The Truth About NATLFED

Were you there?

It was a somber Saint Patrick’s Day.  Such a holiday was not widely celebrated in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn as many of the locals were of Caribbean heritage.  Typically, certain holidays were cause for celebration at NOC but not that day in 1995.

Gino was on his deathbed.  He struggled to cling to life.  He had been on IV solutions for several months.  I remember at Christmas 1994 when someone suggested the gifting of a holiday bottle to the company that provided the medical supplies that Gino relied on to sustain his life.  The notion was pooh poohed because this company was paid handsomely for its services.

There was no Saint Patrick’s Day sing that Friday.  It was just another work day at NOC.  I was allowed to drink a toast in memory to fallen comrades because I was working for Gino that day.  He liked to hear stories about my great-uncle in Ireland even though he knew I only heard them from family when I was growing up.  I watched as the strange yellow IV bag slowly drained and was replaced by one with clear liquid.  He called the yellow ones “banana bags” because they were special potassium mixtures.    The IV regimen also included sodium bicarbonate solutions to clean the sepsis from his blood stream.  I think there was another kind called ringer’s.  I’m not a medical professional, just someone who tried her best to do her part to help keep Gino alive.

He had two doctors on salary attending to his needs, both paid handsomely for their house call services.  Instead of the little “E” tanks of oxygen, he was using the “H” tanks.  Every breath he took was an effort.  He tried eating but ever since the former CMO caused extensive damage by butchering the insertion of a feeding tube, he was never able to eat properly.  That was when he refused to trust any medical assistance from the west coast, fearing another assassination attempt.

Gino refused to go to a hospital.  He was convinced that the other side would murder him there.   His paranoia increased after the former CMO stood accused of trying to assassinate him.  Very few trusted persons were allowed to take care of him.

It was a very somber holiday.  I tried to do all that I could to help make him comfortable.  I didn’t mind sitting in the wheelchair talking to him about my family or the things I was currently working on.  He wanted me to go upstairs and do rounds, just see how things were going and let him know, which I did.  Cadres continued their tasks of writing vehicles to the entities, conducting phone calls, reviewing recruitment reports for violations.  The PRO run that day had been small, a consolidated Brooklyn/Queens run (it had been at least a year since the run was large enough to send separate crews to the two boroughs).

I fully expected the next morning to be similar.  I would report in for duty and he would have some task for me to complete or a request to humor his day.  He liked subjecting me to translating passages from the Vulgata.  I never did successfully learn proper Latin and he laughed at my half-assed attempts to translate the Bible passages.  Then we would joke about the Protestants trying to get to heaven on the Readers Digest version of the Bible.

Even though it was a Saturday it was just another work day.  I didn’t mind being summoned earlier than the usual reveille.  He was in terrible shape.  All I could do was hold his hand as others tried to alleviate his pain and frustration.  Something was horribly wrong.  He kept gagging and could not breath properly.

Both doctors were called in to tend to him.  That was the first time the two had ever met.  Their visits were always orchestrated separately.   By the time the first one arrived, the situation was already critical.  Dr L tried performing CPR.  I remember crying when the funeral home arrived to take Gino away.  I was too distraught to go upstairs to listen to the announcement that Gino was dead.

I couldn’t focus on anything.  For so many years I had worked for him and he was suddenly gone.  Other leaders tried to press on with the work.  Dan and Chris wrote the obituary for the Times.  I never knew that Dan used to work for the Times writing obituaries in his pre-NATLFED days.  He knew the right people to call and they agreed to publish the obituary.

In general, it was agreed that we had to get him buried next to Polly in Oak Hill Cemetery, Stony Brook, a cemetery that only allowed local residents and family members to be interred.  Phyllis found a supporter who agreed to tell the cemetery that she wanted her cousin buried there.  We couldn’t get the spots next to Polly, they were already taken, but we managed to get a spot very close.

Runners were dispatched to pick up copies of the Times so we could have the printed obituary.  It was very late at night, around two in the morning I think.  They got copies of the one star edition, the first edition of the day, the edition with the original obituary.  When we picked up more copies later on, the obituary had already been retracted and replaced.  I remember feeling angry that a bitter ex-wife had been given center stage but there was nothing that I could do about it.

