Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Why Wisconsin's Act 10 Protests And U.S. Capitol Insurrection Shouldn't Be Compared

Andy Stenz
Public workers and others flocked to Madison in 2011 to protest Gov. Walker's cuts to collective bargaining rights.

After the insurrection of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, some conservatives tried to make connections between the Act 10 protests in Wisconsin’s Capitol in 2011 and the insurrection. In the days after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, many continued to try and draw comparisons, including former Gov. Scott Walker.

This surprised journalist Mary Spicuzza, an investigative reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel who covered the Act 10 protests in 2011. She says while both happened in historic buildings and involved large groups of loud people, there are very few additional similarities.

“Really these were overwhelmingly peaceful protests, which is pretty remarkable considering how long they lasted,” she says about what took place in Wisconsin.

Often protestors slept in the Wisconsin Capitol and occupied the rotunda for days, she explains. No one died, there wasn't violence, and no one was arrested for bringing a weapon.   

At the U.S. Capitol, some members of the violent mob were reportedly found with zip ties and assault weapons, and a gallows was constructed outside of the Capitol.

“We never saw anything like that during Act 10, people were far more likely to have bongo drums,” Spicuzza says.

Not all conservatives are drawing a comparison between the Act 10 protests and the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. As one of the only people to experience both Act 10 and the Capitol insurrection as an elected leader, Rep. Glenn Grothmann said that things at the Madison Capitol never reached the level as what happened at the U.S. Capitol.   

Another difference Spicuzza points to are the causes each group was rallying behind. In Madison, the Act 10 protests were meant to convince lawmakers not to vote for a bill. In Washington D.C., the point of the attack was to interrupt proceedings to confirm the free and fair election of President-elect Joe Biden.

“This was almost trying to just completely shut down government in an effort to stop the peaceful transfer of power,” she says.

Those who have tried to make these comparisons have faced pushback, including in Spicuzza’s own article for the Journal Sentinel.

“The pushback has been, you know, this is kind of a false equivalency to compare an overwhelmingly peaceful protest that may have been loud and may have been a lot of people and they didn’t leave when they were first asked to leave but that’s very different then a violent insurrection coup attempt,” she says.  

Joy Powers hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2016.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.