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‘Absolutely no similarity’: Leaders explain difference between Act 10 protests & Capitol insurrection

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Wisconsin has a long history of protest and unrest, but leaders say we've seen nothing like what happened at the US Capitol last week.

In 2011, 1.5 million people came to the state Capitol over about a month's time to protest new Gov. Scott Walker's plan to balance the budget. The historic crowds pushed their way inside to send their message to lawmakers voting on what would become Act 10.

"It was certainly intense," said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, who was a state representative at the time. "It was ultimate democracy in action when you have people peacefully protesting, taking to the streets to express their opinions."

Those who were there say the protesters worked with police to stay peaceful, despite some tense moments and threats to lawmakers that led to criminal charges.

"We had a total of 16 arrests," said former Capitol Police chief Charles Tubbs. "Nine out of those 16 arrests were people who wanted to make the record books. And we had minimal damage to the Capitol grounds. And that was due to the fact of the immediate cooperation and reaching out to all citizens, all stakeholders involved in coming to the Capitol to exercise their constitutional rights.

Still, some are making connections between the crowds showing up to storm the US Capitol and the huge crowds in the state Capitol 10 years ago. Former Gov. Scott Walker posted on social media saying it brought back memories for him. His team did not respond to requests for comment for this news report.

https://www.facebook.com/scottkwalker/posts/10164969924510405

Others say there's no comparison.

"There was absolutely no similarity between the Act 10 protests and the mob violence we saw in Washington, DC and any attempt to compare the two is, frankly, just an attempt to deflect attention and blame away from the culprits who invaded our Capitol in Washington, DC," Parisi said. "[The Act 10 protesters] came there to peacefully protest. The Trump mob did not. The Trump mob attacked, injured and murdered law enforcement."

Madison Police Department's Acting Chief Vic Wahl says officers didn't feel threatened, which was the key distinction between the two events at the capital buildings.

"It was a challenging time but certainly I think throughout the course of those protests there wasn't hostility towards the police, there wasn't violence and for the most part the crowd, while engaging in civil disobedience, was generally well-behaved," Wahl told 27 News. "Certainly over the last year we've seen some different flavor in some activity where it's been more than civil disobedience and sometimes hostility directed towards police, which I think makes it more challenging."

During Act 10 rallies, police learned how to keep a massive crowd peaceful and work with other agencies to manage huge groups.

Tubbs feels an open dialogue with protesters and a police mission of nonviolence helped keep the peace in 2011.

"My responsibility was to lead. I took it upon myself to make sure every situation [the officers] entered was safe first. I met with many groups, I went into many crowds," he said. "We thought the best measures in dealing with this situation, when we had especially cooperative citizens there, was to deal with it in a positive way. And that was the voluntary compliance and non violence, not mandatory arrest."

Parisi feels a lack of respect for differences in opinion ultimately led to the violence at the US Capitol. He says it needs to change.

"We need to start looking at what we do and how we conduct ourselves through the eyes of our children and ask what we want for them. What kind of a future we want for them?" he said. "If we don't find a path to come back to being able to respect our differences and work things out, have a healthy debate, disagree, but at the end of the day do what's best for our nation, then we're in a lot of trouble as a country."

27 News reached out to US representatives Glenn Grothman and Scott Fitzgerald, who were both state lawmakers at the time of the Act 10 protests and were also at the US Capitol during the insurrection last week. We did not hear back Tuesday.

Jennifer Kliese

Weekend Anchor and Reporter, 27 News

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