This time last year, Joshua Hall and Christine Pellegrino were classroom teachers and union activists. Today, they serve as state legislators in Connecticut and New York—and they're determined to bring more teachers like them into the ranks of state and local government. At the opening plenary of the AFT's TEACH conference today, Hall and Pellegrino shared their stories with the more than 1,400 educators, leaders and activists in the crowd.
Hall spoke of his lifelong drive to make a difference in his community, a drive that led him to return to his hometown of Hartford, Conn., to teach history and social studies. After 12 years of teaching, he was elected as first vice president of the Hartford Federation of Teachers, helping renew community engagement with the public schools and playing a key role in Hartford Rising, a grass-roots coalition to fight poverty in Connecticut's capital city.
Earlier this year, Hall launched his campaign for the Connecticut House of Representatives, winning support from the state's Working Families Party, AFT Connecticut and labor unions across the state, and ultimately winning the election. Voters identified with his promise to fight for them. As he told the TEACH crowd: "To win, we actually have to be in the room. It's great that we write, call, sign petitions, but we also have to run for office. And when we run on our values, we win."
After hearing Hall's inspiring story, the activists in the room were thrilled to hear from Pellegrino, an 18-year teaching veteran who overcame steep political odds to win a seat in the New York State Assembly this spring. Pellegrino won her election by 16 percentage points—in a district where President Trump won by 20 points in November.
Pellegrino came with a mission: to remind AFT members and leaders that elections matter, and that voters are hungry for elected officials who will truly represent their interests. Reflecting on her win, she was encouraged to see that voters were rebuking the Trump agenda, that teachers do make good candidates, and that candidates with a real progressive agenda can win.
"Sisters and brothers, I am you: a parent, a teacher, a woman who cares about her community. You should walk out of this room reminded that you are a pretty big deal. You serve your communities every day, teaching their children. They trust you. They respect you. You have what it takes. You can run for office, and you can win too."
[Leilah Mooney Joseph]