Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Working Catholic: World Series by Bill Droel





Back in March 2017 I picked the Dodgers in our usually friendly betting pool. I have admired the team, dating from the era that Roger Kahn describes in The Boys of Summer (Harper Collins, 1971). I wasn’t around to experience the debut of Jackie Robinson (1919-1972) in April 1947. In time, however, I followed Robinson and his teammates. (Full disclosure: the Dodgers were never my absolute favorite team, nor are they now.) 

42, Brian Helgeland’s inspiring 2013 movie about Robinson and the Dodger’s president and general manager Branch Rickey (1881-1965) downplays the role of Christian faith in the integration of Major League Baseball. That’s the opinion of Eric Metaxas, the author of Martin Luther (Penguin, 2017) and other biographies. It is also the opinion of Carl Erskine, a Dodger right-hander from 1948 to 1959. 

42 Faith: the Rest of the Jackie Robinson Story by Ed Henry (Thomas Nelson, 2017) brings Robinson’s and Rickey’s Christian faith to the center of the drama. Both men were evangelicals who prayed the Scripture. Both men kept holy the Lord’s Day; Rickey by not working on Sunday, first as a player and then as an executive. And, both men took Christianity beyond the strictly private realm and applied their faith to their workday lives.

Henry writes about each man’s doubts. Would Robinson hit and field at the major league level? Would the Dodger players and staff unify behind him? Would Robinson stay calm in the face of taunting? Would the owners of other teams tolerate integration? At a moment of serious doubt, Henry reveals, Rickey drew upon his faith. All the preliminaries for signing Robinson were accomplished, Henry continues. Just then, Rickey had an anguished “dark night of the soul.” His reading of Scripture did not calm him. And so, he walked a short distance from his office to Plymouth Church. There with visible hesitation he “sought spiritual guidance” with Rev. L Wendell Fifield (1891-1964). Rickey, as history knows, then decided to act.

 Don’t get the wrong impression. Yes, Christianity was a major motive behind the integration of baseball, as it was during the subsequent Civil Rights era. But keep in mind that everyone does everything for mixed motives. Robinson wanted to further his athletic achievements and he wanted to use baseball as a means to financially support a family. In principle Rickey favored integration but he also wanted to make money by fielding a winning team.

Jimmy Breslin (1928-2017) features faith in his biography Branch Rickey (Penguin, 2011). But faith had to mix with money to make the April 1947 breakthrough possible. In 1943 the Dodgers were $800,000 in debt to Brooklyn Trust Bank. Rickey needed more money to scout colleges and minor leagues for prospects, including blacks. So Rickey, an evangelical political conservative, went to the bank to meet its president George McLaughlin, a Catholic political liberal. Neither man was into moralizing or into converting individuals. So Rickey consciously avoided the morality of integration at the bank meeting. He simply said the scouting would include black players. “What McLaughlin believes doesn’t matter,” Rickey felt. “How he behaves is what counts.” 

Here is the liberal bank executive’s interesting reply to Rickey: “If you want to do this to get a beat on the other teams and make some money, let’s do it. But if you want to do this for some social change, forget it.” Both the bank executive and the baseball executive were men of faith and both believed that Christianity compelled racial inclusion. But both men were realists who knew that a black (eventually Robinson) was not being scouted to preach integration. He was paid to play baseball excellently and in the process to offer an example to bigots.

It is wrong to say that baseball would not have integrated without the faith of Robinson and Rickey. This notion does not fully appreciate mixed motives. Other executives and players would have integrated the sport. In fact, Bill Veeck (1914-1986), who became a Catholic, was prepared to have black players on the Philadelphia Phillies in 1943—four years ahead of the Dodgers. Owners of other teams blocked Veeck at the time. In July 1947, less than four months after Robinson’s debut, Veeck signed Larry Doby (1923-2003) and thereby integrated his Cleveland Indians.
The faith of Doby, Veeck, Robinson and Rickey, as prudently applied in their workaday settings, is still instructive these weeks and months as professional sports and our entire culture grapple with race relations.




Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629).








Wednesday, October 4, 2017

TODAY'S NEWS, IS IT ALL PREDETERMINED?








The news is overwhelming – nuclear war threatened, Texas, Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Las Vegas; if you understand time as programmed, as did St. Paul, Augustine, Hegel and Marx, it is apocalyptic. If you understand time as simply a measure of motion, and events as determined by community choices, contemplation and action are now an imperative.  What do we do about climate change, racism, gun control, income inequality?   

