Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Labor Day has references both historical and new

Labor Day activities took on a political tone in Antioch, with a small group of East County residents attending a picnic that helped kick off what they consider an exciting time in local and national politics.

Hosted by members of the Antioch Historical Society at the town's historical museum, the event drew local Democratic party members, ranging from Contra Costa County District 5 Supervisor Federal Glover to registered voters still beaming from the historic speeches at the party's national convention last week.

"In 2008, people are a lot more aware of the degradation of the middle class than 20 years ago," said Richard Mossman, president of the Antioch Democratic Club.

Antioch's event was one of several Contra Costa Labor Day gatherings. Some, like Walnut Creek's annual Labor Day Concert featuring the Walnut Creek Concert Band, were less political and more a celebration of the end of summer, with the traditional fixings.

The Antioch Democratic Club's Mossman, energized by the opportunity to rally voters, told picnicgoers about the relevance of labor issues during an election season.

"Unions still have an impact today, but are quieter now," he said. "I hope they stay as strong. It's one more opportunity for the middle class to have a voice."

About 60 attendees, many of whom were wearing pins and stickers in support of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, enjoyed music from East Bay Americana funk band Apple Pie AdvertisementHopes, potato-sack races and water balloon tosses, among other activities.

Brentwood resident Marge Perez found out about the event on Obama's Web site. She agreed that the meaning of Labor Day has changed.

"Sadly, people think of it as a last day of summer," Perez said. "You don't see many labor unions around anymore. Labor Day is an opportunity to focus on wages and the opportunity to provide jobs in emerging technologies and alternative energy."

Picnic co-organizer Eleanor O'Donnell remembers a different idea of Labor Day.

"It was always the kickoff of political campaigns," O'Donnell said, remembering political tone Labor Day celebrations had during her upbringing. "There were, of course, games and food, too. It's always been a political thing."

Ken Richard, a local Obama delegate back from the party's convention in Denver, urged attendees to get involved in local and national campaigns.

In Lafayette, Labor Day was marked in a different way.

More than 50 people showed up at the Lafayette crosses memorial Monday night for a vigil, which memorial co-founder Jeff Heaton said was important for Labor Day. The military employs many young adults who can't form a union, he said, but work to defend their country. Also, he said, it remains important to keep the debate alive as to why those young adults are in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.

Antioch resident Denise Aragon came to the crosses for the first time Monday. She lost her 22-year-old son, Sgt. John Aragon, in Iraq in June.

She took one of the crosses home with her. Aragon will return it to the memorial after decorating it with photos of her son, his family, his friends, his dog and his 1964 Chevy Impala. The car still "turned heads," though her son never got a chance to fix it up, she said.

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