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Wisconsin Rising: Grassroots Documentary Film Follows the People's Movement in Madison from Revolt to Recalls

Sam Mayfield is finishing a documentary on the fight for union rights in Wisconsin this past year, and she tells AlterNet her story.

Just under a year ago, Republican governor Scott Walker was sworn in in Wisconsin. One of his first moves was to push for a bill that would strip state and local employees of their right to bargain collectively, which would have effectively ended their union protections.

But Wisconsinites fought back, and a working people's movement sprang up in Madison that quickly spread across the state and the country. Sam Mayfield, a video journalist from Vermont, was dispatched to cover the growing protests in Madison for The Uptake, and decided to stay and turn her work into a full-length feature documentary, Wisconsin Rising.

“The thing that moves me about this story is that when teachers and nurses and firefighters, the people who sustain our communities, tell us that they are not being treated fairly and they are thinking about not going to work tomorrow, we have no other choice but to listen to them,” Mayfield said. She's using the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to finish post-production on the film, and she took a few minutes to talk to AlterNet about the project, and why she's committed to grassroots funding and distribution.

Sarah Jaffe: How did you get involved in Wisconsin?

Sam Mayfield: I had been covering the solidarity protest in Vermont when the uprising started in Wisconsin. I had been posting my videos and sharing them with The Uptake, and they called me and said, “Hey, can you go to Wisconsin and report for us?”

I said yeah, as an independent freelancer I can leave in two days. So I did. I had a relationship with the Uptake already, I had worked with them in 2008. I went to Wisconsin for what we thought was going to be four days, but everything continued to unfold, to become wilder and wilder.

I stayed at first in a hotel, and the first thing I did when I knew I was going to stay there was I rented an office. I slept in the office for a while, then I rented one apartment, then another.

SJ: What made you decide to stay?

SM: When I got there and I saw the thousands of people in the streets rising up in the face of injustice, that's what made me stay. Watching the tenacity and the fearlessness and the courage of the people there, and, really, seeing the lack of coverage that was out there.

We independent alternative media sources, we were the ones that were inside the capitol. At the rallies, the major media outlets would swoop in, throw their weight around, smack us with their cameras, and then move on. So the lack of coverage, the lack of credible information, that's what made me stay.

SJ: How did it feel, having been there for the protests, seeing the bill signed into law?

SM: It was sad, and it was also very inspiring to see the people not giving up. When Scott Walker signed the bill that day there were thousands and thousands of people outside the capitol and inside the capitol. I was in the room with him—I was press—and you could hear people chanting outside of his window. It was impossible for the others in the room not to hear, he was having to speak up.

When I walked out of that room and saw the thousands of people standing outside of his chamber, it was one of the most incredible things I have ever seen. People were crying. It was impossible for me not to become emotional, knowing that they had just lost their rights that they had been fighting for.

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