Poet Margaret Rozga writes: “Time is neither a straight line nor a circle.

It is a series of dots, tempting to connect.” 

November 4, 2008, Though I Haven’t Been to Baghdad, BenuPress, Hopkins, Minnesota, 2012


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Working Catholic: Housing Part III by Bill Droel



 I just returned from St. Paul. In the early 1970s, as part of the War on Poverty, I lived and worked in a St. Paul neighborhood called West Seventh. On this and in previous visits I observe a drastically changed West Seventh. Its anchor, the Xcel Energy Center, opened in September 2000 as the home of the Minnesota Wild. (Lady Gaga performed there just after I left. Too bad she missed me.) There are two hotels, one just opened. Several restaurants and bars line West Seventh, including a brand new brew house. Several medical facilities are there. A short walk down a hill leads to a string of condos on the east bank of the Mississippi River. 


As I walked around West Seventh and around a couple other St. Paul neighborhoods, I thought about Richard Florida, who caused a stir with his Rise of the Creative Class (Basic Books [2002]; www.creativeclass.com). A city can recover from its post-industrial slump, Florida says, if it can attract and retain a sufficient number of educated young adults. The way to do so includes universities, trendy neighborhoods, an art scene, sports venues, public transportation, medical and research facilities, skilled jobs and more. Florida uses charts, a global creativity index and examples, including (on the positive front) Austin, Seattle, Boston and more. He implies that any place has the potential to thrive. Thus for a time his book and his talks were popular with regional meetings of mayors, at business conferences, among urban planners and professional associations and even some church organizations.


Now, however, Florida realizes that his prescription has a downside. Yes, “the concentration of talent and economic activity” makes a place thrive, he writes in The New Urban Crisis (Basic Books, 2017). But… think about it logically… those places might perhaps be any place, but cannot be all places. In fact, says Florida (again with demographics, charts and several lists of “star cities”), a concentrated thriving place causes inequality and eventually undermines the wider society, including the trendy place itself. Whereas 15 years ago Florida celebrated one side of the story, he now concentrates on the downside.  


Housing issues are a big symptom of the downside—including wide disparity in real estate prices, lack of affordable housing, differences in municipal services and persistent discrimination. A thriving part of town, Florida convincingly shows, is not merely adjacent to another part of town. Concentrated urban prosperity contributes to “chronic, concentrated urban poverty…which remains the most troubling issue facing our cities.” 


A handful of new books wail against gentrification. (These books will be considered in a subsequent blog.) Florida, who once was an unabashed proponent of gentrification, admits the obvious: Gentrification displaces the elderly and poor; it pushes them into neighborhoods that already have too much poverty. But “direct displacement of people by gentrification is not as big an issue as it is made out to be,” Florida explains. It is only a part of the inequality problem which unfortunately “is driven by the same economic motor that powers growth.”


Some illnesses cannot be tackled wholesale and head on. A change in behavior, however, gets at the illness indirectly. That is, treat the symptom to attack the bigger cause. Within that framework an affordable housing effort undertaken by the community organization in my own Chicago neighborhood, Southwest Organizing (www.swopchicago.org), might be the solution to global inequality. SWOP’s rehab of vacant structures will, of course, assist those families who move into the apartments. With some interplay among other advocacy groups and interested developers, this neighborhood project could be replicated and thereby somewhat offset the downside of the trendy growth that occurs in other Chicago neighborhoods and with more pinball effect the project could have some global implications.


Moralizing is not productive. A revitalized neighborhood is hardly in itself a bad thing. The best future for West Seventh, for all of St. Paul, for my neighborhood and for all of Chicago requires intense interaction among many imperfect institutions—each calling the others back to their original good purpose and each contributing to thick relationships that minimize each institution’s occasional miscues and shortsighted behavior.  


To be continued with more housing examples…



Droel edits a printed newsletter on faith and work for National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)


Friday, September 8, 2017

Labor Day 2017




There is a nobility in human work, but Labor Day and Catholic Social Teaching is more than just recognizing that fact.

Labor Day is a good time to reflect on Catholic - Social Teaching;  a response to  the horrors of the industrial revolution.[1]    Work is no longer the laborare est orare of a Benedictine Monk (to work is to pray);  work is matter of survival for many and for some alienating.   Pope John Paul II recognized this in his Encyclical on work.[2]   He also stated that labor unions are a necessity.

The Labor Day march is a wonderful experience of celebrating the work and accomplishments of organized labor.