I didn’t know how to act at the funeral.  I was in shock.  I just couldn’t believe that he was really gone.  I briefly met Catherine, who seemed more interested in trying to take Gino’s rosary from the coffin than mourning the loss of her father.  Others were interested in keeping me away from her and as my judgment at the time was clouded I blindly did as asked.

Then there was the service after the burial.  I was feeling very somber and could not enjoy visiting with comrades that I had not seen in years.  Then there were the vicious spectators, the ones who came just to make sure he was really dead.  How I despised them!  Our security people were professional and vigilant.  One spectator was more intent in trying to lure away cadres from the organization than anything else and I hated him for it.

The organization tried to continue.  Without someone firmly in control, a power struggle ensued.  Several cadres left in utter disillusionment.  Gino’s will was read at the CC meeting again.  Everyone knew that Gino left Margaret the organization as a regent and a couple of months passed by before her arrival at NOC.

The east coast CC knew she was coming and expected that she would assume the role of Party Organizer.  Instead, she accused NOC of trying to steal the organization from her.  She claimed she didn’t know about the will until Mandy told her about it on a phone call two weeks earlier.  She claimed the CC unanimously voted her as Chair.  She claimed the west coast CC had convened within a day for the election while the east coast CC had troubles convening.

It was very insulting.  The east coast CC was not informed of her election bid.  Several members working in closed arenas were not notified until after her arrival that there was an election bid.  She claimed it was a unanimous election.  That may have been true on the west but certainly not on the east.  The east coast CC did not ratify the decision until several weeks after she took control.  Dissenting members were not invited to participate in the election such that “consensus” could be reached.

That was when the notion of consensus changed.  Instead of all CC participating, consensus soon became everyone in attendance at meetings.  Those not in attendance didn’t count.  Quorum decisions by four members were eliminated except those made by the Quorum of Quorums, the so-called highest ranking members of the organization, which was not based on dot date but rather by loyalty to Margaret.

The one who stood accused of trying to assassinate Gino was pardoned and reinstated as CMO.  The one who called the doctors in Gino’s greatest moment of medical need was demoted for harmful neglect.

That was when the purges began.  A program of restaffing the entities began.  Persons with no field experience whatsoever were sent to arenas that had one cadre, or in one case an entity that had been completely abandoned.  These cadres were not expected to succeed.  In many cases, the cadres left on their own.

Many entities became hamsters running mindlessly in the spinning wheel, filling benefits requests and just surviving.  The few that were advancing suffered when senior cadres not in Margaret’s favor were expelled.  If she didn’t want a person in the organization, she saw to it they were driven out.  In several cases, cadres were violently thrown out with no place to go, hundreds of miles away from family or friends.  These cadres were labeled as crazies, traitors, whatever buzzword was popular at the moment.

History is written by the winners and thus Margaret rewrote the history of what happened after Gino’s death, which loyal followers believe.  For those of us who were there, we know what really happened.  I had a chance to correspond with a former cadre who was recruited in 1996 and left a couple of years later.  Even though this woman had left, she still quoted Margaret’s version of the assumption of power as if it were the gospel truth.  Yet I liken her to a first year Latin student trying to translate the Vulgata.

There are many new names associated with NATLFED but there are still a few old timers still hanging on to the dream.  I care not for who you were but care for what you have become.  You were there and you know what happened.  You have a story to tell.  You know as well as I that the organization has not won a major strategy in years.  The IM Young camp may still sit empty after forty years from the strike, the Big Duck in Riverhead may remain a curiosity, or maybe a new generation of farm workers have  moved in to the camp and stories of the theft of the Big Duck continue as urban legend.

Why they hang on is a mystery.  There’s more to it than diet cokes and comical comments about Queen Margaret on her throne.  They rely on the casual supporters who do nice things for poor people to speak up on their behalf.  Do not trash these supporters.  They simply do not know the whole truth.  They only know what they see and that’s an entity handing out food and clothes to the poor.  They think that’s a good thing.  They aren’t subjected to the hours of lectures or eighteen hour work days mindlessly typing master file cards or writing pitches with code names and modules.

It’s time for me to feed my little baby so I will leave you for now.  Feel free to reflect on these things and comment.

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