Halloween Party for Progress


Niles Zee/ St. Louis Workers' Education Society

Daytime Television, a surf/indie band, at their debut performance.

On Friday, Oct. 27, the St. Louis Worker’s Education Society (WES) hosted a punk-rock revolution-themed Halloween party at their headquarters on South Jefferson Avenue with a book sale and flea market.  People came dressed in costumes from popular culture and politics while lights and loud music came from the stage and patrons ate vegan chili and caught up with or met each other during conversations between sets.   

According to their website, “The St. Louis Workers’ Education Society educates and trains St. Louis residents, especially people of color, women and youth, to become community leaders.  Our focus is on the intersection of workers’ rights, racial justice, sexual and gender-minority rights and disabilities empowerment.  Additionally, WES acts as a small business and grassroots organization incubator.  We facilitate on-going worker-education campaigns, partnering and advising union and community groups, to build a permanent culture of worker education in St. Louis.”

The bands that played included Daytime Television in their debut as a surf/beach indie-rock band.  Redbait, who went by RedBat for the night, also played.  This band is made of WES members, who played punk covers with a spooky Halloween twist.  Like…With Jetpacks is a band from Springfield, Ill., that performs classic video game soundtracks and original material.  WES member Lizzy* also performed an acoustic set of emo and punk music.   

Lizzy has performed at WES before and on Friday, performed covers about mental disorders, transgender identity and exclusion of marginalized groups. She has been involved in activism and advocacy by contributing to Black Lives Matter and the bail bond fund and spreading information in the recent Jason Stockley movement and in the Fight for 15 campaigns.  

“WES is all-inclusive to all marginalized groups and especially people of color and trans people, which is what punk music is all about,” Lizzy said.  She feels music is something relatable and accessible for people, both emotionally and politically.  One of the ways Lizzy brings a unique aspect of herself to WES is by being a transgender woman and part of the queer community there.  

“A lot of trans folk feel hesitant about expressing gender and identity in public,” she said.  At WES though, she feels like people can be as expressive as they are comfortable with, but people at WES will continue to validate them by using correct gender pronouns and otherwise treating all people with dignity despite their race, class or gender/sexual expression.

“St. Louis, as progressive as it is, is still very toxic towards trans folks,” Lizzy said.  That is why it is so important to have inclusive spaces for all people.   

Benjamin*, who plays guitar for Redbait, was one of the primary organizers of the event.  “I’ve been booking shows at the WES since 2015.  Most of the shows, we book under the name Start Today STL, which is essentially the music and arts outreach program with the WES.  Basically, we book punk-rock shows—all with a special message that varies from show to show.  We have bands play, special guest speakers, [who] are always notable representatives of what we were talking about that night,” Benjamin said.  

Tony Pecinovsky attended as well.  Pecinovsky is the president of WES and serves on the St. Louis Jobs with Justice Leadership Team, is a member of the United Media Guild, a delegate to the St. Louis Central Labor Council, and a member of the national board of the Communist Party USA.  In an interview with the Jacobin magazine this August, he said,

“It would be a mistake to call these events, potlucks, concerts and workdays ‘non-educational.’  They’re very educational and political, both formally and informally.  For example, potluck attendees—of which there are usually about a hundred—not only have informal conversations, whereby individual community activists and leaders talk about what they are working on and upcoming plans, actions, meetings, rallies and protests, but they also access a space to build community, relationships, trust and support. People learn from each other.  That’s educational.  It’s very political. Just attending a WES potluck is a political act, as we are known for our politics.”

As Lizzy said, music is a relatable and accessible way to discuss topics such as  politics.  

Benjamin*, who plays guitar for Redbait and was one of the primary organizers of the event, agreed when he said, “Punk rock was founded on political ideas, and we just want to bring that back, engage the punk scene again.”

The show also featured a flea market, including books about labor history since World War II, and civil rights leaders such as Angela Davis and John Brown. WES executive board member and representative for Services Employees International Union Healthcare Nicholas James also displayed part of his 20,000 piece memorabilia collection hailing from Austria, China, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia and Slovakia for sale at the flea market. James has travelled to many of these countries, including several visits to Hungary. WES is also compiling a library with books about labor history, labor law, LGBTQIA+ rights and the working-class struggle.  With their speakers and the library WES is compiling, along with these books and memorabilia, the organization puts the “education” in St. Louis Worker’s Education Society.   

Politics and community are at the heart of what WES does.  The organization has been involved in St. Louis’s labor movement since the 1960s, when the International Union of Operating Engineers bought the property.  In more recent years, their concerts have featured “progressive musical acts with a message and spoken word from community leaders in racial justice, the labor movement, women’s’ rights and LGBTQIA empowerment,” according to their website.  

The organization’s past concerts have raised money for an LGBTQIA+ center in Orlando, Fla., following the hate-based shooting at the Pulse nightclub, as well as for the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, Pro-Choice Missouri and Planned Parenthood for International Women’s Day.  Both of these events included speakers well-versed in these areas.    

WES is also currently involved in campaigns to raise the minimum wage, move towards single-payer healthcare, and with CLEAN Missouri, which seeks to lower the amount of money and value of gifts lobbyists, people, corporations and other organizations can donate to state legislative candidates and to increase transparency by opening legislative records to the public in Missouri.

“Some shows, like the Halloween one, really have no specific agenda or message, no speakers, just a fun night of punk rock and friends.  It also is very important to us to create a safe place in the STL music scene.  We have a strict no tolerance policy posted all over at the WES.  Having a space we know will be free from harassment, misogyny, racism, homophobia, all that other bad shit you can think of, is part of the reason why we do these shows,” Benjamin said.  As he said before Daytime Television kicked off the night’s music, “Have fun, don’t be a s***bag and happy Halloween.”

*Last names have been omitted for their safety.