The Truth About NATLFED

Recollections

Recollections is a collaborative page with multiple authors contributing.  The current WordPress venue only allows crediting one author.

Lee W and CAPS, or How the Revolutionaries Enjoyed Dinner with a Celebrity

As some of you know, NATLFED briefly enjoyed a working relationship with Lee W of the Committee to Abolish Prison Slavery (CAPS).  He worked for a period of time out of NOC in the mid-1980s.  I remember when he once told Gino in a matter of fact way that he knew a celebrity.  This was met with skepticism, considering the celebrity’s status.  However, the attitudes changed when he set up a dinner date with the celebrity.

FCFD took charge of assigning the crew of cadre to accompany Lee on the dinner date.  Gino made sure the crew had sufficient funds to take the celebrity out to a fine establishment.  The best clothes available were made available to the crew.  There was a certain amount of anticipation.  After all, the celebrity was once president of SAG.

While I was not afforded an opportunity to participate on the event, I enjoyed hearing about it from those that did.  Even I felt a bit dumbstruck that we were establishing a relationship with a famous actor.

The dinner meeting was friendly, by all accounts.  Varying reports indicated the actor did not remember Lee, but then again as a busy working actor he probably had ties with a lot of people and did not remember a chance meeting a few years earlier.

There was one criticism, delicately handled (somewhat atypical).  When it was time to pay the check, the maître d’ presented it to the actor.  The cadre insisted they should pay, as they had invited him, but he graciously paid the bill.  The second criticism was somewhat harsh but not subject to hysterical rantings (if I recall correctly).  They had not secured any gains from the meeting (either volunteering, regular financial contributions, allowing use of his name to the CAPS cause, etc.). So basically the actor went to dinner with the revolutionaries and left with a good feeling that he helped those doing a good cause by paying for a nice dinner.

It’s funny that I recall this brief piece of history.  I saw a crime drama show last night with the actor, well in his senior years, and remembered this brief bit.  He was playing a role where he ended up being arrested in the end.  His character was not as everyone thought.  He played a holocaust Jewish survivor, down to the Auschwitz tattoo on his arm, but in fact had been a member of the Hitler youth and used the survivor story to escape pursuit after the fall of Nazi Germany.

Some would disbelieve this tidbit, but those that were there probably have a similar recollection.  Or maybe even a more drastic recollection.  Lee eventually left NOC to concentrate his efforts with CAPS, not satisfied that the Organization was a vehicle to further that cause.

I do not know what Lee is doing these days, if anything.  Internet research on the group is vague.  It appears CAPS fell to the wayside for a number of years, but there may be some recent interest to reorganize the group.  We’ll just have to see.

I work two jobs and still can’t afford to feed my family

It’s been at least twenty years since I heard Gino utter that leaflet headline.  Yet by a strange coincidence my neighbor said this today.  It sent chills up my spine.

He uttered many truths.  How those truths were utilized is a worthy discussion.  How many were truly of his own inspiration.  Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.  How long has that expression been around?  Yet it became a slogan for the Benefits Plan II program that, as far as I know, no entity has successfully implemented.

There is more to life than handing out a few clothes or a couple of loaves of bread.  If that is all the entities are doing, they have truly abandoned all that was once the Organizational goals.  Perhaps you disagree — you are entitled to your opinion.

If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.  To that, I say they are part of the problem.  This reinforces my opinion that they have diminished to a paper tiger.

Rumors of Hunger and Abuse

I read in a couple of forums where former cadre complained about going without food.  I cannot speak about the field entities.  When I worked in Suffolk EFWA (the flagship entity), we rarely wanted for food.  Sure, when the fireworks factory blew up, we ran around for a month and then hit a rut.  Even my mother saw it and started bringing in groceries (as much as she could afford).  Eventually, things got back on track.

The National Office, to my recollection, never went without food.  The National Procurement System was extremely effective at bringing in ample food supplies.  There were even times when the bounty was so much that the Suffolk and New Jersey entities benefited from the proceeds.

