Wednesday, August 16, 2017

BESIDES MARGARET ROZGA’S POEM – OTHER COMMENTS AND MEMORIES OF THE 1967 MILWAUKEE RACIAL CONFLICTS

Photo by Catherine Lange


“I had African American friends not knowing where they were going to move, so this wasn’t a question of why would I get involved (in the marches).  It was a question of why I would not get involved.”  
Margaret Rozga, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 7-30-17

“I marched with Groppi during the Eagles Club protests the year before, but I didn’t join the 1967 demonstrations, for reasons that remain obscure to me.  The counterculture was fast developing two equal and somewhat complimentary dimensions: an inward side focused on questions of personal meaning and an outward side galvanized in opposition the Vietnam War, racial prejudice and a generic bogeyman called the Establishment.  I was already taking the inward path.”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 8-6-17



16th Street Viaduct looking north from W. Pierce Street. Photo by Catherine Lange.

In response to this reflection someone said that those “baby boomers” who were concerned with personal meaning to the point of not getting involved are the ones who do not get involved today and probably don’t vote.

A friend and social activist recalled the “riot” of August 2, 1967.  He related that he had graduated from Marquette that spring and was working at a factory the summer before graduate school.  He said he couldn’t go home because travel in the city was restricted.  Suburbanites were terrified.  When the restrictions were lifted He bought a shotgun to protect his Wauwatosa home.

I also talked to a man who was 12 years old at the time of the August 2, ’67 blow up in Milwaukee.  He and his family lived in West Allis and his father worked at Allis Chalmers manufacturing.  His Dad got the hunting rifle out to protect family and property.


Plaque at the end of the 16th Street Viaduct commemorating the 1986 renovations of the bridge by Mayor Henry Maier, an opponent Father Groppi. Photo by Catherine Lange


Bob Graf recalled:
I can remember crossing the 16th street Bridge with the Open Housing marches in 1967 and being met by angry people on the south side of the bridge.  Besides shouting they were throwing rocks and bottles at us. We were flanked on both sides by African-American males, Commandos, and thus felt protected.  We had been warned to not react to the hatred and just keep on marching, chanting and singing.

Now when I cross the 16th street Bridge, now named the Father Groppi Memorial Bridge, I am met by a racially mixed neighborhood of Hispanic, Whites and African American.  There are no more signs of overt racism and a Milwaukee open housing city ordinance has long been passed.

Now when I cross North Ave, I feel a wall dividing black and white.  It is not a feeling of overt racism but it is still one of racism.  North of North Ave. the community is overwhelming black and poor.  Housing and education have deteriorated and crime has increased.  Milwaukee’s racial barrier, in my mind, has moved from the 16th bridge to the wall on North Ave.  We need an Equal Housing March from North Ave. to the predominately white and well off downtown. 

Joan Bleidorn remembered: 

At the time of the civil rights marches in Milwaukee, I was studying for a Masters at Marquette and working at St. Boniface school several mornings a week, as an Elementary School Guidance Counselor.  I saw firsthand the excitement of the school and parish under the prophetic leadership of Father Jim Groppi.  I witnessed firsthand the clashes between Fr. Groppi and school principal Sister Kathleen over the role to be played by the school kids.  He thought they should be out in the streets marching for open housing legislation, while Kathleen vociferously demanded that they stay in school where she felt they belonged.

I  was on the earliest marches, beginning in August of 1967, which often included a tasty meal served at the back of the parish hall fostering a strong sense of community.  When the marches increased to large numbers, it became impossible to continue the meals.

I marched over the 16th Street Viaduct, along with huge numbers of marchers, 
when an angry south side woman hurled a glass bottle at me which struck me on the shoulder.

History was made when the open housing laws were passed,  thanks to the determination of  the thousands of marchers who stood up for justice and an end to racism. 

