Edwin Vargas, Jr.

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Edwin Vargas, Jr.


Edwin Vargas, Jr. is a career educator and a leader in political, civil rights, labor, civic and public policy circles. He was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. of Puerto Rican parentage. He is currently an educational consultant. Mr. Vargas also serves as the Public Policy Chair of the Washington, D.C.- based National Puerto Rican Coalition, and as a Commissioner of Planning and Zoning for the City of Hartford Connecticut[1].

Puerto Rican Socialist Party

In 1971 Hartford Connecticut received an influx of 30 Puerto Rican university students, including Edwin Vargas, Jr., who came to the city to teach and study-many were active members of the radical Puerto Rican Socialist Party[2].

They were bright college kids committed to Puerto Rican independence and they were members of the Puerto Rican Socialist Party.

Edwin Vargas Jr., sold copies of the party's somewhat bombastic newspaper, Claridad, on street corners. Not much later, he waspresident of the party's Hartford chapter.

Vargas, in his formative politics, was typical of the teachers. He was raised in a conservative, Brooklyn, N.Y., family and for a time considered joining the Catholic Church. He attended college in Puerto Rico. During his third year he became something of a missionary, traveling through Central America to work with the poor and teach English.
He was appalled by the poverty he believed was imposed by American fruit companies. He remembers a young man, little more than a boy, who was tortured and killed for trying to organize agricultural workers. Central America gave him a social conscience.
It was a heady time to be a Latin radical, even among the religious. The Catholic Church was divided over whether it had a moral obligation to support the insurgencies -- some called them national liberation movements -- blossoming in Latin America. The church's ultimate decision to withdraw as a force for political change moved Vargas from religion to radical Puerto Rican politics.
In Hartford, the Puerto Rican Socialist Party looked longingly at events in Latin America, hoping for a world that would include an independent Puerto Rico. And they began challenging an earlier generation of Puerto Ricans in Hartford.
"We were the young Turks who were pissed off at the old guard," Vargas said. "The old guard didn't like us pushing independence, didn't like our radical politics. About the only thing they did like was our lighting a fire under the city bureaucracy."
The party seemed at times as much neighborhood association as political party, organizing a diverse collection of programs, particularly for youngsters. There were speeches and music by Puerto Rican folk musicians. Everything had an independentista bent.

Expulsion from the PSP

In the mid 1970s a schism developed in the Puerto Rican Socialist Party between the Hartford group and the national organization, based in New York and San Juan.

Party insiders in Hartford came to the view that the larger party opposed political measures designed to improve the quality of life for mainland Puerto Ricans[3].

The thinking went that if the mainland Puerto Ricans did not assimilate, they would be more receptive to the implicitly anti-American call for independence.
"New York thought it was quixotic and misguided to think that it was possible to improve the conditions of Puerto Ricans on the mainland because it wouldn't happen until there was a free Puerto Rico," Vargas said. "There was a train of thought that wanted to keep mainland Puerto Ricans miserable."

In 1976, Vargas received a telephone call. He and PSP comrade Jose LaLuz, were summoned to a meeting in New York.

"We drove down to a nonresidential district," Vargas says. "It was like we were supposed to report to a building. A factory. We had to use a code to get in. They had a kangaroo court. We were accused of factionalism and violating the democratic centralism of the movement.
"I remember telling Jose LaLuz, 'Do you think we'll even get out of here?' We thought they might shoot us. For real."

Vargas and LaLuz were expelled from the Puerto Rican Socialist Party, but it had no noticeable effect on the political vibrancy of Hartford's Puerto Rican population. Puerto Ricans became increasingly influential in mainstream city politics, Vargas became active in the Hartford Federation of Teachers, becoming its first vice president[4].

US Peace Council

As at March, 1982, the following took active roles in the Communist Party USA initiated U.S. Peace Council - founding, speaking or listed as workshop leaders:[5]

DSA vice chair

In 1984 Democratic Socialists of America vice chairs were Harry Britt, Ron Dellums, Dorothy Healey, Irving Howe, Frances Moore Lappe, Manning Marable, Hilda Mason, Marjorie Phyfe, Christine Riddiough, Rosemary Ruether, Edwin Vargas Jr, William Winpisinger[6].

Speech to DSA

In 1992 Congressman Neil Abercrombie gave an "extemporaneous, impassioned speech" to an explicitly D.S.A. organized "Socialist Caucus" during that year's Democratic Party convention.[7] The other speakers at the Socialist Caucus, included Cornel West, Bob Fitrakis and Ed Vargas.

Service

Edwin Vargas, Jr. has served in numerous national positions including: Acting Chair of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Human and Civil Rights Committee, a member of the AFT’s K through 12 Program and Policy Committee, President of the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights, and as a member of the National Democratic Party’s Credentials Committee.

At the local and regional levels Mr. Vargas has served as Lead Teacher at the Hartford Adult School, President of the Greater Hartford Labor Council AFL-CIO, President of the Puerto Rican PAC, President of the Hartford Federation of Teachers, Vice President of AFT Connecticut and as the Hartford Democratic Party Chair. He has been a consultant and advisor to many governmental, business and nonprofit organizations including serving a five year term as an official advisor to the Governor of Puerto Rico on issues affecting the U. S. – based Puerto Rican Community[8].

Campaigns

Vargas has held positions of responsibility on many major Democratic campaigns during the past 35 years: Maria Sanchez, Ted Kennedy, Thirman Milner, Eddie Perez, Ned Lamont, Chris Dodd, and Barack Obama.

