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Locals play role in historic convention

PHILADELPHIA — The second day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last week saw an emotional moment for Vermonters as erstwhile presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders pledged his own support for Democratic Hillary Clinton.
Vermont delegate Diane Lanpher of Vergennes, who was caught by a television camera giving Sanders a hug before his big endorsement, was standing in the heart of Vermont delegation on the convention floor.
After Sanders made his historic announcement and left the scene, people who had been sitting at other sections flooded the seats the Vermont delegation occupied, Lanpher recalled later in the week.
“Is that the microphone Bernie spoke into?” They asked Lanpher. “Can I touch it?”
It was an emotional moment not only for Sanders and his supporters, but for Vermont delegates the entire week proved to be emotion-filled as they realized the impact of Vermont and of Sanders’ message on Americans far and wide.
At the DNC, the delegates’ roles are fourfold: to vote on the platform, rules, nominees and, finally, to be ambassadors for their home states.
For Vermont delegates Lanpher and Matthew Birong from Vergennes, attending the DNC was a once in a lifetime experience.
“People call it ‘The Hillary Clinton Convention,’ but it will always be ‘The Bernie Sanders Convention’ in my mind,” Birong said. “To be one of the 22 Vermonters that got to place the vote for him is an honor I’ll cherish my entire lifetime.”
Birong also noted the passion and precision of the DNC’s various speakers in addressing pressing issues both to the party and to the nation. He praised, in particular, speeches by First Lady Michelle Obama and Rep. Gabby Giffords; Giffords is the Arizona Congresswoman who was shot a few years ago while meeting constituents.
“It was a very emotional situation to see (Giffords) come out and take the stage in front of a national audience,” said Birong. “She and her husband (an astronaut) are the American couple extraordinaire.”
He praised both Giffords’ passion and dedication to the party as well as her willingness to address specific party issues, such as the future direction of the party and the need for sensible legislation.
For Lanpher, a state representative, her role as Vermont ambassador characterized her experience at the convention.
“There have been incidents at the convention where I felt and internalized the power of Vermont,” Lanpher told the Independent. “Sen. Sanders has spoken to the hearts and minds of Americans across the nation, and as Vermonters, we get to hear this message all the time.”
As Vermonters, Lanpher said, she and her fellow delegates got to embody Sanders’ message for the rest of the nation.
Lanpher began to realize the force of her role as a Vermont ambassador on the first day of the convention when Sanders addressed his supports in a crowded ballroom. The emotion-filled meeting saw some Sanders delegates boo their man when he urged them to back Clinton.
While waiting with the rest of Bernie’s delegates for the ballroom to be cleared at the close of the meeting, Lanpher was among the part of the crowd immediately outside the door to the ballroom.
“It was a logistical nightmare,” Lanpher said. “They had to move more than 2,000 people out of the ballroom first, and I got stuck in the doorway to the ballroom in a mob of people.”
In an attempt to restore order, volunteers were shouting for the crowd to move backwards, but that made no sense to Lanpher, who had at least 3,000 people behind her. Taking charge, she told the volunteer that this plan would not work — and those around her listened. The logjam abated.
“People were happy with my forcefulness,” Lanpher said.
In the wake of the exchange, the people around Lanpher started asking her which state she was from.
“I said ‘Vermont,’ and I got the full effect of all the joy coming from the senator’s home state. The crowd erupted into cheers,” Lanpher said. “It was very touching. It touched me and I felt it — their spontaneous reaction to Vermont, what that meant to them, the joy that lit up in their faces. What did Bernie start in the nation?
“A man even asked to touch me so that he could share with his wife that he had touched a Vermonter,” Lanpher said with a laugh.
Lanpher credited Sanders for initiating the hard conversations that the nation has neglected to discuss. As part of the Vermont delegation, she said, they embodied Sanders’ messages and were part of this force. The delegation was recognized by the rest of the delegates at the convention as such and treated with the utmost respect, according to Lanpher.
“We’re rebel rousers, but we also bring grace and dignity of how to behave in that conversation,” Lanpher said. “We initiated the conversation and we won’t let things rest because they’re not done yet. If we’re not at a place where everyone is OK, then the nation is not OK.” 

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