Police with guns drawn watch as protesters try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Police with guns drawn watch as protesters try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Act 10 protest “was over policy. This is a flat-out attack on the Constitution of the United States”

Members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation report being safe as domestic terrorists, encouraged by outgoing President Donald Trump, stormed the United States Capitol Wednesday in an attempt to halt Congress’ official declaration of President-elect Joe Biden as the winner of the Nov. 3 presidential election. 

“I am safe,” tweeted Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin. “But it’s disgraceful that our country has to experience this violence because of Trump’s lies, conspiracies and un-American attacks on our Democracy.”

“Thank you all for your concern,” said US Rep. Gwen Moore on Twitter. “I am safe and monitoring the situation. Here’s what I know for sure: We cannot allow domestic terrorists to stop our democracy.”

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 06: Protesters enter the U.S. Capitol Building on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. A group of Republican senators said they would reject the Electoral College votes of several states unless Congress appointed a commission to audit the election results. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Some people, including Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna), quickly drew comparisons between Wednesday’s events in Washington and the massive protests in Madison following the introduction of Act 10 by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker in 2011. Walker’s Act 10 sparked weeks of protests, with crowds often topping 100,000, to protest the stripping of collective bargaining rights from most public employees.

In a tweet, Steineke urged Capitol Police to “learn the lessons from Wisconsin when liberal throngs stormed the State Capitol and took it over.”

Wisconsinites who took part in those protests immediately rejected any comparison between the two, and sharply criticized Sen. Ron Johnson and US Rep. Tom Tiffany for their role in instigating the violence.

“It’s on the hands of Ron Johnson, Donald Trump, and those kinds of folks who don’t believe in democracy,” said Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton). “You can’t even begin to compare the two. I can’t stress this enough: [The Act 10 protest] was over policy. This is a flat-out attack on the Constitution of this country. And for the president to do what he did today, to speak at a rally and whip everybody up… that doesn’t even compare to what happened in 2011.”

Johnson and Tiffany joined other Republicans in announcing their intention to object to Congress certifying the results of the Electoral College that declared Biden the winner.

“That people would take action into their own hands and try to take over the [US] Capitol and potentially commit violent acts is a natural outcome of this sort of behavior,” said Citizen Action of Wisconsin Executive Director Robert Kraig, a participant in the 2011 state Capitol protests. He described the opposition to Act 10 as “an example of the best of American traditions, and one cannot say that of this riot that has been spurred by the president of the United States.”

The demonstrations brought their own unprecedented situations—such as when State Senate Democrats temporarily delayed adoption of the bill by traveling across state lines to deny Republicans a quorum—but they never devolved into the stunning levels of chaos seen Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

Newly elected state Sen. Melissa Agard (D-Madison) said her experience at the Act 10 protests prompted her to run for state government. At the time she was a county supervisor and had four young children, the youngest of whom wasn’t even walking. 

Thousands protesting then-Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to end public employee collective bargaining rights gather peacefully inside the Wisconsin state Capitol on February 27, 2011. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

“We walked there every day for many, many days —many weeks in a row. At no point did I feel unsafe for myself and my children,” Agard said. 

That was in part because she was surrounded by teachers, police, fire, sanitation workers, “the ordinary everyday people that make up Wisconsin.”

“Despite the fact that we were all confused and disappointed about what [then-]Gov. Walker and legislators in our states were doing to workers’ rights, people came at it with a sense of hope and an understanding of community,” Agard said. “That’s not at all what we’re seeing in Washington today, sadly.”

Some members of Congress posted video updates from their offices, including Wisconsin Reps. Mark Pocan, a Democrat, and Mike Gallagher, a Republican.

“This is the cost of countenancing by Congress to overturn the election and telling thousands of people that there is a legitimate shot of overturning the election today, even though you know that is not true,” Gallagher said in a video filmed in his office. “We have got to stop this. Mr. President. You have got to stop this. You are the only person who can call this off.”

Pocan said from his office that Trump’s supporters “sheepishly, blindly followed” the president’s call for chaos.

“It’s a sad day for America when the president is inciting domestic terrorism and acting so incredibly irresponsibly,” Pocan said.

Kraig was among many who noted that the mob was able to overrun Capitol Police without nearly the amount of violent pushback that has been seen used against Americans protesting racism and police violence.

“If this was a Black Lives Matter protest, it’s unimaginable that this would have been allowed to happen,” Kraig said. “In fact, quite the opposite. There would more likely be brutality against a peaceful protest.”

“This is absolutely the behavior of dictatorships,” Kraig said. “Not of any leaders or any government worthy of the name of the United States of America.”