Since it is the 50th anniversary of the 1967 fair housing marches led by Father James Groppi, I asked people about Father Groppi as a labor leader.  Groppi studied at the seminary in Milwaukee where Catholic Social Teaching was emphasized.  One time Seminary director, Rev. Francis Haas, was later named Bishop of Grand Rapids, Michigan.  He was an advisor on labor relations to President Roosevelt and civil rights advisor to President Harry S. Truman.  Groppi was also associated with the Milwaukee Cardijn Center that sponsored ‘Labor Schools’ based on Catholic Social Teaching.

  After he was married Groppi became a Milwaukee County bus driver and was elected as the president of the Bus Drivers Union (A.T.U. 998) in Milwaukee.  The election was disputed  and was finally decided by a coin flip.  A former colleague remembers him as “having a broader view than concern about soap in the bathrooms.”  He looked to community problems such as school bus drivers working for low pay and the need to organize them.

   Latino leader, Jesus Salas remembers Groppi as an ally of Latino workers in Milwaukee.  As a priest Groppi marched with Salas to the Allan Bradley plant to advocate the hiring of  minority workers.  Groppi was also supportive of the farm worker movement.

   This year the Labor Day celebration began with a ‘Fight for Fifteen’ rally.  Young African American leaders led the podium speeches which advocated for better wages for low paid workers and a union.  A large contingent marched from Voces de la Frontera, the immigrant worker center.  A friend commented that the only way this country has a future based on democracy and justice depends on the activism of African Americans and Latinos.  Father Groppi would have agreed.





[1] Rerum Novarum, 1891
[2] Laborem Exercens, 1981

Friday, September 1, 2017

THE MARCH ON MILWAUKEE – 200 NIGHTS


 Despite objections children were included in Father James Groppi’s struggle for justice. 

In a book of poems by Margaret Rozga, the poem, Jeannie’s Birthday Gift, speaks of children involved in the marches.  (200 Nights and one day, Benu Press, Hopkins, MN)


Jeannie’s Birthday Gift

It was Jeannie’s birthday.  We
Had a big family dinner before
Going to St. Boniface to march.

She put on her new tee shirt, just
a plain White shirt, but what she wanted
Mom said no, better not, but she begged

and begged ‘til Mom gave in.  She
never could wash out the egg that
splattered all over Jeannie’s back.


Jesus and the children

People even brought little children to him, but when the disciples saw this they turned them away.  But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”  Lk. 18, vs. 15-17  



Why go through the organizing, the confrontation of hate and violence for 200 nights, in the hope of getting a fair housing law?

Matthew Desmond, in his award winning book,  Evicted,* writes:

The home is the center of life. (p. 293.) The United States was founded on the noble idea that people have “certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  Each of these three unalienable --- so essential to the American character that the founders saw them as God-given----requires a stable home. (p .300.)

And so the march to Lincoln Avenue.


*Matthew Desmond, Evicted, Crown Publishers, New York, 2016

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

More Memories of the ’67 racial conflicts in Milwaukee



Comedian and peace activist Dick Gregory died recently and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel quoted him in reference to the ’67 racial conflicts in Milwaukee:

“There is nothing in America that equals what happened here in Milwaukee,” Gregory said at a 2007 event marking the 40th anniversary of the marches.  “When the rest of the country saw what was going on in Milwaukee, it realized that equality was not an Alabama problem, was not a Mississippi problem.  This is an American problem.” MJ.S. 8-21-17,p. 4C


Comments from two current social activists who were students at Marquette:

One remembers the July 30th to August 2nd confrontation when the National Guard was called out and a curfew imposed on Milwaukee.  He was working at Stouffer’s Restaurant and the restaurant had to close , so he and some friends found a bar that was open.  Former Packer great and hall of famer Johnny Blood McNally was holding court.  When asked about Curly Lambeau, McNally responded, “Asshole!”  Six students found refuge at his Wauwatosa family home during the curfew.  The MU student remembers supporting the marches later that month but not participating.  Students cheered the marchers as they started their march across the bridge.

Another remembers protests in 1966 at the whites-only Eagles Club with a membership that included major politicians and judges.  Protesters were met with taunts and Confederate flags.  He said he was more of an observer than a protester on the marches.  He remembers a young man screaming vile epithets at marchers near Kosciusko Park.  “I went and stood in front of the man face to face.  The man stopped his yelling.” The ‘observer’ commented that when people are part of a crowd they feel free to do and say awful things; when confronted individually they are embarrassed.


