This week has been a week of protest in our city, state, country and around the world. While there has been looting and property damage in some locations, it’s been mostly peaceful and loud so the collective we can hear the cries for justice and equality. As I was perusing my photo archives, I came across a series of protest photos I took in 2011 when the then Wisconsin governor and legislature proposed Act 10. This bill was also known as the Budget Repair Bill with the purpose of closing the budget deficit by reducing or eliminating collective bargaining by public employees, increasing their contributions to retirement and health insurance, and other constraints outlined in the bill. The only public employees exempted from this bill were most law enforcement personnel and fire fighters. The response by the public sector unions was quick, loud, and furious resulting in daily protests here at the Capitol in Madison. They were joined by their brothers and sisters from the law enforcement, firefighter, and private sector unions. Citizen supporters of public sector employees especially of teachers also expressed their support. As the protests grew media organizations from around the world converged on the city to cover the protests.
Here’s the story of my involvement. My Traveling Partner and I were out of the country in Costa Rica when the bill was introduced on February 14, 2011. The first we heard about the goings on in our home town was after we checked into the Hampton in San Jose on February 18 for our early morning flight the next day. We were glued to the tv in our room, barely taking time away to eat some dinner. Our flight back to the US was direct from San Jose to Denver then into Madison. Our seats in the large plane were right next to the exit door so we were the very first passengers to deplane in Denver and pass through immigration. The officer took a look at our passports and noted that we were from Madison so proceeded to joke with us about the protests. It was then that we knew the news had infiltrated to almost all aspects of US life!
After our return to Madison, I began going down to the Capital Square two to three times a week and every Saturday to shoot photos in and out of the Capitol building. The weekends saw some of the largest protests such as this one in the rotunda of the Capitol. There were thousands chanting slogans, carrying signs, and listening to speakers.
There was also a contingent of people that “occupied” the Capitol day and night. A lot of them were teaching, project and research assistants from the University of Wisconsin-Madison that were members of a union affected by Act 10. They were so organized that they had a place for protesters to pick up food and water as well as a first aid station. Here’s a photo of one protester taking a rest!
Outside the Capitol, protesters were making their voices heard in lots of different ways. Some like Art Shegonee, a local Native American activist came to show his support of public employees.
As I mentioned earlier, the weekends saw the largest groups of protesters arriving by the car and bus loads to march and make their voices heard. A lot of the protesters were K-12 teachers from around Wisconsin who were the largest union affected by the bill.
One weekend, the Wisconsin Farmers Union organized a tractor parade in support. As an old farm boy, I was fascinated by the people and tractors. Here’s a glimpse of that protest.
This young farmer was very enthusiastic and worked to get the bystanders to join in the protest.
This is one of my favorite photos from the protests. I was standing on the edge of the street when I saw this teacher with her sign so waited for a tractor to enter the scene.
The largest protest featured an estimated 100,000 people marching in support of public employees. I was taking a photo class that day and looked for a place to capture the magnitude of the scene.
As I explored the area around the Capital Square, there were signs of support everywhere.
The unfortunate outcome of these protests was that Act 10 was passed and enacted into law. It did lead to the recall of the governor the following year that he survived. However, he was defeated for reelection in 2018.
As a photographer, I found doing documentary photography a lot of fun and inspiring. Due to the pandemic I’ve refrained from venturing out to document the current protests. I’ll wait for a viable vaccine before charging out with my cameras to capture the action. In the meantime, I’m trying to figure out how I can do my small part to improve our community so that what happened to George Floyd and countless other black and brown people at the hands of law enforcement stops. Job 1 will be to vote!
Until next week, happy virtual travels!