As for the abuse allegations, yes, that was a problem.  One time I was shoved against a file cabinet and I responded by clocking the bitch.  This surprised many.  I guess because I am petite she assumed I would make a good punching bag.  I never had problems afterwards, but I know some cadre did.

When Margaret arrived at NOC, physical violence increased.  It was expected as a way to discipline wayward cadre.  This led to multiple departures in rapid succession.  Surprisingly, several remained immune because of curried favoritism with Margaret.

I think it more appropriate to describe psychological and emotional abuse as the norm.  You lived for the revolution.  If you weren’t working to build the revolution, you were a counter-revolutionary.  How many times did someone come up to you and say you weren’t really trying?  I remember being belittled once for not wanting to go in a cab by myself to Metro II, as it was against policy for a woman to go out alone and I did not want to take the chance of getting stuck with a cop driver (or worse, a pervert).

There were occasions where a cadre experiencing a low were subjected to hours upon hours of lecturing by senior cadre.  I disagreed with the method of wearing a person down to utter exhaustion.  Usually, it didn’t work because the person would eventually sneak off in the middle of the night.

Of course, this is my opinion.  As I have stated before, I was not one that ran away.  I was one of the staunch Gino followers that Margaret chased out of the Organization.  I was forced out, bloodied and injured.  I was not the only one forced out in such a manner.

You remember the saying, better fewer but better.  Not the way Margaret orchestrated it.

Sexual Abuse and Favoritism

I have also read comments by former cadres about how they were sexually abused in the Organization.  Gino was not the only one that entered liaisons.  Some say he was a predator.  There were others.  I remember one MF cadre that literally had a harem of women.  He was finally subdued after one woman complained he had raped her.  He was arrested by the Organization.  He made his escape with the help of one of his girlfriends going out the kitchen window.

About Montauk Point

How many of you remember hearing stories about the Organization taking care of business by dropping someone off of Montauk Point wearing cement shoes?    This was used as a way of controlling people.  I only recall one time that I was truly convinced he had done it (the time the recruit came in and tried storming into Gino’s office).  While I did not see the deed done, I was convinced that the security men carried out Gino’s orders.

Drugs

There was a period of time when a cohort of cadres at NOC indulged in the wacky weed.  Maybe some other stuff too, I don’t know.  A couple suffered from alcoholism.  These problems were not limited to the National Office.  Alcoholism was a major problem in one West Coast entity, where the Operations Manager used alcohol to get female cadres drunk and then took advantage of them.

The Philly entity suffered problems with cadres indulging in illicit drugs as well.  The Operations Manager constantly feigned illness.  When she was summoned to NOC, she went through a period of detox.  The truth finally came out that she was abusing prescription painkillers.

Such things were kept secret from the general population.  After all, we strove to be clean-cut professionals.  Sometimes, word got out about such indiscretions.  When that occurred, Gino delivered lectures about his past participation in Alcoholics Anonymous.  One cadre was noted for leaving NOC for days at a time and coming back rough and ragged from his habit.

It is interesting to note that few senior cadres abused drugs or alcohol, that it was more common within the rank and file.  This is not to diminish the severity of the problem.

On the flip side: I have been reading the various cult information websites, most recently the Ross site.  One article made a comment that some of the cadres at the brown stones suffered mental illnesses.  This deserves a mention.

Some cadres were required to take medications because of genuine health issues.  Others were given medications because of perceived health conditions.  Typically, medications were taken on good faith as necessary toward the comrade’s overall health.  However, I know of one instance where, after a cadre was no longer in the Organization, she learned her iron pills were not iron pills.

Someone in a leadership capacity decided the cadre needed lithium bicarbonate.  Instead of discussing the matter with the cadre in an honest manner, it was explained to the cadre she suffered anemia and needed iron pills.  No doctor saw her for this condition, but her faith in her comrades led her to accept the situation and she took the pills without question.

You might be asking how the Organization procured prescription medications at a period of time when no doctor worked out of the brown stones.  Gino routinely had private doctors made house calls.  One did not ask questions as long as the money kept being pulled out of the safe.  This allowed the Organization to secure a variety of  “immediate needs” medications.

