Thursday, February 2, 2017

Vito Marcantonio Forum to Honor Melissa Mark-Viverito

And yet, there is a legacy.
Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Destroyed politically by his enemies, shunted into historical anonymity by the same forces, Vito Marcantonio's efforts resisted complete erasure. Concrete structures and subtler traces of Marc's presence testify to his having lived and been democratically chosen to lead.

Vito Marcantonio's influence on those who came after him embody the continued projection of his values.

Melissa Mark-Viverito, outgoing president of New York's city council, is one such projection of those values and on Feb. 5, the Vito Marcantonio Forum (VMF) will honor her service to East Harlem and to the memory of its favorite congressman during a First Annual Awards Luncheon.

The blacklist and the victims of the Red witch hunt that possessed America in the 1940s and '50s destroyed lives, not just in the moment, but going forward for decades thereafter. Defeated in his own time, Marc was defeated in perpetuity as well.


It has never been easy to come out for Marcantonio in New York City or beyond, but Mark-Viverito enthusiastically embraced the hopes and aspirations he had for their shared constituency.

Guided by her mentor, activist Gloria Quinones, she never ran from the legacy Marc left in the northeast corner of Manhattan Island, instead worked to restore and build on it.

Significantly, over its five-year labor to recuperate the forgotten Marcantonio, the VMF has been able to count upon the support of the city council president's office.

VMF co-chair Gerald Meyer has called Melissa Mark-Viverito, “A great hero who follows in the footsteps of Vito Marcantonio.”

It is her track record of actions and collaboration which made Ms. Mark-Viverito the obvious choice for the Vito Marcantonio Award.
At Woodlawn Cemetery.

On Aug. 9, 2014, the councilwoman joined the VMF beside Marc's grave site at Woodlawn Cemetery.

She honored Meyer and the group for its passion in keeping the memory of Marcantonio – whose name she pronounes with a Castilian clip – alive.

“We all know that too often, it is the brave and those that stand up for their ideals that are overlooked in the history books,” she told the gathered that day.

“As a Puertoriqueña, I am even more grateful, because he was a true ally for Puerto Rico and for the independence of the island at a time when many were afraid to speak up. He was our voice, he was our congressman. He stood up against the repression of the nationalist movement at time when it was very difficult to do that.

So we, as a community, are very grateful,” she continued, “and I think that aspect of his advocacy and what he represents needs to be learned, because there are many in Puerto Rico who don't even know who Vito Marcantonio was.”

In 2016, she enthusiastically joined the VMF on its People's Procession: A Walking Tour of East Harlem,” which she deemed a great way to honor, “A voice for disadvantaged individuals who really fought hard on behalf of many issues that we still care about today, in terms of living wage, in terms of immigrants and empowerment in general. I feel proud to represent a district that was represented by Vito Marcantonio.”

During the People's Procession.

During last year's Aug. 28 commemoration at the downtown Manhattan location where Marcantonio's remarkable, yet untold, story came to an untimely end, Mark-Viverito said (minute 18:40), “He could fight across communities, he was an ally to us as Boricuos – as Puertoriqueños – an ally to immigrant communities. That is how I look at the work that I do: If I want equality and justice for myself as a woman and Latina I have to fight as hard as hell for equality and justice in the LBGT community, immigrant communities, for our African-American brothers and sisters. Vito did that well and strongly.”

Melissa Mark-Viverito was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico and raised in Bayamon. She came to New York as college student and graduated from Columbia University in 1991.

She earned a masters from Baruch College and went on to organize for Local 1199, Service Employees International Union, a long-time progressive force in New York politics. She was elected on a second try to represent Council District 8, which includes Marc's old East Harlem bailiwick.

Her office is located on 116th Street in East Harlem, just as Marcantonio's was, and La Guardia before him.

Mark-Viverito was elected Speaker of the City Council in 2014 at the age of 44, the first member of that body's Black, Latino and Asian Caucus to assume the position. She is co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, which counts 16 of 51 city councilmembers among its number.

In 2016, she introduced the Justice Reform Act, which reduced the penalty for petty offenses such as violating park rules, public urination, and littering.

In mid-October 2016, following Donald Trump's remarks on “Access Hollywood,” Mark Viverito announced that she had been sexually abused as a child.

She held a press conference providing the particulars of that abuse during which the “New York Times” quoted her thusly:

“When you have an individual,” she told the press, “who is boasting about violating, and taking from, a woman something without her consent, I just couldn't anymore. And to have someone laughing and goading it and enabling it is just, it is very painful for me and it triggered things that I hadn't felt in a long time.”

The Times,” reported her as citing Trump's revealed behavior as triggering the announcement.

A lifelong spokeswoman for domestic violence awareness, she has admonished local baseball teams for signing men accused of beating on women (Aroldis Chapman, Jose Reyes, Josh Brown).

A long-time advocate for the release of imprisoned Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar Lopez-Rivera, “Politico” reported that Mark-Viverito “burst into tears” upon hearing that former President Barack Obama had pardoned the 74-year old on his way out the White House door.

Like Marcantonio, Mark-Viverito stands for Puerto Rican independence.

Her closing days in office suggest that madame president is not going quietly, or going anywhere, once her term is up.

Just weeks after Trump's victory, the “New York Post” reported Mark-Viverito leading a march to his Tower in protest of the president-elect's “racist, sexist, anti-gay” views.

Like Marcantonio before her, she has taken the side of immigrants in the face of Trump's deportation-minded policies.

The city council president will be on hand to accept the Vito Marcantonio Award, bestowed upon her for following “the often rocky, hard path of fighting the powers-that-be on behalf of the people.”

Prior recipients include Ralph Fasanella, Annette T. Rubinstein, and Pete Pascale

The place is Gaetana's Ristorante Italiano at 143 Christopher Street (at Greenwich Street). The time is 12-4 p.m. The program will be emceed by poet Maria Lisella, and include a talk by Dr. Gerald Meyer, dramatizations by LuLu LoLo Pascale and Roberto Ragone, and a reading by poet Gil Fagiani.

Tickets are $20 in advance and can be purchased at Brown Paper Tickets.

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