Scroll down for Margaret Rozga's poem,Peggy:  "Crossing the 16th Street Viaduct"



Wednesday, August 9, 2017

SELMA OF THE NORTH



Margaret Rozga grew up on the south side of Milwaukee.  She is a poet, social justice activist and the widow of Fr. James Groppi who brought attention to the racial discrimination of northern cities in the U.S.  Peg is the mother of three children.

The following is a poem she wrote about her experience marching with open housing protesters across the 16th street viaduct which spans the Menomonee Valley to Milwaukee’s south side. The Valley divided Milwaukee’s North Side African American neighborhoods from the mostly white south side.  We celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of this pivotal event In American history in the struggle for freedom. The poem is from a book of poems entitled 200 Nights and one day, published by Benu Press, Hopkins, MN, p. 35-36.

“Peggy:  Crossing the 16th Street Viaduct”                                            August 28th, 1967

16th Street?  No big deal.
In high school after football
or basketball games, we'd go to Pepi's.
Great pizza.  We'd always find friends there.


Yet I couldn't be sure.
This was not high school, and I had new friends.
We marched past Pepi's.

I looked at the expanse of window.
I touched the glass.  It was cool and smooth.
No one stood in this doorway.
No one glared at us through their windows.

I thought, it's okay.  I know this place.
I'll be all right.  We'll be all right.

I didn't look at the Crazy Jim's crowd.  Too scary.
Up ahead was a stretch with fewer people.
When we get there.  I thought, we'll be okay.

But something changed.
I felt like I had been in a tunnel
and was emerging into noise
like the crowd at a football game,
the noise of the home team's fans and you're the visitor.

No.  Listen.  That's not it, not even close.
It's something deeper--
a wave of hate,
the sound of hate, blurring  individual words.

We turned onto Lincoln Avenue,
the crowds thickening again.  I couldn't ignore it anymore-- 
the blunt force of hate finding a rhyme and a rhythm:
I don't want a ...jig... next door.  Keep them in the inner core. 

At Kosciusko Park, we huddled around picnic tables,
keeping very close, to be able to hear.
Some man, called himself district park supervisor.
said we couldn't give speeches.
A picnic permit, he shouted, 
a picnic permit does not permit speeches.
We prayed, for peace, for justice, Father Groppi leading us.
Then back up Lincoln Avenue,
sometimes almost running.
police, night sticks angled up across their chests,
sometimes pushed back on people,
people trying to get at us.

The crowd noise was like a dome 
enclosing us,  the whole dome was moving 
rapidly down the street.  My face was wet.
With sweat.  I was not crying.

How had I walked these streets for years 

and never seen the ugly?     


Comments?  Send your comments and experiences of the '67 protests and they will be posted. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Working Catholic: Garbage Justice by Bill Droel


Rev. Martin Luther King (1929-1968), one of our country’s foremost leaders in race relations, is less remembered for his advocacy of the dignity of work.

            The City of Memphis is sending a tax-free grant of $50,000 each to 13 retired sanitation workers, plus one more still on the job. This gesture, N.Y. Times (7/26/17) reports, is “an improvised fix to one of the most bitter legacies of Memphis’s labor history.”

            In February 1968 two Memphis garbage workers died, crushed in a compactor. Their fellow workers caucused; lamented their low pay; detailed their unsafe work conditions; discussed joining AFSCME, a union; and called for a strike.

As the days passed, threats and confusion dominated the Memphis scene. King went there on March 18th to support the workers. He returned on March 28th for the same purpose. This time violent young adults roamed the streets. A curfew was imposed. King retreated to Atlanta and then to Washington.

King’s advisors discouraged further involvement in the Memphis situation, but he returned there. It is the lesson of the Good Samaritan parable, he said. “If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers,” I am like those who passed by. Aware of threats against him, he preached: “But it doesn’t matter to me now… I may not get there with you… [But] we as a people will get to the promised land.” On April 4, 1968 King was murdered in Memphis.

 The city reached a settlement with the workers on April 16th. Some details were hastily left incomplete, specifically about retirement. Thus, the 14 living workers who participated in the 1968 strike get $50,000 toward retirement.

