Chicago Women in Trades ( CWIT ) volunteer and Local 130 third year apprentice plumber Liz Albertson did not know she was on the cusp of starting something new when she brought her snare drum to the Women's March on Washington, D.C. on Jan. 21, 2017.
Albertson's goal that day was to keep CWIT members together by playing her snare drum and making some noise for the organization and other pro-labor groups and women in construction amidst all the other marchers.
"Seeing the amazing all-women Afro-Brazilian percussion band Batala from Washington, D.C., take over the streets made me think CWIT should start a drumline," said Albertson. "We were in awe of the group's dynamics and how they were able to move throughout the crowd with such strength."
As the group was traveling back to Chicago from the Women's March, they started formulating their plans for the CWIT Drumline, and now there are 15 members. They include both CWIT staff members and tradeswomenbricklayers, carpenters, electricians, pipefitters, plumbers and welders.
The Drumline has been marching at a variety of events over the past 18 months, including the 2017 incarnations of the Tax Day Protest, Women Build Nations and the Tenth Ward Labor Day Parade; the May Day March in 2017 and 2018; and the Chicago Women's March in January 2018 and Chicago's Pride Parade this past June.
"The primary focus of the Drumline is to bring attention to CWIT at these events and get more women interested in signing up for our free programs," said Albertson. "We showcase the sisterhood that exists among ourselves and show that these careers are possible for women to pursue."
Albertson said the Drumline also offers a fun and stress-relieving activity since their jobs are very physically, emotionally and intellectually demanding.
"Practices are held at CWIT so visiting tradeswomen or newcomers are able to see how much fun the group is having together," said Albertson.
"It is really fun and amazing to play music with my trade sisters while also supporting an organization near and dear to all of our hearts," said Local 1027 apprentice carpenter Ebba Schmid. "When the crowds see us in high-visibility vests and hard hats at rallies and parades playing the drums they enthusiastically cheer us on."
"CWIT opened so many doors for me and showed me that my dream of becoming a union carpenter was totally possible," said Local 1027 apprentice carpenter Alissa Roush. "I joined the Drumline because it is a lot of fun and I love representing CWIT and challenging people's ideas of what a trades worker looks like."
"CWIT has done so much for everyone in the Drumline," said Albertson. "We are tradeswomen who work hard every day and thrive in a male-dominated industry. We got here because of CWIT's support and our other union sisters. We want to make some noise for that with the Drumline."
Founded in 1981, CWIT's aim has been to increase the number of tradeswomen by recruiting, retaining and building leadership in an industry that has been traditionally held by men. CWIT does this by providing support, advocacy and educational opportunities as well as assistance to employers, unions and other industry stakeholders. The organization also documents workforce trends and advocates politically so women in the trades have equal access to these jobs.
"CWIT's new motto is 'Build A Career. Join A Sisterhood,'" said CWIT Marketing and Communications Director Sharon Latson-Flemister. "The organization exists to improve women's economic equity by increasing their participation in high-skilled, well-paid, blue-collar occupations."
Albertson said many women have gotten into the trades through CWIT's Technical Opportunities Program or Welding Program.
CWIT will hold its Technical Opportunities Program class for the fall starting in October. The Welding Program takes rolling admissions and every Wednesday CWIT holds mini-information sessions at the organization's headquarters, at 2444 W. 16th Street, Suite 3E.
The Drumline marched with CWIT at this year's Tenth Ward Labor Day Parade Sept. 3. CWIT participated in the Bud Billiken Parade Aug. 11 and was part of the 26th Street Mexican Independence Day Parade Sept. 9.
"If you or someone you know wants to change careers for a great paying job with some of the best benefits offered, while learning life-long skills, CWIT is the stepping stone to get you there," said Albertson.
See chicagowomenintrades2.org/ for more information .