Protesters gather at the Wisconsin Capitol on March 10, 2011, the day the Assembly gathered to vote on Act 10. Read a report on the scene that day.
Round-the-clock demonstrations, Capitol sleep-ins, the Solidarity Sing Along, the "Walkerville" encampment -- all these empowered the left in Madison, but were these protests too contentious for the rest of the state?
Joe Heim, a UW-La Crosse political science professor, says voters had "mixed feelings" about the protests. While they influenced and motivated blue-collar union workers, the intensity was a turn-off to a more conservative crowd that prefers politics to be "civil and orderly."
"Peaceful protests are viewed by the majority of people as a legitimate exercising of rights," Heim says.
But Heim says the rare disorderly protests, such as the shouting of obscenities at state lawmakers, hurt the image of all protesters. He also says rumors about protests, though untrue, lead residents around the state to "grow weary" of the protest rhetoric.
"Stories never catch up with the truth," Heim says.
Former Republican state Sen. Dan Kapanke of La Crosse believed angry protestors deliberately damaged his car's windshield on March 9, the day Act 10 was passed. It turned out to be accidental damage caused by a rock randomly hitting his car. Still, stories like this proved damaging to the protesters' reputation.
Heim agrees there was a political disconnect between people who lived in Madison, who saw the protests first-hand, and residents in the rest of the state, who merely heard stories and anecdotes. He says people in La Crosse heard talk of unruly mobs and thugs.
"Things that made you think this was not a grassroots effort," he says.
Yet Heim believes that views about Madison protestors were not a deciding factor in the election.
As Matt Reiter, co-president of the Teaching Assistants' Association (TAA) at UW-Madison, points out, "There would have not been a recall effort without the protests."
Reiter was involved in the protests and considers them to be one of the most important events in his life. "I don't like to think that they were detrimental [to the election,]" he says.
Instead, Reiter points to campaign cash as a more likely possibility for the Democrats' defeat, noting that the Republicans had a 2:1 advantage in commercials. "That's really tough to counteract," he says.
Reiter contends a grassroots effort was the recall's best hope with Democrats being significantly outspent.
UW-Madison TAA co-president Charity Schmidt says the recall was only a potential means to an end.
"Even if we had won the recall election we wouldn't have won yet," she says. "We won't have a victory until we have collective bargaining rights back."