Vito Marcantonio Forum celebrates 2nd anniversary


On Sunday, Nov. 3, the Vito Marcantonio Forum sponsored an event at Gaetana's Cucina Italiana restaurant in Greenwich Village.

The forum honors the memory of Vito Marcantonio. Marcantonio, a protégée of LaGuardia and one of the most progressive Congressmen in history, has been called the Thaddeus Stevens of the 20th century. Marcantonio represented East Harlem from the late 1930's to the early 1950's. Like LaGuardia, Marcantonio was a member of the American Labor Party, although he usually ran on multiple party lines. Because of his unshakable stand for progressive causes and in defense of working people ruling circles and the bourgeois press heaped buckets of mud on Marcantonio in attempts to discredit him. His district was gerrymandered and laws were passed with the particular intent of defeating him yet he won time and time again. The attacks, including vicious red baiting, became particularly intense during the McCarthy period. Finally, all the other major parties ganged up on him and he was defeated. Despite this Marcantonio never backed down, tirelessly working for progressive causes and defending the Communist Party and its leaders in the courtroom and in the halls of Congress. Marcantonio was in the midst of planning another run for Congress in 1954 when he stricken by a massive heart attack.

The MC for the event was author Gil Fagiani, a founding member, along with Gerald Meyer and Roberto Rangone, of the Vito Marcantonio Forum. Fagiani began with a short history of the forum. It was originally founded in 1991 with the intention of giving an annual award in Marcantonio's memory. The first award went to Annette Rubenstein, a colleague of Marcantonio, who collected and edited a book of his speeches, I Vote My Conscience. In these early days of the forum awards were also given to community activist Pete Pascale and to progressive artist Ralph Fasenella. The forum was reestablished in 2011 and this event was the 6th that the new organization has held with another planned honoring the life of Fasenella. That event is scheduled for February 22nd, 2014 and will be held at the New Public Libraries Mulberry Branch.

The day's main address was give by noted Marcantonio scholar Professor Gerald Meyer.

Meyer began by setting a context, talking about the defeat of Hitlerism by the United States and Soviet Union and how, during the war years, the U.S. moved towards socialism. This development alarmed certain sectors of society and these responded by unleashing widespread political repression. Marcantonio was largely written out of history at this time, a victim of this repression. Despite this, Meyer sees in the Marcantonio phenomena a blueprint for how the left can win. Marcantonio's lifelong close connection to his East Harlem community can be seen in this context - attacks on him became attacks on the community. Marcantonio personified a style of politics that no longer exists, where people know you on a daily basis.

In closing Meyer spoke of an earlier forum sponsored event, this years August visit to the Marcantonio gravesite in Woodlawn Cemetery and tour of this historic locale.

As a part of the program Roberto Ragone, President of the Italian-American cultural organization FIERI, reenacted a speech against the poll tax that Marcantonio had given in Congress in 1949 and Phillip Paschal, as Paul Robeson, delivered a dramatic reading of a written statement made by Robeson upon the death of Marcantonio.

In addition to celebrating the forums second anniversary, Sunday's event was held, in part, to celebrate the fact that the forum has now become a fully integrated non-profit organization and to raise funds for its sustenance.

Several books focusing on Marcantonio and more generally on the Italian American experience and El Barrio were highlighted at the forum these were:

Vito Marcantonio, Radical Politician, 1902-1954, by Gerald Meyer, I Vote My Conscience, edited by Annette Rubenstein, The Lost World of Italian American Radicalism, edited by Philip Cannistraro and Gerald Meyer, Avanti popolo: Italian American Writers Sail beyond Columbus, edited by the Italian American Political Solidarity Club, and, A Blanquito in El Barrio, by Gil Fagiani.

The program closed with a reading by Gil Fagiani of his poem, "Litany of San Vito", dedicated to Vito Marcantonio.


by Gil Fagiani

To Congressman Vito Marcantonio (1901-1954)

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 the backyard crap game, San Vito deliver us

From the loan shark's vig, San Vito deliver us

From the drunken stupor, San Vito deliver us

From TB and asthma, San Vito protect us

From the social worker's visit, San Vito protect us

From immigration raids, San Vito protect us

From the landlord's greed, San Vito protect us

Photo: Wikipedia (CC)

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  • AT VMF we hope to instill consciousness among new progressive politicians, particularly Bill de Blasio and others like. Remaining true to one's conscience may be challenging but necessary. We would like to urge them not to abandon ideals and integrity.

    Posted by Maria Lisella-MLJourneys Editorial Services, 11/27/2013 11:15am (2 years ago)

  • Peoples' congressman Vito Marcantonio was one for which their can be no doubt why he is known as a saint. This for Italians, Puerto Ricans, African Americans, Irish, Jews-and lots more.
    Annette T. Rubenstein's I Vote My Conscience, noted above, makes it clear the important positive relationship between Vito Marcantonio and progressive forces, throughout his illustrious, brilliant, selfless career, to its abrupt, tragic end-what a loss to freedom loving peoples.
    Particularly, African American heroes and heroines of what the great W. E. B. Du Bois may call "the soul of the soul toil kills", are indebted to "San Vito".
    Paul Robeson's stirring famous speech, delivered at his loss is immortal.
    It was his legal brilliance, which in 1951 saved our sage Du Bois from the shackles and terrorism of imperialism, that same year, he saved our "Mr. Civil Rights", William L. Patterson, of the peoples Civil Rights Congress and our CPUSA, from the racist, anti-communist, anti-human rage and rampage of Mc Carthyism.
    His all too short career supplied a template for future victories for the left, for democracy, socialism, communism.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 11/26/2013 11:12am (2 years ago)

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