The first film to take a critical look at the 2011 Wisconsin Uprising, Divided We Fall traces the genesis of the historic capitol occupation and weeks-long protests from the perspective of graduate teaching assistants at the center of the action and exposes tensions that challenged the movement’s solidarity.

This important documentary is an inside look at what really happened in Wisconsin in 2011 and provides some of the best history available about these events… A powerful cinematic narrative filled with drama and finally, unfulfilled hope. 

Professor David Nack, University of Wisconsin School for Workers
Synopsis: 

In the spring of 2011 Wisconsinites staged one of the largest sustained protests in US history.  Tens of thousands of people from around Wisconsin converged on the capitol for almost two weeks to oppose newly elected Governor Scott Walker’s signature legislation to effectively end collective bargaining for public sector workers.

Divided We Fall explores the internal challenges of the rapidly developing and diverse social movement; where activists shared common goals, but often had conflicting ideas about how to achieve them.  Weaving original in-depth interviews with dramatic citizen-produced video and photos, Divided We Fall creates a compelling narrative of the battle to resist an anti-labor and austerity agenda.  Interviewees include graduate teaching assistants, labor leaders, scholars and pundits such as the late Marty Beil (executive director, AFSCME Council 24), Frank Emspak (Workers Independent News), Professor Katherine Cramer (author, The Politics of Resentment) and Matthew Rothschild, long-time editor of the Progressive magazine.

Reviews

First-time filmmaker Katherine Acosta goes beyond the iconic images of the protests to ask organizers a simple question: What went wrong? 

Rob Thomas, Capitol Times

Weaving citizens’ videos with numerous interviews, the film offers new information, revealing what happened behind the scenes… This film will be studied by future historians.  

Esty Dinur, The Isthmus

Even if you read every article about the 2011 Wisconsin struggle, nothing comes close to seeing exactly how young people and workers rallied to the capitol to put their bodies on the line to oppose Scott Walker’s anti-labor assault.  

Louis Proyect, The Unrepentant Marxist
Director's Commentary: 

Nonviolent mass insurgencies are rare, spontaneous, and unpredictable creatures.  The trick is, how to make the most of one when it emerges?  The 2011 Wisconsin Uprising was one such beautiful creature, a largely organic movement that united tens of thousands of people in a weeks-long public protest.

In the opening sequence of Divided We Fall, long-time editor of the Progressive magazine, Matthew Rothschild, says, “I waited and waited for the people to rise up.  And suddenly, they were rising up!”

Rothschild’s words expressed my feelings – and those of many activists.  It was a thrilling political moment, as thousands of activists and ordinary citizens converged on Madison, rolled up their sleeves, and began building resistance.  The positive energy, good will and camaraderie of those days is indescribable – and made our ultimate defeat that much more painful. 

How could so many well-intentioned, creative, politically engaged, thoughtful citizens work so hard, yet fail to achieve our goal?  What can we learn from the experience, so that next time the people are inspired to rise up, we are prepared to win?

These are the questions that motivated me to make Divided We Fall.  Although my training and experience is as a sociologist, I thought film would be a better medium for this story.  A long-time documentary film and film fest aficionado, I had always wanted to try my hand at filmmaking.

My goal was to stake out some middle ground between art and sociology. I wanted to tell an engrossing story, yet also to convey critical analysis. The graduate teaching assistants in sociology who are our primary interviewees were ideally positioned to help us create this fusion. As scholar-activists, they were at the center of the action, but are also trained to analyze sociological phenomena.

Theirs and other interviews, combined with dramatic citizen-produced video and photos, create a compelling narrative intended to initiate a conversation about how various factions in social movements can work together for positive social change.