Wisconsin, Senators, & You:
When Teachers Fought Back

Teachers Fight For Their Rights
Meanwhile: Senators on the Run…
because they didn’t want to go to work?!

Protesters including teachers and police officers swell the halls of
the Wisconsin State Capitol building in a 2011 multi-day protest.

One of the largest protest movements of the 2000’s occurred  in February 2011 in the state of Wisconsin, and that movement led to some pretty interesting stories including the one you’re going to learn about in this piece: When the state’s democratic senators went on the run from the law… and their own state’s police!  That story actually begins in 1959 (don’t worry it’s not too deep a history lesson)…

Basically, in 1959 Wisconsin was the first state in the US to allow public employees (people that are paid for their jobs with money from the state government) to ‘collectively bargain’ – that means they could team up and talk about how much they’d get paid as a group, rather than asking for raises or healthcare from their managers as individuals representing themselves.  Ok, now let’s fast-forward to 2008 (yes, it’s still a few years before 2011 , but once again it’s not all that much historical backstory that you’ll need)….

In America during the fall of 2008 , two notable things happened: America elected Barack Obama…and it did it just as the economy was beginning to collapse – an event that would lead to a roughly decade-long period that would come to be known as The Great Recession.  That time period was extremely economically challenging for nearly everyone, including government agencies: they had made financial commitments to their employees, but by 2010 they would be running out of money to maintain those commitments because of how the investments they had made were failing.

Ok, so that brings us to Wisconsin in February of 2011.  At the time, the state was dealing with some massive budget issues: Without any changes being made, the state government would have more than $1.2 Billion-with-a-B in expenses over several years that it would not have money to pay for.  In fact, projections from the office of newly-elected-at-the-time Governor Scott Walker suggested the state would run out of money and be in debt by $137 Million-with-an-M by June of that year!

With just over a month in office, the governor (a republican – which is important to the event) – proposed taking away the government employees’ rights to collectively bargain and insisted that those employees would have to begin receiving less compensation (payment in the form of cash or benefits like health care or retirement savings) immediately.   He also said that if his proposal wasn’t approved, thousands of state workers would be fired because there wasn’t enough money to pay them  (not because they weren’t good at their jobs).  Protests and demonstrations began at the Wisconsin Capitol Building on February 14, 2011 – just as Governor Walker submitted his budget proposal for a vote… By February 20th, 2011 the protests had blown up into a full-blown 24-hours-7-days-a-week occupation!  That though.. that is a story for another time.

What concerns this conversation are the events that took place shortly after the occupation began, around February 15:  The Wisconsin State Senate had 19 Republicans that supported the Governor’s  budget proposal, and 14 Democrats that were completely against it.  The Democrats knew they would lose a vote, so they had a better idea: Wisconsin state law did not allow for votes to be held unless 20 state senators were present.  Rather than participate in a vote on an issue that deeply concerned them which they knew they would lose, the state senators fled to Illinois!  They remained on the run for weeks until March 12, when they finally returned after their absence caused the Republican majority to carve-out the cancellation of collective bargaining rights from the budget proposal.  Though the senators couldn’t have been charged with a crime, the state police would have had the right to arrest and detain the senators until the vote had initially taken place.


1) Why do you agree or disagree with the cause?

2) Why do you agree or disagree with the action?

3) Why do you agree or disagree with the punishment / consequences?

4) What cause – if any – would make you want to knowingly break the law, and why?

5) What are some better courses of action you can think of besides breaking the law in support of a cause you care about, or if you feel there aren’t any, what obstacles would prevent your from engaging in lawful resistance?

Be sure to provide full explanations for each of your answers. For more details, you can read the article this piece was sourced from here:


Contributed By:  -M. Kamer

Civil Disobedience, Community & You, GC&Y, K-12 Law Related Education, K-12 LRE, Know the Law, Know Your Rights, Law Related Education, Learing Laws, Learning Law, LRE, Project REAL, Project REAL NV, ProjectREALOrg, Protest, protesting, runaway senators, teachers protest,

Connect with us

Sign up to receive Project REAL news and updates.

    Project REAL 7175 Bermuda Rd., Las Vegas, NV 89119   |   702.703.6529   |   info@projectrealnv.org
    ©2021 Project Real