Wilbur Patterson is general secretary of a small organization called the Commission on Voluntary Service and Action (CVSA). Its main reason for being is the yearly publication of a guide for people who want to volunteer for charitable work. The guide, Invest Yourself, has been published every year since 1946 and circulates mainly to colleges and churches.

Most of the 180 listings in the guide are themselves connected with mainline Protestant churches, but 38 of them, with names such as the California Homemakers Association and the Eastern Farmworkers Association, are not. Patterson began to suspect that something in his guidebook was amiss when he began receiving complaints from volunteers that some of the organizations listed in it were fronts for a clandestine political group. It seemed that the CVSA had been infiltrated by, of all things, a Marxist revolutionary party.

The puzzle fell together for Patterson late in 1981 when he received a letter from Jeff Whitnack, who had been drawn into the Marxist party after offering himself as a volunteer to the San Francisco Homemakers Association. Whitnack told Patterson that the goal of this party, ridiculous as it seems, is to carry out a Marxist revolution in the United States by 1984. Patterson agonized over the implications of what he was learning. In a confidential memo to others on his executive board, Patterson asked, “What are we allowing CVSA to become, wittingly or unwittingly?”

Patterson’s memo wasn’t confidential enough. The chairman of the board, a woman named Diane Ramirez, turned out to be one of the leaders of the Marxist band. According to former members, the party has several names, the most common being the “Perente party” after its mysterious leader, Eugenio Perente. Whitnack says that Perente is actually a Marysville, California born radical named Jerri Doeden. The party began in the early 1970s and is headquartered in Brooklyn. It is said to have several hundred members.

Its political indoctrination consists of heavy reading in the classic Marxist revolutionary canon, supplemented by large doses of Stalin’s works. Members are expected to work long hours with few days off. They work hard at raising money, primarily by door-to-door canvassing, bake sales at shopping centers, and telephone pitches to small businesses and churches. The party is reportedly obsessed with secrecy. One view of the Perente party is that it is part of a police intelligence plot to discredit the American Left. Whitnack says the group is no more Marxist than the Unification church is Christian. He regards it as a cult, claiming that people in the midst of life crises are likely candidates for recruits. Detailed information about the party is hard to come by because its leaders refuse to return phone calls.

What is clear is that sometime before 1978 members of the party began moving in on Patterson and his volunteer agency. In 1978, Invest Yourself was in financial trouble and Diane Ramirez and several of her associates offered to take over the publication. Patterson eagerly accepted. Since then, Invest Yourself has been edited by a woman named Susan Angus, under the sponsorship of something called the National Foundation for Alternative Resources (NFAR), apparently another Perente party front group.

Patterson became more and more concerned about the reports he was hearing of a secret organization behind some of the groups listed in his publication, and he realized he actually did not know by whom, or even where, Invest Yourself was being printed.

As he put it to other worried members of his executive committee, whoever is behind these groups “now controls [Invest Yourself] 100 percent and therefore controls 90 percent of the reputation of CVSA. And we really do not know that organization.”

Patterson confronted Angus and Ramirez at the executive committee meeting last March. They denied they were part of a subversive group. At the next meeting in July, Ramirez proposed that Angus and two other associates be added to the executive committee and that Patterson be dropped. That was beaten back, but Patterson’s motion to cancel the 1983 edition of Invest Yourself was also defeated, when Ramirez broke a tie by voting to publish (some of Patterson’s supporters on the board had to leave early because of other commitments). After the July meeting, several denominations—including United Methodists, Lutherans, and Episcopalians—withdrew their listings.

Finally, at the September meeting, Patterson and his colleagues acted together. They replaced Ramirez as chairman, added several new committee members to shore up CVSA’s ties to mainstream groups, and resolved to try to reclaim Invest Yourself from its infiltrators.

Patterson is not sure if there will be a 1983 edition of Invest Yourself. He contends that a legal contract with the printers requires that the draft of the publication be submitted to and approved by an editorial review board. But Patterson does not expect the NFAR to honor the contract. If Invest Yourself is published in 1983, the CVSA committee may take the matter to court. Patterson is convinced the CVSA could win, but he is not sure it can afford court costs. “We have no angels to bail us out,” he said. Meanwhile, the NFAR is threatening to take Patterson and the CVSA to court to challenge Ramirez’s removal.

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For Patterson and other concerned members of the CVSA, the experience has been a painful one. But he takes consolation in the fact that even if it takes the destruction of the CVSA to expose the Perente party, in this the CVSA will have performed one of the more important community services of its long and creditable career.

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