At the 33rd annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in Wisconsin’s state capitol yesterday, Dr. Margaret Rozga received the MLK Heritage Award on behalf of her late husband, Father James Groppi, who was among the leaders of the struggle for fair housing in Milwaukee in the 1960s.
A poet and professor at UW-Waukesha, Rozga delivered a fiery speech calling people who don’t ordinarily concern themselves with social justice issues but pay lip service to Dr. King’s legacy one day a year “photo-op do-gooders.”
Governor Scott Walker sat stock still a few feet away from the podium as Rozga slammed his socially regressive policies of curtailing voting rights and union busting. To the rousing applause of the crowd, she said that her late husband “believed in addressing the root causes of poverty, and those causes are backwards social policy. He believed in the tradition summarized by St. Thomas Aquinas that the super-abundance of the rich belongs by natural right to the poor."
Prompted to wrap up her speech, Rozga went on to thank the people of Wisconsin who continue to stand up for human and civil rights, including the immigrants rights group Voces de la Frontera, striking Palermos workers, the Overpass Light Brigade, the Solidarity Sing Along, and the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, “people who took care of this land before my grandparents came from Poland.”
This last reference was a timely one, since the one and only public hearing on a catastrophic mining deregulation bill is scheduled for today at the Capitol. If passed, the bill would pave the way for a 21-mile-long, 1,000-foot-deep mountain-top removal project that would likely destroy the headwaters of the Bad River and pollute Lake Superior with millions of gallons of sulfuric acid.
Saying it was his number-one priority, Walker spent an inordinate amount of time during his State of the State address pushing the bill, and trotted out hard-hat-wearing folks to join him at the podium in a pathetic attempt to pander to working people. The Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity is organizing busses from across the state and free lunch for their supporters to testify in favor of the bill.
During her speech, Rozga told the crowd, “As someone who is a member of a family that loves Wisconsin's natural resources, I know that if you endanger those resources, you are not standing with us.” Indeed, as most of the other guests rose to their feet in applause at the end of her speech, Walker remained seated.
Rebecca Kemble reports for The Progressive magazine and website.