10 YEARS LATER: Teacher who spoke during Act 10 protests reflects on what’s changed since

MADISON, Wis. – Sunday marks 10 years since former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker introduced Act 10 legislation – an attempt to repair Wisconsin’s budget by cutting state employee’s rights to collectively bargain.

The days leading up to the Wisconsin legislature approving the legislation featured widescale peaceful protests at the capitol building in Madison. While teachers packed together both inside and outside, Monona Grove High School history teacher Denise Peterson was awaiting her moment.

I called into the district, and said dock my pay. I’m going to be at the capitol,” Peterson said. “As someone who taught government at the time, I felt it was very important for me to do this. If I’m telling students how important it is to be an activist and participate in the political process, I couldn’t talk the talk and not walk the walk.”

Days after Act 10 was announced, Peterson had a chance to do just that – testifying on behalf of educators in front of the state’s joint finance committee.

“What does denying school districts and local municipalities the right to collective bargain if they choose to have to do with your budget?” she asked lawmakers. “Nothing.”

Shortly after Act 10 was put into place, Peterson took an early retirement. Her career in the classroom lasted just shy of 20 years.

I was one of many teachers who left the profession,” she said. “I retired early, as soon as I could, in part of we were going to have some of our benefits taken away.”

Today, she said she’s seen the impacts, which she feels are negative, the legislation has had on the state.

We lost that bipartisanship,” she said. “We lost the voice of union workers in this state. There used to be a balance between the WMC and the lobbying power of the unions.”

Still, she said she’ll always remember the unity teachers showed during the days inside the capitol rotunda.

I’m proud of what we tried to do. There were so many people who spent a lot of days out in the cold, a lot of time in the capitol building fighting to do what was right. Fighting to save schools. To protect workers rights,” she said. “We showed people all over the country and all over the world that you can stand up non-violently, peacefully, and protest and speak up.”