Political organizer gives report from Philly

I spent last week at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. I was not a delegate, but there representing Emerge Vermont, an affiliate of a national organization that recruits and trains Democratic women to run for public office. It was a fascinating and inspiring week for me as a Vermonter, woman in elected office, Democrat who trains other women to run for office, and proud mother of three children.
Bernie Sanders remained prominent throughout the convention. “Bernie or Bust” demonstrators made their voices heard loudly, and often rudely, all week, refusing to buy into the “Stronger Together” theme that the Democratic Party promoted to unite supporters of both candidates. Despite the noise, as a Vermonter I was proud of Sanders’ unifying keynote address on the first night of the convention, and especially the next day when Sanders himself nominated Hillary Clinton for president of the United States. It was a healing moment for me as a Vermonter who greatly respects Sanders and supports Clinton’s bid to become our next president. Throughout the week, most major speakers, including Clinton herself, expressed gratitude and respect for Bernie and his supporters.
As a woman in elected office, it was incredible to be surrounded by so many of my heroes and colleagues. I met dozens of women from the 16 Emerge America states, and heard speeches from familiar heavyweights and dynamic up-and-comers. That women in office were featured behind podia everywhere — prominently, naturally, emphatically — affirmed the work I do as an elected official and professional who advocates for the importance of women in elected office.
The historic significance of the convention was on display everywhere, including on the merchandise throughout the convention sites. Emerge America’s T-shirts — which listed “Shirley, Geraldine, Nancy, Hillary, and me!” — highlighted the connection between historic firsts for women in elected office and the work that many do every day as women in office. The Smithsonian Institute even added our T-shirt to their collection of materials from the week.
Many speakers noted the import of the nomination, with some expressing sheer joy that this moment was happening in their lifetime. I witnessed strangers on the street hugging each other with excitement at the prospect of a woman becoming president. I overheard two African American women talking to each other while waiting to see the Liberty Bell, “First Obama, now Hillary. A black man and a woman. I finally feel represented in my country.”
So while representation based on race, gender, religious or sexual identity is clearly not absolute, role models and leaders that look and sound and experience the world like we do are incredibly important. A large number of attendees at the convention seemed to agree.
The historic significance of the city aligned with that of the convention. The National Constitution Center features a replica of the First Constitutional Convention with bronze statutes of each of the signers of the Constitution. I walked amongst the men of that first convention, and reflected on how monumental our country’s start was and also how far we’ve come.
From 42 wealthy, white men who disproportionately represented the 13 original states in 1787, to a convention that featured a hugely diverse cast of speakers, delegates and attendees from 50 states and seven territories, there to nominate a woman for president in 2016. We do seem to be forming a more perfect, and inclusive, union.
Even with all of this, it was as a mother that I was most moved during the week. Not only were women prominent on the main stage, so many talked about the significance of motherhood in their work as public servants. Motherhood was celebrated as a vital qualification for an important job, rather than a detriment to be hidden or dismissed.
Monday night’s speech by First Lady Michelle Obama was my favorite of the week. She spoke passionately as a mother of two daughters about our obligations to our children, of how being a mother and being a president had the same goal: “Barack and I take that same approach to our jobs as President and First Lady because we know that our words and actions matter, not just to our girls, but the children across this country.”
There were other speeches that affected me as a mother too. Eleven-year-old Karla Ortiz took the stage to talk about how she feared her parents would be deported; Karla’s mom stood next to her proudly listening as her daughter’s confident young voice quieted even rowdy Bernie delegates.
The Mothers of the Movement who spoke on the second night declared that “(Hillary) is a leader and a mother who will say our children’s names,” because perhaps only a mother-leader can fully understand the depth of their tragedy. Gold Star mother-of-three (and school board member!) Sharon Belkofer had the honor of introducing President Obama on the third night, as tears of pride streamed down my face.
Another Gold Star mother, Ghazala Khan, whose quiet grief spoke volumes as her husband delivered one of the most powerful speeches of the week, shook every mother who has ever sent her child away to war, or even to school or the corner store. We send our children out into this world and sometimes they don’t come back.
Chelsea Clinton’s introduction of her mother offered the world a look at how an accomplished professional can also be an accomplished mother (and grandmother). Chelsea’s sweet stories about Hillary on the last night of the convention underscored Michelle’s words about mothers as role models from the first night.
Powerful, proud, and poised mothers were everywhere at the convention. For every meeting I’ve attended where I’ve felt compelled to apologize for being late because I had to get my kids dinner, or distracted because the babysitter was texting me, or tired because I was up late with a sick child, I felt vindicated. Motherhood makes us better leaders because it is so difficult, and still we step up to do the hard work of public service too.
There’s no question that a political convention is fabricated to rally the dedicated base of the party, and in this case, to unite the factions against a common enemy and toward a shared goal. Still, this particular convention, for me and many others, was an important validation of who we are, who we love, and how we govern. I hope the spirit of the convention carries us into November and beyond, as we make history for women and our country.
Ruth Hardy is the mother of Greta, Anya, and Walter, the chair of the Middlebury ID-4 School Board, and executive director of Emerge Vermont. She lives in East Middlebury.

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