Perez knighted Vargas head of the new Hartford Planning and Zoning Commission. Yet Vargas showed an independence uncommon in Eddie Perez loyalists when he backed Ned Lamont against Perez's Lieberman in the 2006 Democratic Senate primary.[9]

2000 WFP Convention

The New York Working Families Party 2000 Convention was held at the Desmond Hotel, March 26.

Attendees included;

There were sizable delegations from ACORN and Citizen Action.[10]

State Senate bids

Vargas unsuccessfully stood against incumbent State senator John Fonfara in the 2008 primary. Vargas' campaign manager, was John Murphy, a veteran of many Hartford political battles.[11]

Vargas also unsuccessfully challenged incumbent state Sen. John Fonfara for the 1st Senate District seat in the August 2010 primary.[12]

Latinos for Obama

Edwin Vargas, left, City Councilor Jo Winch Hartford City Councilman Ken Kennedy at an Obama event

Vargas served as Chairman of the Connecticut Latinos for Obama during the successful Obama'08 presidential campaign.[13]

According to Melinda Tuhus of In These Times;[14]

As Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton head into the key Ohio and Texas primaries on Tuesday, March 4, each candidate is looking to shore up the support of Latinos, whose votes will be crucial to victory. Latino supporters of Obama in Connecticut say they have valuable lessons to share, since they pulled off the first victory among Latinos for Obama in a primary, back on Feb. 5, Super Tuesday...
The big Latino push for Obama in Connecticut started late in the game, only a couple of weeks before the primary, when it became clear that Connecticut would matter in the race for delegates and for bragging rights in racking up state victories. Clinton and Obama went into Super Tuesday evenly matched, but since then he’s made a clean sweep of successive primaries, making Ohio and Texas must-wins for Clinton, and the Latino vote even more critical.
From the Obama campaign’s Hartford office, volunteer organizer Ed Vargas coordinated the state’s Latinos for Obama group, which he called a mostly home-grown effort. “African Americans reached out to us, and we decided to do what we could do help them,” Vargas says. A 35-year educator in Hartford public schools, which have an overwhelmingly black and Latino student body, Vargas saw the Obama campaign as a historic opportunity for young people to see that anybody could grow up to become president. Latino for Obama’s goal was to counteract the presumed Latino support for Clinton, which he said was based in large part on endorsements from well-known Hispanics at the national level. Vargas says the Obama campaign in the state was short on all kinds of materials, and specifically on outreach to Latinos. “One of the complaints by the Spanish media was that Hillary had been advertising for weeks, and the Obama campaign was putting nothing in Spanish.”
Activists went door to door with a localized flyer that focused on the themes of health care and immigration. New Haven alderman Joey Rodriguez says they also distributed a flyer featuring Obama’s story of how he came to embrace Christianity. “We went out on Sundays and tried to flood as many churches as possible,” he says, “from putting flyers on the windshields of cars to actually speaking to individuals walking out of church, to let them know where we stand as Hispanic leaders, and where we stand as far as endorsing a presidential candidate.”
Ultimately, Obama won 53 percent of the Latino vote in Connecticut. For the microcosmic view, in the two most heavily (and neighboring) Latino wards of New Haven, voters went 180 to 159 for Obama in Rodriguez’s ward, and 190 to 135 for Clinton in a ward where little or no outreach was done, which is suggestive that the outreach by local leaders works.

Mayoral bid

Edwin Vargas, a former Hartford Democratic Town Committee chairman who serves on the city's planning and zoning commission, said Jan. 28, 2011 that he will run for mayor of Hartford Connecticut in the upcoming November election.

Communist award

Fatima Rojas, UniteHere Local 215 organizer, presents awards to Edwin Gomes, Edwin Vargas, Jr. and Laurie Kennington, while John Olsen, president emeritas Conn. AFL-CIO, looks on from back row

The 2013 Amistad Awards were presented by the People’s World on Sunday, December 1 at 4 p.m. at a special ”MARCHING ON for Jobs, Freedom & Peace” anniversary rally in New Haven at Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, 177 College St.

We celebrate the contributions and example of Laurie Kennington, Edwin Gomes and Rep. Edwin Vargas, three wonderful leaders and role models who challenge economic inequality and are in the forefront of organizing for jobs, health care, union rights and the needs of youth.

Laurie Kennington is president of Local 34 UNITE HERE which won a contract advancing current workers and opening jobs at Yale for New Haven residents. She is in the forefront of the community/labor alliance that helped elect union members to the Board of Alders.

Edwin Gomes was inspired at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom to dedicate his life to working people and the fight for equality as International Representative of United Steelworkers of America, and State Senator from Bridgeport where he is still organizing.

State Rep. Edwin Vargas, Jr., past president of Hartford Federation of Teachers, is on every picket line for civil rights, workers’ rights and peace. In the Commerce Committee he helped win passage of a Future Commission to study alternatives to military production for jobs.

The annual awards are presented to allies by the People’s World on the occasion of the 94th anniversary of the Communist Party USA.[15]

Rep. Edwin Vargas, who taught in the Hartford public schools for 35 years, serving as union president for part of that time, and in many national, state and local positions in union and Puerto Rican community organizations said that while he has received many awards, this one has special meaning because "this is an award from people who are the hard core of the movement."

Quoting Che Guevara that "the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love," Vargas elaborated on the fact that justice cannot be achieved without peace.

In his first term in the legislature this year, Vargas played a key role as a member of the Commerce Committee to win passage of a Commission on Connecticut's Future. The Commission includes labor, peace and environment representatives along with business, industry and education professionals and is mandated to study how the state's economy can be transitioned to production other than military, the predominant industry in Connecticut for decades.

All the awardees praised the vision and work of the Communist Party USA in their communities. The event was held on the occasion of the CPUSA's 94th anniversary.[16]

References