Back during the 2001 New York City mayoral campaign, candidate Michael Bloomberg made what the press treated as a major gaffe: “Being a sanitation worker in this day and age is more dangerous than being a policeman or fireman.” His point could have been better made, but Bloomberg was correct—more injuries, more deaths. Garbage collectors fall from trucks, get hit by traffic, get cut by objects in bags, get injured or killed as they repair or clean equipment.

Robin Nagle was a driver for a 35-ton New York City garbage truck that she nicknamed Mona. Pedestrians obliviously walk in front of and behind Mona, she writes in Picking Up (Farrar, Straus, 2013). Residents think nothing of throwing out all manner of hazardous material. Plus the complaints.

In December 2010 New York City was paralyzed by snow. Sanitation workers were on the front line of storm clearance. Frustrated residents said that workers intentionally went slow during the recovery, as a passive-aggressive protest about work conditions. Nonsense, Nagle details. “Sanitation pride wraps around many things, but snow fighting is one of the biggest.” To punctuate her retort, Nagle tells about Mona in a five-truck caravan clearing an expressway. After an arduous push down a lane, the foreman led the trucks off a ramp. He gathered the drivers for a very profane pep talk—maybe unaware that one was a woman. The determined convoy quickly went up the opposite ramp and, says Nagle, “we did indeed bust the [vulgar noun that the foreman used for highway], just as we had on the northbound.”

These days health care delivery is a major topic. What two occupations most contribute to the delivery of our health? Plumber and garbage collector.


Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a newsletter about faith and work.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Working Catholic: Consistent Solidarity by Bill Droel



Cardinal Joseph Bernardin (1928-1996) of Chicago urged his fellow Catholics to adopt a consistent ethic of life; to honor the inherent dignity of each person from conception to natural death. Some Catholic leaders harshly criticized him, arguing that some issues warranted more attention than others. “Bernardin deserves a fresh hearing,” writes Cardinal Blasé Cupich of Chicago in Commonweal (6/2/17). Bernardin’s articulation of Catholic morality transcends “the partisan political framework” in which so much of today’s thinking is trapped, Cupich continues. In particular, the Catholic principle of solidarity draws together what are often treated “as discrete topics… Solidarity, consistently applied across a full range of issues that impact our human interactions, is required” at this moment.

Not everyone welcomes the implications of solidarity, Cupich admits. It “is a word that frightens the developed world. People try to avoid saying it. Solidarity to them is almost a bad word.” Thus if the word is the only hang up, Saint John Paul II (1920-2005) offers synonyms for solidarity, including social charity, civilization of love and friendship. Plus, as suggests Cupich and Bernardin, the phrase consistent ethic of life captures the same meaning. Whatever the preferred term, solidarity is a Catholic contribution to our fractured world; one which, according to Cupich, can evoke a sense of pride.

But, can it work? Is it possible for a Catholic to transcend our “partisan political framework” and be consistent on public policy?

Heath Mello, a Catholic and a Democrat from Cupich’s hometown of Omaha, recently ran for mayor. Mello happens to be consistently pro-life. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent, supported him. So did a couple of prominent Democrats. However, many Democrats stayed away from Mello, reports Peggy Steinfels in Chicago Catholic (5/14/17), as does Robert David Sullivan in America (5/15/17). Mello lost; his opponent received about 53% of the mayoral vote.

In late April Thomas Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee, proclaimed that the party would not support any pro-life candidate. Perez made this comment fully aware that Catholics have for several years defected from his party in part because of its seemingly monolithic stance on abortion. Thankfully, Rep. Nancy Pelosi corrected Perez, saying that Democrats are allowed to have differing opinions. Pelosi, of course, is pro-abortion though she is Catholic.
There are Republicans who happen to be Catholic. They too are pressured to choose one over the other on the issues. For example, Catholic business leaders who support a family wage and who want to be Republicans must overcome the prevailing stance within their party. Some have joined Business for a Fair Minimum Wage to express their position. They and others point to surveys of executives and small business owners that back a wage increase, including those conducted by Luntz Global, Small Business Majority and American Sustainable Business Council.

