About The Wisconsin Idea

The Wisconsin Idea is an independent reporting project of People’s Action Institute, Citizen Action of Wisconsin and In These Times. The Wisconsin Idea takes a closer look at the state of Wisconsin, featuring in-depth reporting on the issues facing the state’s rural communities. 

During the last decade, rural Wisconsin has seen the decline of public institutions like schools and hospitals, and the erosion of democratic institutions. 

Wisconsin’s Office for Rural Prosperity has identified, among others, increasingly unaffordable housing, childcare shortages, and little access to healthy, affordable groceries. About a quarter of people in rural Wisconsin lack access to high speed internet, a serious barrier to democratic participation. And during the pandemic, up to 60 percent of rural Indigenous students lack the internet service required to complete their homework.

Meanwhile, union membership across the state has fallen by about 30% since the passage of Act 10, legislation banning most of the public sector from engaging in collective bargaining. Voter suppression targeting Black Wisconsinites and rigged electoral maps have guaranteed conservative control over state politics. 

These democratic deficiencies are exacerbated by a deepening cultural divide between rural and urban communities in the state. (Kathy Cramer, author of The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker, argues that Walker’s divisive politics, followed by Trump’s presidency, fueled this split). 

But the forces affecting rural and urban Wisconsinites can’t be so easily separated. Take industrial farming operations, which increase economic disparities in rural areas, degrade nearby air and water quality, and contribute to climate change — felt, of course, in all quarters, from small towns to major cities. 

Rural counties have mobilized for fair electoral maps statewide and small farmers have fought for a more sustainable agricultural economy. The Bad River band of Lake Superior Chippewa has pushed to shut down a pipeline that endangers communal land as well as the waters of Lake Superior, and members of the Menominee Tribe have mobilized to stop the construction of a mine on the Menominee River.

The Wisconsin Idea aims to draw out the connections between rural and urban Wisconsin through accessible, well-researched reporting that avoids jargon and makes no assumptions about the political backgrounds of our readers.