Analysis: VPR Reporters Reflect On A Week At The DNC

The Democratic National Convention has wrapped up, with Thursday's main event being the acceptance speech by nominee Hillary Clinton. VPR's Emily Alfin Johnson and Peter Hirschfeld have spent the week with the Vermont delegates in Philadelphia and they joined Vermont Edition to share their last impressions from the DNC.

Alfin Johnson and Hirschfeld's reporting from the convention throughout the week touched on Vermont's decisively pro-Sanders delegation, many of whom were unwilling to support Clinton. Compared with other delegates who stood up and cheered during Clinton's speech on Thursday, Alfin Johnson says that the Vermont delegation was a more subdued crowd during the remarks.

"But over the course of the speech, the engagement increased," Alfin Johnson says. "A few delegates, Matt Birong and Aster O'Leary, stood up during calls for improving opportunities for women. And by the end of the evening a few delegates were waving the provided 'Hillary' signs and on their feet alongside the majority of the crowd at the Wells Fargo Center."

Hirschfeld points out, though, that some of the Vermont delegates who were most strongly against Clinton did not stay to see her speech on Thursday night.

Members of the Vermont delegation hold hands as part of a call to pray Thursday, during the final moments of the Democratic National Convention.
Credit Emily Alfin Johnson / VPR

"But there are a lot of Vermonters who went from grudging acceptance of her candidacy to a sense of optimism," Hirschfeld says, noting her speech did speak to supporters of Sanders, touching on topics like taxing corporations to fund subsidized health care and college tuition.

Alfin Johnson spoke with one Vermont delegate and Sanders supporter, Jo Sabel Courtney, about her reaction to the speech.

"[Sabel Courtney] said she was certainly not convinced by what Clinton had to say — but she did find it gratifying that a lot of what Clinton touched on in her remarks was based on things that Sanders had said during his campaign," Alfin Johnson explains. "She said it showed through their work that they’d accomplished something and really gotten something really powerful out of the campaign that Sanders had run."

As delegates prepare to return to Vermont, there's the question of how the aftermath of the DNC may impact the Democratic primary races back in their home state.

"This intensity that Bernie Sanders has harnessed during the campaign is looking for an outlet now," Hirschfeld says. "And Bernie Sanders himself is calling on his supporters to transmit that energy into political races at the state and the local and even the municipal level."

Vermont delegate Jo Sabel Courtney, moments after the balloons dropped during the final moments of the DNC Thursday night. Sabel Courtney proudly displayed the Bernie Sanders sticker on the back of her cell phone throughout the week.
Credit Emily Alfin Johnson / VPR

Hirschfeld says a number of those he has spoken to in Philadelphia have taken heed of Sanders' pleas, though what will remain to be seen is whether that passion is directed toward Democratic candidates or those from another party running in the state.

Clinton's speech was on Thursday night, but Vermonters had a notable night earlier in the week. During the roll call on Tuesday, Vermont initially passed so it could go last. That gave Sanders the chance to throw the weight of the entire convention behind Clinton's nomination.

Alfin Johnson was near the Vermont delegation with other media outlets during Tuesday's roll call.

"Among the Vermont delegation, there was an incredible energy, amplified tenfold when Sen. Sanders came and sat down with the delegation," Alfin Johnson says.

In the final moments of the Democratic National Convention Thursday, the executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party, Conor Casey, and members of the delegation take down the "VERMONT" posters from their sign for posterity.
Credit Emily Alfin Johnson / VPR

As the their time in Philadelphia closes and they prepare to head back to Vermont, both reporters shared their lasting impressions from their time at the convention.

"Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire's delegations all banded together to form a northern New England posse down here in Philly," Alfin Johnson explains. "They shared breakfasts, speakers and a shuttle to the convention events."

Alfin Johnson also highlights some of the friendly banter among these delegates about the region's history.

"It was a lot of state pride too, which was actually a really fun way to rally the troops each day – especially on those days when everybody was emotionally beat or already running on high," Alfin Johnson says.

"I was struck by the extent to which everything that happened at this convention was done with an eye toward how the scenes in Philadelphia were going to be perceived by the people consuming the media that were covering it," Hirschfeld says.

Hirschfeld describes how the DNC sent staffers out to areas of the convention where protests had gathered, in order to provide signs to nearby delegates and instructions to block these protests from the cameras of media outlets, "so that it would make it as difficult as possible for people back home to see that there was anything other than pure and joyful unity going on in this event."

"It's a production and it's put on in a very intentional way," Hirschfeld says. "And that doesn't mean there isn't an intense conviction of belief at the heart of all that's going on here, but the week felt like an elaborate theater in a lot of ways, designed to tell a compelling story to the people who were watching it in their living rooms at home."

Our campaign coverage is supported by the VPR Journalism Fund.