A question: Is racism still a dominant attitude in our country? Have we made any progress?  Confederate flags, epithets screamed at protesters – the wave of hate even as transmitted by T.V. is difficult to escape.  Maybe we should shift our concerns to the Packers; will they win the Super Bowl?  
    

Dick Gregory wrote the Forward to Margaret Roszga’s book of poems, 200 Nights and one day.  Gregory quoted a prayer from antiquity, Psalm 23:

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow o death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”

He commented,

This is America. That day was America. And I am blessed to have been there with these freedom fighters as victory was fought for and won.”
200 Nights and one day, Benu Press, p. viii, 2009.


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.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

DACHAU – A TRAGIC COLLECTIVITY


         Joanne and I travelled from London to Munich, Germany with our son and his family to visit Legoland – a ‘Disneyland’ without Donald, with rides and Lego building block structures that are enjoyed by both kids and adults.  Joanne and I took a side trip to the concentration camp memorial outside of Munich – Dachau.


Memorial Sculpture at Dachau by Nandor Glid, erected in 1968

   
There is no complete explanation for the camp at Dachau that I can offer – just stunned horror and a few comments. Dachau was a model for the other German concentration camps, a training ground for S.S. troops and it mirrored German society of the time.  Consider the words of Martin Buber before World War II started:

Collectivity is not a binding but a bundling together; individuals packed together, armed and equipped in common with only as much life from man to man as will enflame the marching step.  But community is the being no longer side by side but with one another of a multitude of persons.  Collectivity is based on its atrophy of personal existence, community on its increase and confirmation in life lived towards one another.  (Between Man and Man, translated by R.G. Smith, written in pre-WWII Germany)

   Our tour guide told us over 4,500 people died at Dachau in its twelve year existence from 1933 -1945.  It remains a white-washed but empty tomb, the smell and horror has faded into imagination, but the camp is still there as a crucial memorial.

   It was explained that Dachau was originally for political prisoners.  Hitler’s dissolution of civil rights meant that political dissidents were sent to Dachau without legal due process.  We were told of a sixteen year old sent to the camp for doing political graffiti.  Scholar Bruno Bettelheim was a prisoner at Dachau.  The camp was not an extermination camp such as Auschwitz, but Jews died there as political prisoners placed in slavery along with others.  The basic absurd lie of the camp was printed over the camp portal – Arbeit Mach Frei. (Work sets you free.)

   Of course Buber was not the only German intellectual who saw what was coming.  Karl Jaspers wrote:

   Irrational Existenz which rests upon feeling, experiencing, unquestioned impulse, instinct, or whim, ends up as blind violence… (Karl Jaspers, "Existenzphilosophie," reprinted in Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre, Meridian Books, p. 131)

   In contrast Martin Heidegger, often credited as a founder of the existentialist movement in philosophy, supported Hitler.  When Heidegger was named Rector of the University of Freiberg, Heidegger gave a ringing endorsement of the Nazi weltenshauung – world view.  Heidegger replaced the world-renowned and philosophical innovator, Edmund Husserel who was Jewish.

   Our guide showed us where Medical experiments on human beings were carried out at Dachau.  This was a reminder that absurd Nazi pseudo-science provided a rationale for the murder of six million Jews.  I pointed out that the neighboring town of Oberammergau has had a famous periodic passion play since 1634 that blamed execution of Jesus of Nazareth by the Roman Empire on the Jewish people. The play is based on gospel stories written in the context of religious factions in competition for dominance.   Our guide claimed that religion was not a motive for the Jewish massacre because the Nazis were not religious.  It was suggested that the Nazis also blamed the Jews for Germany’s defeat in World War I.  The guide did agree that religion was a background for the holocaust.

   Can we relate our present politics to the absurdities of Nazi Germany?  Fourth amendment rights against search and seizure have been weakened, a travel ban against Muslims is being attempted.  Lies to labor and catering to the aristocracy, a wall to prevent Mexicans and Central Americans from entering the country is promised.  The politics of nationalism and hate is open and evident. 

     Labor, university professors, faith communities, the media, must take a stand.  Trump is not going to bring back the 50’s – we are looking at a hologram of Germany during the 30’s.  Our country struggles in an atmosphere of existential completion instead of cooperation.   Again Martin Buber:

 God’s speech to men penetrates what happens in the life of each one of us, biographical and historical, and makes it for you and me into instruction, message, demand.  Happening upon happening, situation upon situation, are enabled and empowered by the personal speech of God to demand of the human person that he take his stand and make his decision.  (Martin Buber, I and Thou, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1958.)     

Schwesterobein:

"Das alles war ganz ganz schlim."