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Labor Day parade showcases community, faces of workers

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union walked in the Southeast Side Labor Day Parade in Chicago, Saturday, September 2, 2017. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times

As a South Side native, Felicia Davis often feels like the community she calls home is invisible.

On Saturday, joined by fellow South Side residents and people from other Chicago neighborhoods, she said the Southeast Side Labor Day Parade is a good step forward in showing another facet of the South Side and the residents who call it home.

“It gives us a sense of unity and visibility,” said Davis, president of Olive-Harvey College.

“Being a South Side person, there’s not a lot of positive stories or events that draw people from all over the city. It’s nice to dispel the rumors that surround the community.”

Felicia Davis, president of Olive-Harvey College, waves to the crowd at the Southeast Side Labor Day Parade in Chicago, Saturday, September 2, 2017. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun-Times

Steeping off near 112th Street and Ewing Avenue Saturday morning, union members, school children and other representatives from other groups walked the nearly 1 1/2-mile route as residents standing on sidewalks and porches cheered and clapped their approval. Others sat in chairs on the grass waving their “proud union home” signs as the parade passed by.

Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) resurrected the parade in 2015 after a 22-year hiatus. For the first-term alderman, the day offered an opportunity to show Chicago’s residents “the face of labor.”

“I think it’s important to give labor a shot in the arm,” Garza said. “The benefits we have today — the eight-hour work day, five-day work week — and others came from the labor movement. We need to make sure that people know about them.”

Garza said since the parade returned two years ago, its doubled in size, with more unions and schools joining in. This year, there were nearly 80 groups in the parade, including some of the Democrats seeking their party’s nomination for governor — Daniel Biss, Chris Kennedy and J.B. Pritzker. They stuck to the sides of the parade route, shaking hands and taking questions.

Members of the Painters Union walk in the Southeast Side Labor Day Parade in Chicago, Saturday, September 2, 2017. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times

After the parade, the alderman and parade-goers made their way to Steelworkers Park at 87th Street and Lake Michigan for the start of the Chicago Friends of Labor Festival, which featured bouncy houses, live performances and food. The two-day festival continues Sunday from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m.

The Friends of Labor organization includes members affiliated with the investor group that owns the Chicago Sun-Times.

Terrie Albano, a former union worker, agrees the parade and festival are a good way to clear up some of the myths that surround both the South Side and labor.

“We went 22 years without showing who labor is,” Albano said. “We’re your neighbors, we do the work. This really shows who we are and helps dispel any myths about who labor workers are and what we do.”

CORRECTION: Earlier versions of this story misconstrued the role of the Chicago Federation of Labor in the Friends of Labor Festival. The group is among more than two dozen sponsors of the event.