Packed house at 3rd annual Vito Marcantonio Forum

Gaetana’s Cucina Italiana was host to a full house on the occasion of the 3rd annual Vito Marcantonio Forum Oct. 19.

It is difficult to give a full picture of this engaging event… you had to be there.

Vito Marcantonio (1902­-1954) was a fourteen-term Congressman from East Harlem.

Professor Emeritus of Hostos Community College, Dr Gerald Meyer and Roberto Ragone, actor/social activist; both founding members of VMF along with co-sponsor The Drama Workshop Project put together this moving and lively event. With Meyer’s consultation, the event was envisioned and scripted by Ragone to “add value” to the VMF.  Said Ragone, “I proposed that the VMF experiment with a primarily artistic and visual event to engage an audience about the impact of the Marcantonio Phenomenon.”

Professor Meyer opened the event by paying tribute to Morgan Powell, a tireless social activist, historian and environmentalist, who died suddenly and was also a founding member of the VMF and a comrade.

There was a memorial service for Morgan on Tuesday, October 28 from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at the Andrew Freeman Home at 1125 Grand Concourse.  See https://www.eventbrite.com/e/celebration-of-life-for-morgan-powell-tickets-13766288339?aff=efbeventFor more: information:

Dr Meyer made the point that the working class has been robbed of its radical political legacy – using the term “comrade” to describe Marcantonio and the meaning behind the word, he said, “comradeship is more than a friendship; friendships come and go but comradeship is forever, comradeship is based on having similar values, working together for common good.”

There were lively readings taken from this “peoples’ representative,” including speeches that were delivered on the House floor. There were many, all in defense of ordinary people, whether fighting against Jim Crow and anti-Italian discrimination, for immigrant and labor rights or the independence of Puerto Rico. Some readings provoked laughter, e.g., a reading of Gil Fagiani’s Litany of San Vito: (truncated)

 

LITANY OF SAN VITO by Gil Fagiani

San Vito of East Harlem

Pray for us

San Vito bread of the poor

Pray for us

San Vito crucified by Wall Street

Pray for us

San Vito martyr of McCarthyism

Pray for us

From the jail cell walls

San Vito deliver us

From TB and asthma

San Vito protect us

From the social worker’s visit

San Vito protect us

From the immigration raids

San Vito protect us

From the landlord’s greed

San Vito protect us

 

Professor Meyer told the story of William Paterson, leader of the Civil Rights Congress, who presented a petition charging the government with genocide against the African American people at a United Nations conference in Paris in 1951. W.E.B. Dubois, also slated to deliver the petition in Paris, had been designated an “unregistered foreign agent” and was deterred from traveling; both were destined to be jailed. Marcantonio defended them in court winning both cases. It is significant to point out that few cases of this type were won during this period of McCarthyism.

The afternoon was arranged as a staged reading with each participant reciting a passage from a speech given by Marcantonio. One of the many highlights was a clever script written by Roberto Ragone: Ragone, playing Vito Marcantonio and Art Bernal playing Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia (a mentor of Marcantonio) in a chance meeting at the apartment of the Congressman. This encounter captured what might have been a no holds barred match between two social giants passionately expressing their views on the two party system and the feasibility of many things politic.

Perhaps the most moving reading was of the eulogy given by Paul Robeson to Marcantonio; “In his Congressional District of New York-Marc was revered and loved as a friend, a brother, a true leader, by the scores of thousands of Puerto Rican, Italian, Negro, Irish, Jewish and Slavic families-the families of the poor-whose cause he aggressively championed and whose problems he tirelessly helped to solve. Perhaps no group of Americans is called upon to honor his name and his memory more than the Negro people, not only in East Harlem, but in all parts of this vast land.” The actor received a standing ovation.

The Forum held an event on August 9th at Woodlawn Cemetery on the 60th anniversary of the of Congressman Marcantonio’s death. New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito attended and remarked, “Many people in Puerto Rico don’t know about his fight for the independence of Puerto Ricans and how he was vilified for those views. I want New York to progress in the same way that Vito had imagined…New York is for everyone.”

Photos: Sarah Marcantonio Coursey

Pictured: Roberto Ragone; Marilyn Ocasio; Eduardo Sanchez and; Art Bernal

 

 


CONTRIBUTOR

Gabe Falsetta
Gabe Falsetta

Long-time social justice activist Gabe Falsetta writes from New York City.

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