Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Found Footage: Father Groppi

^click to enlarge

This image was taken in the Wisconsin state assembly chamber in 1969. Father James Groppi had come to Madison to protest. Groppi is surrounded by cohorts and fellow demonstrators of all skin colors. This outcry for social welfare initiatives transcended color lines and rallied all poor folks together. From the image, one can infer that Father Groppi was a unifier. He is centered in the photo and immersed by his own crowd in; he owns that part of the room. Further, these demonstrators stand out in the raucus room, separate from reporters and legislators. It appears that Father Groppi has been able to stir, rouse, galvanize, inspire his troops and caught the ear of the state government and media . Its a powerful image to see a clergy member so committed to his neighbors and creates a brilliant symbol for the grass-roots, cooperative and communal action that drove the civil rights movement and other freedom movements of the transformational sixties.

The angle we are given shows how much attention had been paid to this demonstration and how passionate these folks were. From our perspective, we can feel how close it is for people on the ground; standing shoulder-to-shoulder and shuffling around one another. Father Groppi and fellow demonstrators are elevated, and appear to be looking past us. From our given angle, we can't really tell where the action is, though it appears as though there is a lot of action. The audience is looking all over the place, and we can also see that one man's hand is moving. Perhaps there are people behind us. I assume that there are state officials seated above the chamber and listening to the demonstration. The angle of the shot effectively captures the emotion of the subjects and the mood of the room.

Also, we see the intensity of Father Groppi's civil rights advocacy. The priest had played an active role in the civil rights movement, marching next to icons like MLK and John Lewis. Groppi rallied Milwaukeeans to call for civil rights and to the March on Washington in '63. He walked from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, to get the voting rights act passed. Groppi fought for the plight of the working class across the country and fueled the civil rights movement from Milwaukee.

From Wikipedia:
"In 1967, Groppi discovered that several judges in the Milwaukee area belonged to the Fraternal Order of Eagles, which at the time did not admit non-whites to its membership. Groppi questioned how a judge who was a member of an organization that did not welcome African-Americans as members could rule impartially in cases involving African-Americans, and reacted by organizing pickets at the homes of some of the judges."
Clearly, Father Groppi stood for change. He unified people around equality and fairness and justice. He demanded and protested for immediate change in those areas when he did not have to, and persisted when it was unpopular with the Catholic Church's hierarchy. He risked his life and lost his life's work of ministry for change that he believed in.

FYI: The original papers of Father Groppi's
memoirs are available at UWM's library (archives, 2nd floor).

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