A more accurate Republican counterpart to Mello of Omaha would be a consistent Catholic who, like Mello, is against current abortion policies and also supports the Catholic doctrine on labor relations. Such a person (if one could be found) would have great difficulty getting Republican support for any candidacy.
  These examples are not meant to discourage anyone from the challenge of solidarity. Bishops and other Church employees must continue to consistently advocate an entire range of issues that are usually treated as one-or-the-other, or as one for now maybe the other at another time. It is, however, lay people who must prudently apply Catholic principles in complex settings. Mello gets along fine within the Democratic Party with his stance on budget matters, social service delivery and more. Members of his party don’t care all that much if he now and then expresses his general opinion about abortion. His unique opportunity (and his perilous decision) occurred when inside his workplace as a state senator Mello voted for fetal ultrasounds—a small piece of a large debate. Such calculated opportunities can occur for ordinary lay people within their normal setting of family life, the neighborhood, professional association, local precinct, labor local, and—let’s be honest—parish clubs and committees.

Obtain Droel’s booklet on solidarity, Public Friendship, from National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $5)



Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Victory!



The Fire & Police Commission officially restored protections for immigrant community members! 

Mayor Tom Barrett had made significant changes to the Milwaukee Police Department policy regarding immigration status, specifically Standard Operating Procedure 130. These changes strengthened collaboration between MPD and ICE.

On Thursday, July 13th during the Fire and Police Commission’s monthly meeting Assistant Police Chief James Harpole explained the agreement reached by the Mayor’s office, the Chief of Police, LULAC and Voces de la Frontera to amend the new policy that had gone into effect on July 6th.  Assistant Chief Harpole explained both the changes that remained in the policy and those that were amended.  The Fire and Police Commission then voted to accept the amended version of the policy. 

Great relief swept through the crowd of over 2000 as they listened to the amended version as well as the unanimous vote by the Commission.  Cheers broke out in the adjoining committee rooms and the corridors of City Hall as those assembled recognized the enormous victory that had been won. Through community presence, phone calls and emails, the mayor and police chief reconsidered the unnecessary language that had struck fear into the whole community.  The response:“Si, se pudo!”  (Yes, we did it!)

After the vote was taken on the amended policy, the Fire and Police Commission members listened to community comments. 


Daryl Morin from LULAC spoke to the lack of democratic processes that had led to the July 6th policy being put in place.  Christine Neumann-Ortiz thanked all the members of the community who showed their support for immigrants and refugees who were targeted by the policy.  Pastor Joseph Ellwanger from MICAH said, “We need to have courage in Milwaukee, the courage to practice radical hospitality.”

A TESTIMONY given at the hearing held by the Fire and Police Commission on July 13, 2017.

A basic law for the Faith Community, Jews, Christian, Muslims and others, is: love God and your neighbor. A corollary of this law – equality – is carved in the keystone of our institutions.

But fifty years ago Mayor Maier of Milwaukee wanted to make an exception.  He opposed fair housing.  Under the leadership of Father James Groppi the people marched in opposition with success

Mayor Tom Barrett also wanted to make an exception.  Barrett, with the new protocol for the police denied the people in the Latino Community Police protection.  The people are marched again and were successful.

Bill Lange

These are excerpts from the Milwaukee New Sanctuary Movement newsletter, summer 2017 issue.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Working Catholic: Rehabbing Foreclosed Houses by Bill Droel



I moved into Chicago’s Marquette Park neighborhood in the late 1970s and within seven years bought the home there in which my family still resides. Neighborhood stability and the quality of housing were of concern in the 1970s and with ebbs-and-flows remain so today.

