The organization I belonged to during my teenage years had many names and many faces and continues to operate thirty years later.
In Redding California, the public face of the organization was the Western Service Workers Association. On Long Island it was the Eastern Farmworkers Association. Each of these organizations were connected to the National Labor Federation. And privately, each of these organizations were also recruitment tools for the Communist Party USA Provisional wing, aka the Provisional party. Each volunteer’s experience of the organization depended on where and when you volunteered, how close you were to the leadership, what you gave up to join, what you gained in return. Some gave up drug habits and homelessness, others gave up families and relationships. But we all gave up months, and often years, of our lives. Some got power and respect, others got beaten and abused. I was someone who got a bit of both.
In the acknowledgements of Red Star Tattoo I write
To the front-line cadre still inside the organization, thank you for caring about the poor, the disenfranchised, the exploited. I have never doubted your spirit of hope and justice. Maybe things are different now. Maybe you are free to speak up or walk out, to hold your leaders accountable. I hope for your sake that is true.
But I suspect it’s all much the same because it’s hard to imagine healthy fruit coming from a poisoned tree. The lies Gino Perente told –not only about his name and his background but about his intentions for the organization– are at the very heart of the organization’s history. He may have had good ideas, but he was not a good man and he did not do good things. Not to me, not the other cadre I knew, and perhaps most importantly of all, not to the revolutionary movement he claimed to believe in.
For cadre in the field, working on soup lines and legal clinics, maybe this does not matter so much. Maybe what you are doing is enough for you. Maybe understanding how privilege and class work is saving your life, giving you a new perspective on the world. Maybe helping other people is also helping you. But if you are working those long hours because something else was promised, you deserve to know that the organization you are working for has a long tradition of broken promises.
The revolution I’d counted down to had been like the sun, so bright it lit every corner of my life, and yet I could not look directly at it. Couldn’t. Wouldn’t. It ended up the same in the end. The doubts I didn’t let myself feel, the words I didn’t write.
Look directly at it. And if there are words you aren’t supposed to write, or read, I hope you are looking for a way out. Because you also deserve the very things you are fighting for.
For more information:
This wikipedia page has clearly been a battleground between pro-organization and anti-organization forces.
Some of the known information about Gino Perente /Gerald Dodein is included on this wikipedia page
Cult awareness websites
Steve Hassan runs Freedom of Mind, a cult information site. He interviews Robin Fahlberg, a cadre who left the organization after 14.5 years in part because the legal campaign she had worked so hard on for her members was sabotaged by the leadership of the organization.