Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Vito Marcantonio Forum, Chelsea Rising Launch Reading Circle

The Algonquin Round Table by Robert Sherwood
Through his allies in the Puerto Rican nationalist movement, Vito Marcantonio was introduced to tobacco factories wherein the “tabacqueros” working them would choose one among their number to read news and literature out loud. Each day a different tabacquero assumed the duty.

This practice of “La Lectura” impressed the radical congressman.

In the tradition of La Lectura, the Vito Marcantonio Forum (VMF)and the anti-gentrification group Chelsea Rising have launched a reading circle currently considering the text, “I Vote My Conscience: Debates, Speeches and Writings of Vito Marcantonio.”

According to the VMF's website, the text, edited by Marc's colleague Annette Rubinstein, “is an invaluable source for all those interested in studying the life and work of seven-term American Labor Party congressman Vito Marcantonio, who courageously represented East Harlem and the entire American left.”

The book is available for a trifle at $10 from the VMF Book Shop on its website at http://vitomarcantonioforum.org

The next meeting is June 21 at 6 p.m., in Penn South's “community room,” at 339 West 24th Street (between 8th and 9th avenues). It will focus on Marc's congressional speeches and debates from the early part of his House career.

Penn South
The chosen venue is apt, Penn South being a project developed by the United Housing Foundation, brainchild of a former Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union official by the name of Abraham Kazan.

His projects tended toward cooperatively owned apartment buildings with lots of common spaces and social activities to encourage communal interaction. When it was inaugurated in 1962, Mayor Robert Wagner, Eleanor Roosevelt, Nelson Rockefeller and garment union leader David Dubinsky were joined by none other than President John F. Kennedy in the festivities.


Penn South stands as an example from a time identified by Joshua Freeman, author of “Working Class New York,” when, “the labor movement played a huge role in housing New Yorkers, massively intervening in a social sphere previously deemed the domain of the market.”

The reading circle is convened the third Wednesday of every month.

There have been two meetings thus far. Laura Kaplan, a participant in the sessions said, “I'm getting so much inspiration from reading about this remarkable, courageous, articulate man. He is truly a model of a leader for our times.”
"La Lectura" in a tobacco factory

The readings are guided by VMF co-chair, professor Gerald Meyer, author of “Vito Marcantonio: Radical Politician,” whose “expertise and lectures during the reading group,” said Kaplan, “add to the depth of knowledge and context which increases my appreciation of Marcantonio's speeches.”

Chelsea Rising's Lizette Colon said, "I am simply in awe with the depth of Marcantonio's speeches, his sharp use of humor and, moreover, the relevance of his positions to issues and concerns we are still dealing with nowadays in the mainland and in my beloved Puerto Rico." 

Aldolph Freda, another reading circle participant and frequent attendee of VMF events, claimed to be impressed with the clarity of Marc's thought after considering speeches from his second congressional term.

“I was impressed, in addition to what he had to say, with his style. Everything he wrote was clear and unambiguous,” said Freda, who likened Marc's prose to what he called the “Attica Style” of 18th century Enlightenment writers, who strove for the clean prose typical of scribes from that ancient Greek city-state.

“They tried to write everything in a clear and lucid way, with a lack of ambiguity,” said Freda. "They would say, 'Ce qui ne se concoit pas clairement ne peut pas s'exprimir clairement,' or 'Whatever is not thought out or clearly conceived cannot be expressed clearly.'"

“In Marcantonio's case," Freda added, "I can say everything was clear without having to re-read anything. You know what it is that he is trying to say.

In the spirit of Freda's comments, in the spirit of La Lectura, and in the spirit of the VMF/Chelsea Rising reading circle, what follows are three posts treating pieces of Marcantonio's writing to a deeper consideration. Enjoy.

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