Prior to the real estate collapse of 2008, we were plagued by sub-prime lenders who deceived immigrant homebuyers. Thus, from the late 1990s and into the early years of this century our community organization, Southwest Organizing Project (www.swopchicago.org), made regular visits to those culpable lenders. I recall one Saturday when we went to a storefront loan office on Cicero Ave. bearing a nationally-known name. The manager who greeted us, I was surprised to see, was a young woman I had known since her grammar school days. She had no prior experience in real estate or in banking and thus, unsurprisingly, had no acceptable answers to our questions. On another day, in the company of our local bishop and many neighbors, SWOP took a walk and put a symbol on each property owned by a specific predatory lender. (No, we did not graffiti the property; it was a warning symbol.)

The international real estate collapse of 2008 hit our neighborhood hard. Late that year SWOP, which has 33 institutional members (several churches, a synagogue, a Muslim network, schools and agencies), produced a neighborhood map with a dot on each foreclosed property. Except for the 320-acre park area and some industrial property, the dots nearly blotted out the entire map. (For those who know Chicago: The map covers east of Midway Airport to Western Ave.; from 55th St. on the north to Marquette Park itself on the south. This map, by the way, proved useful to those attorneys representing our neighbors in eviction court. Despite their disgrace from the 2008 collapse, a handful of nationally-known banks continue to haunt our neighborhood with their zombie-like properties.)

SWOP leaders started to think about getting ahead of the problem. They decided to get into the housing rehab and rental business. As a pilot area, those leaders picked what until recent years was called the Lithuanian Corridor, a few blocks within the southeast corner of our neighborhood.

Back when I came to Chicago (the late 1970s) the Lithuanian Plaza was a fun spot—at least for me. Dinner in one of the small restaurants was hearty and inexpensive. A big wave of Lithuanian-Americans arrived in Chicago early in the 1900s. Many worked in the stockyards and related industries. In fact, the well-known novel about those stockyards, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (1906), featured a Lithuanian-American protagonist. (For an update, get Slaughterhouse: Chicago’s Union Stockyard by our former neighbor Dominic Pacyga, University of Chicago Press, 2015.) In recent years several absentee landlords owned the houses in the former Lithuanian-American area. Then came the predatory lender invasion; a favorite tasty restaurant gave way to a shuttered storefront, other businesses closed and eventually the foreclosed houses appeared. The only remnants of a once vibrant Lithuanian-American community are a motherhouse for Sisters of St. Casmir, Draugas newspaper office several blocks away, a museum over on Pulaski Rd. and a monument in the park. 

To meet its initial goal of reclaiming 100 housing units, SWOP sought help from Brinshore Development (www.brinshore.com), Local Initiatives Support Corp. (www.lisc-chicago.org), Neighborhood Housing Service (www.nhschicago.org) and the local affiliate of Industrial Areas Foundation, United Power (www.united-power.org).

In late May of this year my family, along with about 120 of our neighbors and some visitors from other areas around Chicago, gathered in the well-kept St. Adrian Catholic church in SWOP’s initial target area. The purpose was to launch an expansion of the rehab project to eventually total 70 blocks. SWOP estimates a need for $10million to complete this second phase. There was excitement at the meeting when LISC Chicago immediately pledged $1million.

Eviction has spillover effects, as Matthew Desmond compellingly details in Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (Penguin Random House, 2016). The foreclosure crisis in SWOP’s target section of our neighborhood, for example, was accompanied by private school closings, an uptick in crime statistics and general transience. Thus, SWOP’s challenge of finding $9million is in a sense not the top priority. Hardware alone does not get us ahead; in itself it does not make for neighborly conviviality, for safety, or for educational attainment. SWOP wisely makes a priority of one-by-one relationships and consequently reports some reduction in crime in its original target area and somewhat improved standard test results in nearby public schools. Can the software side of neighborhood rehab continue along with the hardware side? And, is there some way SWOP’s success can be replicated elsewhere in our city? To be continued…

Droel edits a printed newsletter about faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629).  To offset misinterpretation about our neighborhood, allow me to quickly share that over the first 20 years after our purchase, the value of our home increased three-fold. This period included the run up to the recession, after which we took a hit. Now, the property value is back again to in excess of two-times our original purchase.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Working Catholic: Eviction by William Droel

