New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito took a lot of heat for championing the cause of Oscar López Rivera, one of the world’s longest serving political prisoners. López Rivera has spent the last 35 years in federal prison because of his efforts to gain independence of his native Puerto Rico.
Mark-Viverito was honored at a dinner Feb. 5, sponsored by the Vito Marcantonio Forum. In accepting the Forum’s award, she related that her opponents in her run for speaker used her support of López Rivera to “bait” her. Despite that, she said, she remained in the forefront of a national campaign to convince President Obama to grant clemency to López Rivera, a campaign that was ultimately successful. She said, “If Congressman Marcantonio was present today, he would have supported the struggle and the campaign to free López Rivera.”
President Bill Clinton offered Rivera and 13 other convicted FALN members conditional clemency in 1999, but López Rivera refused to accept the conditions.
Oscar López Rivera is a Puerto Rican independence activist who was one of the leaders of the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN). In 1977 he was arrested and tried by the United States government for “seditious conspiracy.” López Rivera maintained that according to international law he was an anti-colonial combatant and could not be prosecuted by the United States government. Nevertheless, on Aug. 11, 1981, he was convicted and sentenced to 55 years in federal prison.
On Jan. 17, 2017, President Barack Obama commuted López Rivera’s sentence; he is scheduled for release on May 17, 2017. He had been incarcerated longer than any other member of the FALN.
The Vito Marcantonio Forum which honored Mark-Viverito is an educational, cultural and historical organization dedicated to preserving the Congressman’s progressive legacy.
Marcantonio was one of the most forward thinking representatives who ever served in Congress. He represented a district centered in East Harlem from 1934 to 1936 and again from 1938 to 1950 when he ran on the American Labor Party line.
Mark-Viverito called Marcantonio “a visionary leader – the kind we need at this moment, one who fights on behalf of those who are marginalized.” She went on to say that her moral compass dictates that to fight for everyone is the only way to really make progress for “the 99%.”
She also related the Marcantonio’s well-known concern for the rights of the foreign born to today’s reality. “In the case of attacks on Muslim communities and immigrant brothers and sisters, he would have been at the forefront and his voice would have been really loud, and unwavering! That’s the leadership we need today,” she said.
VMF Co-Chair Gerald Meyer echoed Viverito in stressing the timeliness of Marcantonio’s message. This is the time for people to come together as broadly as possible, he urged, and to push back against Trump and his policies, especially at this moment his ban on asylum seekers from seven predominately Muslim nations.
Meyer further noted that Marcantonio had always strongly opposed McCarthyism and anti-communism in all its forms. He reported that Marcantonio took the position that anti-communism was the road to fascism.
Readers can enjoy a reading of “Litany of San Vito,” a poem by Gil Fagiani, dedicated to Marcantonio by playwright, actor and historian LuLu LoLo Pascale, a lifelong resident of Marcantonio’s former East Harlem district.