Vito Marcantonio “quintessential man” by Anna Filameno

“You only live once and it is best to live one’s life with one’s
conscience rather than to temporize or accept with silence those
things one believes to be against the interests of one’s people and
one’s nation.”
Sun in Sagittarius/Congressman
What is it like to be inside the wind, forever circling, sweeping in like a tsunami
wave? A mind like that is mercurial, capricious, rippling endlessly and it sometimes
creates a tidal wave of such enormous dimensions that it becomes so compelling we are
forced to give it relevance,
The mind can be restorative and, with it grows a sense of optimism because the
energy that emerges has tremendous power in order to sustain itself. A mind like that
never loses itself.
Vita Marcantonio, the urban maverick, had a mind like that. A man who lived all
his working hours in the dream he belonged to. The rhythm of the streets was his mantra,
the immigrants, poverty; the wild and boisterous sounds the wind made as he rushed into
his orbit were all part of the adventure. Could he have done it all? The mad attempt to
fight the system, defending civil rights, poverty, the workingman, and the constant
struggle to emerge with a power to transform politics.
“I fully realize, “ he said, “ that men must pay the great price in order to adhere
to ideals. I fully realize that one needs guts to pursue such a course…”
And guts you had, Vito.
How many streets did you walk down to find the same scattered silences, the
same empty eyes staring back at you, the same exaggerated disappointments, the same
contradictions, the same paradoxes. How much of yourself got lost in the complexity of
the indigence that surrounded the limitations on Ninety Sixth Street to one hundred and
Twenty-fifth Street, from Lexington Avenue to the East River. Were those your
boundaries too?
Who were they? The Italians, the Puerto Ricans, Jews, African Americans? How
much of yourself did you see in them that you could not let go? Perhaps this was a way
of affirming your life, a slice you took for yourself and it freed you from your past.
East Harlem was your mirror, a place where you could not abandon yourself. It
was a place where you played out the whole gamut of human life, reflecting the very
essence of who you are. You were all part of the same fabric.
Vita Marcantonio, fighter for the underprivileged, that was your stamp on the
world and when you felt most alone, surrounded with so much opposition, that’s when
you fought the hardest. That was the place where you remained true to yourself, to have
lived so deeply and to have faced the onslaught alone.
“I vote my conscience.” You said.
And indeed you did.
The power in having something to believe in, to stand in the midst of conflict and
confrontation, to risk the very potency of your life is more than any one man can endure.
You, Vito, have passed through your transitions nobly and the triumph of your ideals is
stamped in history.
There are times when greatness becomes visible and it lives for a while. It has its
moment in the sun as it becomes luminous and we take that time because we have no
other recourse but to let it dazzle us. It performs its perfunctory triumphs, and then it slips
away for us to give reverence to.
And that is the core of a man’s truth. The fiber he is made of.
The streets were your home, Vito, your Mecca to defend. But you had a
rendezvous with destiny, didn’t you? And on that rainy day in New York City, your
heart made an inevitable and uncompromising conquest. You lost the battle. They found
you on the very streets you loved—the streets that finally claimed you.

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