There was also the matter of COSHAD.  Part of that environment included Physicians Organizing Committee.  I want to say they had a thriving medical practice in operation but do not know if that was true.  They did, however, have the ability to obtain prescription medications and routinely included them in the once a week packages shipped via the airlines.

I do not know how many cadres ended up taking psychiatric medications without knowing what they were really taking.  I’m not a doctor, but even I know that taking such drugs unnecessarily can mess up a person for a long time.

Personal Phone Calls

I forget exactly when the policy went into effect to not use real names on the telephone.  After all, the feds had wiretaps!  All cadre had assigned code names.  NOC personnel were referred to by role, such as Upstate Liaison (Diane, I’m certain you remember).  I do remember after the raid it was strictly enforced no matter what the situation, which in some ways de-personalized situations that needed a human touch.  I also remember the crazy cold call process, eventually hampered when payphones stopped allowing incoming phone calls.

5733.  0977.  6517.  Foster Answering Service.  Ghostwriter remembers answering the phone calls of parents and friends; taking messages; reporting those messages to Gino; then stapling the messages to a sheet of paper and sending them upstairs to Politbureau and OPS.  Very few messages went on to the people intended.  Kathleen (KP) always got her messages.  I almost always got mine.  Most other folks?  No.  After one cadre had a breakdown and ransacked the receptionist message books, all hell broke loose.

Gino personally took charge of handling the matter.  There was a lot of stink over what happened to the messages.  Some say Gino held onto the messages, but that wasn’t true.  For the “bad” messages such as the death of a family member, he always summoned the cadre to his office.

So where were all the messages ending up?  Personal messages were always routed to Politbureau first.  There were a couple of different Associates to the NPC that had a habit of withholding messages if the cadre involved was deemed not able to handle a personal message (they were in crisis, exhibiting counter-revolutionary behavior, etc.).  But that didn’t stop all of the messages.  More often than not, messages were held up at the OPS desk.  This was one of the incidents that sent Anne running off in the middle of the night.  If she didn’t like the cadre (more often the case than not) she trashed the message.  Gino ordered personal phone messages were to go only to NPC and then OPS 1 or OPS 2, not the OPS 3.

Did it fix things?  When Polly was alive, yes.  After her death, the process continued.  It eventually broke down again but at the OPS level not Politbureau.  It was not policy to withhold messages from cadres because Gino felt it was disadvantageous to the Organization to do so.  During his last year he was not in much of a position to have such direct involvement, so FC Associate reviewed personal messages.

I guess that was when the process broke down again.  OPS 1 was the former OPS 2, FCADC/MF.  She always passed forward messages, but bear in mind she rarely saw messages.  At this point, messages were being held up at Politbureau by a new Associate NPC.  It was something Gino should not have had to worry about.  I guess that was about the time he ordered messages to go to his Associate first and then directly to the cadre.  After his death, the process returned to NPC, OPS 1 and then the cadre.

Even the simplest of processes was subject to corruption if that was someone’s intent.  Like I said, though, some people always got their messages no matter what.  These were senior cadre.  The rank and file, well, that was different.  I sometimes wonder what the process is today.  I read complaints about messages being withheld and sadly there is truth to that.  There are several disastrous scenarios I am aware of as a result of withholding messages and mail.

58 Beaverdam Road

A rather unassuming address.  I believe the building used to be a small machine shop.  It was brick with cement floors.  The last subdivided portion housed Eastern Farm Workers Association in Bellport.  It was just a block away from the railroad tracks, which so aptly divided the little town.  The moderately rich lived along the coast while the poor lived north of the famous Long Island Rail Road tracks.  (The super wealthy, of course, chose the Hamptons.).  Back in the 1980’s pre-raid just about every systems coördinator position was filled.  There was even a National Integrator on assignment (Joyce).  Senior Field Director (David) made regular visits and stayed for weeks at a time.

The Smithtown House served as base of operations for the Arena Operations Manager (DR).  It was the home for Long Island Alternative Press and Citizens for Migrant Workers.  As a student organizing a CMW chapter, I had some contact with the CMW president but not as much as one might think.  Smithtown did not have a regular traffic flow.  It was more a house for a mom and a baby.

