A highlight of the convention was the impactful speakers that delegates and guests heard from over three days in Pittsburgh. The headliner among them was former Secretary of State and Democratic nominee for President of the United States, Hillary Clinton. After addressing the convention two years ago in Minneapolis to mixed reaction, this time she was warmly received by all in the hall. She was there accepting the AFT’s Women’s Rights Award. In addressing the crowd, Secretary Clinton noted that “our work has gotten tougher, but so have we.” She commented on the Janus v. AFSCME decision which she said was “wrongly decided” and reiterated that teachers unions aren’t going anywhere.
Sec. Clinton took a moment to reflect on the impact she’s had on women and girls, and all who are committed to social justice. She reminded those in attendance to keep going. During one portion of the speech that was well received inducing whooping applause and even some tears Mrs. Clinton said “Keep going. Keep protesting. Keep speaking out for public education. Keep speaking out against gun violence,” she exhorted the crowd to rounds of cheers and more than a few tears. “In this era of alternative facts, keep speaking up for the truth, for evidence, for reason. Keep educating our next generation of citizens. And yes, keep running for office at every level. Most of all, keep standing up for an America in which every child has a world-class education, where they are given the chance to be everything they can be.”
The momentum of women’s empowerment didn’t stop with Sec. Clinton. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren addressed the convention Saturday. Warren lamented the problems of what happens when teachers are neglected. “America is failing our teachers, and when we fail our teachers, we fail our students and we fail our future,” said Warren. She didn’t remain pessimistic, she was encouraged by all of the activists (teachers and others) who are taking to the streets and their state capitol buildings. She noted the myriad of instances that AFT was on the front lines fighting back against the bigotry, sexism, and xenophobia of the Trump administration. She applauded AFT for being at the Women’s March, rallying in airports to reject the Muslim ban, rallying against white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, and rejecting Betsy DeVos’ anti- public school agenda. Sen. Warren supported the union and said she was proud to fight “shoulder to shoulder with [AFT].”
In a show of solidarity, Sec. Clinton’s 2016 Democratic primary rival Sen. Bernie Sanders also spoke at the convention. Sen. Sanders spoke generally about the importance of trade unions to lead the way forward for America. He came to the convention from Vermont after walking the picket line with nurse members from the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals who were striking for improved staffing and wages at the University of Vermont Medical Center. Like other speakers before him, Sen. Sanders took his shots at President Trump, but he also praised the progressive wave moving across the country. “All over this country, people are standing up and fighting for a progressive agenda,” he said. “There is a political revolution sweeping across this country.”
The most fiery speeches perhaps came from the collected leaders of public sector unions. In a show of solidarity, AFSCME President Lee Saunders, NEA President Lily Eskelsen García and SEIU President Mary Kay Henry all joined AFT President Randi Weingarten on stage for an amazing show of strength. Saunders said the other three allow him to be an honorary member of “the sisterhood” and he appreciates their council and wisdom. Eskelsen García encouraged continued activism all across the nation in defense of public education. Henry lauded AFT’s support in creating sustainable living wage for all workers.
Other politicians to address the convention included Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, Sen. Bob Casey, Rep. Conor Lamb, Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto, among others.