  

         An imprecise distinction can be made between the working poor and the poor; between episodic poverty and persistent poverty; between functional poverty and totally debilitating poverty. Matthew Desmond compelling portrays the downward slide from “stable poverty” to “grinding poverty” in his study of housing in Milwaukee, titled Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (Penguin Random House, 2016). Although several interdependent factors weave in and around his report, Desmond shows that eviction causes poverty (not the other way around). Further, eviction is contagious—each one dragging relatives and neighbors into deeper poverty. And, each eviction degrading nearby housing and putting stress on nearby institutions.


From one perspective those working poor who slide into deep poverty can be faulted. Some of them abuse drugs; some choose irresponsible sexual partners; some physically attack a partner or friend and some are into petty crime. Desmond is upfront about self-defeating behavior, including buying premium food items rather than staples, investing too much in pets (or in one case, keeping a cat with an asthmatic child), and seeking advice (legal, parenting or spiritual advice) from people who obviously have failed. However, Desmond is patient as he explores the psychology of those on the margin, that tenuous area between working poverty and desperate poverty, between unpleasant housing and eviction.

           He finds “a hazy depression” on the downside of that divide. Eviction saps confidence and convinces people that they are destined to be poor forever. Those sliding down are overtaken by small tangible problems and lose any appetite for political agency. A righteous observer, including an elected official or a minister in Desmond’s story, can say that a person is poor because she frivolously spends her money on steak or lobster. The other way around is probably more accurate: The person spends frivolously because she is poor.

Desmond goes inside the daily experience of landlords—vividly in one case. This woman is intelligent and clocks many hours. She is enterprising, acquiring her first 36 rental units within four years. She uses each property as collateral for a loan on the next. She is compassionate in some situations, or so it can seem.

Yet, the landlord welcomes each new tenant to one or another apartment that has a door off its hinges and/or a cracked window and/or serious plumbing issues and/or mold and/or furnace problems. Why? First, as Desmond explains, because landlords (at least in Milwaukee) are “allowed to rent units with property code violations…as long as they were upfront about the problems.” Second, because landlords know it is “cheaper to deal with the expense of eviction than to maintain their properties.” The eviction court processing fee is $89.50. Third, these landlords can sometimes make more money from an eviction (by way of penalties and a lien, for example) than from collecting delinquent rent. This is why some landlords, including one of Desmond’s main subjects, do not screen out apartment seekers who have prior evictions or misdemeanors. Though it is counter-intuitive, there is “a business model at the bottom of every market.” Providing housing for the poor is only a sideline in the model that Desmond details.

The essential character of Desmond’s principal landlord, along with the nature of this business, is gradually revealed. Early in the book she is whining about a tenant who is $30 short on monthly rent. She is more disturbed, however, because of an earlier “bad job for the painting.” The tenant, the reader learns, is disabled. At one point the landlord agrees to forgive $260 in back rent in exchange for painting the apartment. Upon inspection, the landlord reneges on the agreement with a passive-aggressive sentence containing two profane adjectives. Eventually, the tenant is evicted.

What this landlord says about her purchases of foreclosed houses applies to her attitude toward tenants: “You know, if you have money right now, you can profit from other people’s failures.” Yet for all her aggravation and irregular hours, this landlord gains unappealing rewards: a modest home and occasional gambling excursions to the Caribbean.

These predatory landlords, famously including Jared Kushner (see N.Y. Times Magazine, 5/28/17), are impervious to moralizing. They are part of a larger business and a culture that, as Desmond explains, goes back to the late 1400s. In the modern economy “piles of money [can] be made by creating slums” and thereby compounding poverty. Through the detailed stories of a handful of Milwaukee individuals, Desmond opens readers’ minds to the bigger dynamics of real estate and poverty.

Are there alternatives to exploitative rent situations? A subsequent blog will present some positive examples.


Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a newsletter about faith and work.