Riverhead Community Service Center was home to the EFWA field office as well as several satellite entities: Coalition of Concerned Medical Professionals, Long Island Equal Justice Association, and Committee of Friends and Relatives of Prisoners.  It was ideally located on the Main Street.

Typically, I worked out of the Bellport location.  I wasn’t old enough for a license yet, so often I rode the bus.  Sometimes I was assigned to go out to the Riverhead location.  I did not like using the bus but a few times I had to.  It was such a long ride, a couple of hours getting from Bellport to Center Moriches to transfer to Riverhead.

I had the good fortune one trip to meet several RCSC members.  They thought it odd someone so young carried a clipboard.  (We all remember the mandatory clipboards.).  I told them I was on my way to RCSC to help on the picket line at the jail.  They all joined me as I entered the Center and we had a good picket line that day.  The AA was impressed.  The Regional PC was more concerned that the Bellport office could not arrange transportation, and had sent me on the bus alone.

At that time, to be an EFWA organizer was recognized and appreciated by the community as a good thing.  The benefits program delivered regularly and the Workers Benefit Council routinely addressed local concerns.  CFROP was born out of the WBC in Suffolk.  In other arenas, different committees evolved such as the fuel committees.

I think those were the glory days.  EFWA never fully recovered after the raid.  Eventually we lost the Riverhead office.  As of 1996, we still were not back.  I don’t know if they ever made it back there.  Suffolk never ended up as a single cadre entity like other entities did including Western Mass, Wayne and Atlantic City; it had minimal recruitment.  What recruitment it had helped replenish some NOC personnel.

IM Young is just a blur in the pages of history.  After being closed for so long, it eventually reopened without opposition.  I guess the entity had other priorities.  If Robert T. was still alive, he would have rallied his Panther friends and made sure the EFWA name was in the forefront.  Some say he was murdered, for how could any person die from dehydration in a hospital?  At least, that’s what we were told.

When Members Died

Robert T. Burns was a staunch Party member for many years.  He used to be in the Black Panthers.  His last days were miserable.  He could not read or write.  The doctors removed his voice box because of cancer.  He could no longer speak.  How frustrating it was for him.  When he died, half the county came out for his funeral it seemed.

There were other martyrs.  Maybe not martyrs, just ones that happened to die.  Junior Eason was another that died.  Not a Party member, but still a natural community leader.  Clarence Sutton worked as RCSC AA for so many years.  For some reason, he was recruited to the party after ten years of working day in and day out at the Center.  He was immediately elevated to the Central Committee.  As Gino said, it wasn’t Clarence’s fault that no one asked him to join the Party. Rastus “Pops” Harris was another, one of the west coast leaders.  I had the pleasure of meeting him once on a visit to NOC.

When Polly Gardner died, the entire Party mourned.  Gino was so distraught that when he dictated her obituary he referenced her by her military rank of Major, which was dutifully printed in every newsletter.  We cried in anger as her family refused to let us attend the funeral.

Jim Rosenberg was another, died young as a result of cancer.  The chemo was unbearable yet he still maintained a cheery disposition.  When they brought the kids to see him, they ran.  His hair was all gone because of the chemo and his skin looked rubbery.  He worked so hard despite his illness until he finally succumbed.

When Gino died, so many of us mourned.  Some came to the funeral just to make sure he was really dead.  If only he had not been so stubborn and just gone to the hospital, but he was convinced they would kill him there.  His room on the first floor was a quasi-hospital room with oxygen tanks and IV solutions.

I know there are more.  Each arena has stories of cherished members that died.  I hope they lie in peace.

The Children

There weren’t many children in the entities.  NOC had some children from time to time.  I don’t know of hardly any children that were born into the Organization.  When someone was recruited that had children, they ended up at either NOC or COSHAD.  Medford was another location, but that entity always had children at just about any given time until the Operations Manager succeeded in chasing out the moms.  Philly had one for a while at the art gallery.

