it. You have another choice: to act and stand up for yourself and your neighbors. The people of Wisconsin showed us a new way to take back what should not have been taken away in the first place. Will the rest of the country let it fade into history? Or, will we learn and act together, remembering that there is strength in community, and that when we act collectively another world is possible?
Sam Mayfield is a video journalist and documentarian. She has filed video reports for Democracy Now!, Free Speech TV, GritTV, The Uptake, Towardfreedom.com, and other progressive media outlets. You can see some of her work here - In 2010, Sam made the 26-minute documentary “Silenced Voices," the story of a young migrant farm worker killed while working on a Vermont dairy farm. The film has been screened throughout Vermont at film festivals, in schools, libraries, and community centers, and currently acts an education tool for the Organization Migrant Justice.
Ms. Mayfield is dedicated to making media that challenges the existing corporate media paradigm and that sheds light in dark places.