“We Are Wisconsin” brings Madison protests to the big screen
Documentary filmmaker Aimee Williams' "love letter to democracy," "We Are Wisconsin" chronicles the occupation of the Wisconsin Capitol building in Madison.
With the historic recall election that is the culmination of one of the largest, most sustained labor protests in decades mere days away, filmmaker Aimee Williams is bringing the final cut of her documentary about the first weeks in Madison after Scott Walker “dropped the bomb” and introduced Act 10 in a special legislative session to Milwaukee and Madison.
Williams, a native of metro Milwaukee and Shorewood High School graduate, has been traveling the world making documentaries for 25 years. She calls herself a “purple baby” – one parent a Republican, one a Democrat – and she calls this film her “love letter to democracy.” It is, at heart, a celebration of all the incredible, ordinary, dedicated, and every-day people that decided to stand up and let their voices be heard.
Wisconsin has always occupied a somewhat unique place in the firmament of American politics; we sent the only Socialist to Congress (Rep. Victor L. Berger), we pioneered unions for public workers, and yet we’ve always been considered a “swing state,” a purple state. Wisconsin has a long, storied history of independence, progress for the common good, and conservation. We hold it as a self-evident truth that government can do good, although not everything government does must be good.
Williams characterizes Wisconsin as extraordinarily stubborn: “We fish through ice; we make democratic political history. Wisconsin proved to me that democracy is alive and well; the fight for social, economic, and political democracy goes on stronger and more vibrant than ever.”
Williams’ documentary captures the spirit of that ordinariness in extraordinary times. By eschewing scenes of Michael Moore or Susan Sarandon or Bradley Whitford in favor of following the activities and external lives of Wisconsinites, she’s created a portrait of the protests the belies the “outside agitator” meme. The heart of this documentary is those people, and the two-week-long occupation of the Capitol building, although it extends beyond that since the “movement” that began with UW students marching up State Street to deliver tongue-in-cheek Valentine’s to the governor’s office has likewise extended beyond that.
We Are Wisconsin, in telling the stories of these Wisconsinites, is emotionally resonant. It captures the spirit of what is taking place around the world as people decide they are tired of agendas created and pushed with nary a thought for the well-being of the people that have to live within their frameworks. Williams, in an email interview, said that she is excited to see “a global push-back that is creating healthy debates and demonstrations that foreground the voice of the people.” Consensus is a means and not just an end, and she sees that truism at the heart of the protests and the recalls here. The refusal to build consensus in favor of autocratic and draconian pronouncements is the real harm done here, and the one that Wisconsinites (and people everywhere) increasingly will not stand for.
We Are Wisconsin will have one more screening in Wisconsin ahead of the June 5 recall election, on Thursday, May 31 at the Barrymore Theatre in Madison at 7 pm. Tickets are $10 in advance via www.barrymorelive.com or $13 at the door.