Children were not despised but considered detractors from one’s ability to commit fully to the revolution.  Those that came into the Organization were always well cared for and afforded private school education.  Getting pregnant, however, was not an option.  If one was military, it was clearly a violation of the no sex rule that dated back to the LARGO days.

The strange thing was that mothers were not the primary caregivers.  Instead, the children were watched by assigned child care personnel.  Sometimes the children went on visits to the aquarium or museum and the mother had to stay behind and work on traffic (paperwork).  I don’t know how it worked at COSHAD so I can only assume it was a similar arrangement.

If it was so good, why did some mothers leave?  It wasn’t good for the mothers, that’s why.  Medford had lots of children coming and going with the major complaint being the Operations Manager took over as mom.  That environment was highly abusive, with mothers being punished by having their children taken away from them outright by the Operations Manager.

Friends After the Organization

There is no denying that some cadres while inside the Organization form meaningful friendships with other cadres.  These relationships vary and some of course do involve intimate relations.  How many survive after a person leaves?

Typically, those that leave alone are unable to maintain contact with others (whether still in or have left).  Even in the assorted forums on the web, we chance upon re-meeting someone we knew and find that too many events have transpired to rekindle friendships.

This also impacts family relationships, where husbands and wives join or even siblings.  There were several examples of families with multiple members that joined the Organization.  One wife with a child left out of Suffolk.  It wasn’t long before the husband also left out of NOC.

Is there hope to reconnect with people?  I should think so, but more the exception than the rule.  It is easier to reconnect when the situation is familial.  After all, blood is thicker than water.  I chanced upon an old friend, and today we lead humdrum lives but we re-forged a friendship.

I often wonder about those that left to be together and whether or not it worked out.  I know of several where it did not work out, for after leaving they realized the thing that brought them together in the first place could not keep them together afterwards.  Even I had a similar experience, meeting a former cadre and engaged in a brief relationship but it failed.  We had little in common.

More Recollections

I have been reading a blog about the Eastern Service Workers Association in Boston and have communicated a couple of times with the author.

I have been thinking about the good old days of organizing.  The author has an enthusiasm that I used to have.  I know that I will not convince him to abandon what he believes to be a viable cause.  It is my opinion that the author is a tabular cadre, pretty close to violation.

I remember walking the picket line at the Suffolk County Jail, protesting the conditions inside that compelled several inmates to go on a hunger strike.  I do not know how long the picket line survived.  I remember participating on the third anniversary.  Inmates would light toilet paper on fire and throw it out the barred windows as a show of solidarity.

There was also the Grucci Fireworks Factory that exploded, causing extreme damage in Bellport with several houses that collapsed.  The shock wave was so intense that even some windows in Riverhead broke.  We provided a lot of material resources but admittedly did not recruit through the tactic.

Tuberculosis was a major problem at the migrant labor camps.  Coalition of Concerned Medical Professionals tried organizing around this to get the free health sessions going.  The Panthers in Riverhead were especially in favor of this, for during their heyday they used to run a free clinic.

There were the disaster relief efforts too.  Most people do not realize that Long Island suffers when a hurricane hits.  I lived close enough to the shore of the Great South Bay that we had to evacuate because of flooding.  The eastern end of the island suffered the occasional wildfires.

When some farmers began their hand at producing wine grapes as part of a new micro industry, we enjoyed solidarity with Western Farm Workers Association.  They sent the special ring knives that are used to collect the bunches of grapes ready for pressing.  We were ready to organize the grape workers.  It did not get very far at all, unfortunately, barely as an ad hoc committee.

There are those that felt the Temporary Workers Organizing Committee should have gone full-bore with its strategy, which was halted at the time of the raid.  The accusations ran rampant — the local New Jersey drive sabotaged the effort, the national office sabotaged the effort.  I do not believe the Organization has tried anything on that scale in a very long time.

I have heard about the recent entity jumps and I read about the saints.  Saints?  What the heck?  Sure, the entities do provide some resources to the communities but what are they really doing?  Organizing includes signing up members, true enough.  What else?

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