A poster promoting one of Salsedo Press’s Cinco de Mayo blasts–which are famous in Chicago’s lefty ghettos–shows a few of the world’s best-known politicos shaking their booties on a fire escape high above Chicago’s skyline. Emiliano Zapata looks stern. But an olive-drab Daniel Ortega is getting down, and a dapper Nelson Mandela has his fists raised above his head in funky triumph and is wearing a pin that says “Free Beer.” Harold Washington’s grinning face forms a cloud on the horizon.

Salsedo Press–a worker-owned, for-profit business that prints everything from magazines to wedding invitations–was founded as a workers’ cooperative in 1969 by six University of Illinois students who were losing their battle to keep local printers from censoring their antiwar newspaper, the Walrus. When U.S. involvement in Vietnam cooled in 1973, student activism on the Urbana-Champaign campus did too.

That year the co-op’s members decided they’d be more useful in Chicago. After moving here they renamed the co-op after Andrea Salsedo, an Italian-American anarchist printer and friend of Sacco and Vanzetti. He’d been arrested in New York in 1920 when immigrant radicals were being rounded up by the U.S. attorney general. He spent eight weeks in custody, then died after he jumped or was pushed from a window.

Salsedo Press held its first party in December 1974. “It was, frankly, be-cause we were broke,” says Chris Burke, a Salsedo founder who’s now its customer-service representative. The party produced more than cash, he adds. “I just met somebody who was con-ceived that night.”

The next party was tied to May Day, says Burke, “because May Day originated largely in Chicago with the movement for the eight-hour workday and the aftereffects of Haymarket.” Soon the parties became annual bacchanalia for hundreds of progressives, sometimes drawing nearly 1,200 to hear world music, drink free beer, and make leftist love connections. “The party kind of took on a life of its own,” says Burke, who knows two married couples who met at one of the parties. Politicians, petition-wielding organizers, and famous-activist impersonators have also courted one another around the makeshift dance floor, beer tables, taco concessions, and plastic-draped printing equipment.

Money raised at recent events has been donated to other printing cooperatives and political groups around the world, such as the South West African People’s Organization, the Sandinistas, and the Zapatistas, as well as to the defense funds of various death-row inmates.

This year is the 30th anniversary of Salsedo, and for the first time the bash will be held somewhere other than at the press. “I mean, the whole place smells like beer when you come in on Monday morning, and it’s kind of awash,” says Burke. “You almost have to lose two days’ work to move everything around. We’re also kind of aging, so we decided to farm it out to HotHouse this year.” It’s at 31 E. Balbo, 8 PM to 3 AM on Saturday. The suggested $12 admission gets you two beers, four African and Latin bands, and plenty of pheromone-enhanced social-consciousness raising. Call 773-533-9900. –Nadia Oehlsen

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): poster illustration/Dean Ewing.