Joshua Kelly ’17 takes charge in hometown politics

In his first days at college, Joshua Kelly ’17 reached out to a high school friend. What began as a Facebook conversation about their freshman orientations turned into a plan to co-found a Green Party branch in their hometown of Waterford, Conn.

“We started talking about my friend’s decision to study government, and we quickly both discovered that neither one of us strongly identified with the two major political parties,” Kelly explains. When they began researching, the Green Party emerged as their favorite option, with its focus on social justice, environmental stewardship and grass-roots campaigning.

“I suggested that we find out what it would take to start a Green Party chapter in our hometown,” says Kelly.

After hatching their plan in September 2013, Kelly and his friend, Baird Welch-Collins, had to hold open meetings for three consecutive months in order for the chapter to become officially recognized in January 2014.

Kelly, who transferred to Wheaton as a junior in the fall of 2015, has become still more engaged since that first plunge into politics. In 2015, he ran in his first campaign as a Green Party candidate, winning a position as an alternate on Waterford’s Zoning Board of Appeals.

“Environmental concern was one of my main reasons for becoming involved in politics,” says Kelly.

The Zoning Board of Appeals makes decisions regarding the use of local land, and, as an alternate, Kelly will vote if a full member is unable to attend a meeting. It’s a perfect opportunity to learn about environmental policy without adding too much more to an already tight schedule.

Waterford First Selectman Dan Steward says, “Josh is also serving as an appointed alternate on the Conservation Commission, which manages the town’s inland waterways. Josh has brought forward an energy to these positions and is more than willing to serve our community. Municipal government has long been considered a stagnant process, and Josh’s participation offers the opportunity to refresh the old guard.”

As co-chair for the Waterford Green Party, Kelly has become a self-taught campaign manager. While the number of registered Green Party members in Waterford is still small compared to other affiliations, the party gained widespread support in the 2015 local elections.

“We ran five candidates, and over 44 percent of Waterford’s population voted for at least one Green Party candidate,” says Kelly. “We were very successful, considering the uphill battle we faced in a traditionally two-party state.”

Many of Kelly’s daily responsibilities can be done from a dorm room: He updates websites and social media, responds to emails and phone calls, and attends meetings on Skype. As a delegate from Connecticut to the Green National Committee, Kelly represents his home state on a committee that discusses and votes on issues remotely, so he checks the online discussion boards daily to stay informed. He also attends monthly video or phone conferences, as co-chair of the Young Greens of United States Steering Committee, a group that represents the voices of those ages 14 to 35 to the party.

“Sometimes it’s difficult to balance with schoolwork, but I find the work interesting and exhilarating, so I get everything done without feeling too overworked,” Kelly says.

Encouraged by his mother, alumna Deborah “Deb” Roselli Kelly ’86, Kelly chose Wheaton for its tightknit political science department and friendly and engaged campus. In his first semester, he lost no time in helping to rejuvenate the school’s Model United Nations team, joining the Gentlemen Callers a cappella group as co-pitch, and becoming a science and environment editor for the campus’ new political magazine, the Babe Lincoln. He also works as an assistant for the Political Science Department.

“Josh is a great student: attentive, analytically sharp, a great writer, a relentless doer,” notes Professor of Political Science Gerard Huiskamp. “He’s an idealist, but also committed to practical action.”

Photo by Stew Milne