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August 26, 2008

Dem. Convention: Vermont is America

Dnc_026 Ed. note: Seven Days writer Kevin J. Kelley will be blogging this week from the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

Think what you will of the Democratic Party's competence and consistency, there's no denying its commitment to — and achievement of — racial diversity. About 45 percent of the delegates in Denver are African-, Latino-, or Asian-American, while those same groups represent about 30 percent of the overall US population.

Inside the convention hall, a genuinely rainbow-style celebration is occurring, with a fine funk orchestra providing the soundtrack. Of course the Dems are nominating a bi-racial candidate for president. And they're also highlighting the party's mosaic in the line-up of convention speakers, from the obscure to the superstarry. Chicago Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. gave one of the most rousing speeches on last night's program, which Michelle Obama headlined and which also included her half-Indonesian sister-in-law.

Vermont's delegation isn't nearly as multiracial as, say, California's. But VT Dems have sent a contingent to Denver that's far from monochromatic, as was evident at a breakfast gathering on Monday at the Magnolia Hotel, where the state's 27 delegates and alternates are staying, along with assorted spouses and kids.

Kevin Christie, an Obama delegate, is an African-American from White River Junction who's running for a seat in the Vermont House. Having moved from Connecticut in the early 70s, Christie's come to see Vt as "still not having achieved equity throughout the state." But he adds that Vermont's problems "aren't overpowering to the point where they can't be changed." Christie finds Vermont "open-minded enough to say 'what can we do to change?'"

Former Governor Madeleine Kunin, who's here secondarily to promote her book on women and American politics, (she's also blogging for the Huffington Post) points with pride to the gender equity that not only the VT delegation, but all delegations, have established in accordance with party rules.

Daria Mondesire, an African-American from Derby Line, says it's important to understand that the candidate she's supporting, Barack Obama, isn't himself African-American. "He's of mixed race," Mondesire points out. "Like my daughter."

Mondesire, a writer and clinical social worker, moved from Boston's Dorchester section more years ago than she wishes to specify in order to attend Bennington College. "I've had a mixed experience in Vermont," she says. "But it's been generally positive and I can say Vermont's been good to me."

The state's Dems haven't done enough to ensure geographic diversity, Mondesire complains. She says the delegation here consists mostly of Chittenden and Washington county residents, with few members from rural parts of the state. "People from small towns in Vermont don't have much chance," she says. "They don't have the political muscle." Noting that she's the first-ever Democratic delegate from Orleans County, Mondesire says she'll work to improve representation for rural Vermonters.

Dnc_008 VT's delegates do span the generations. Kunin, 75, is joined in Denver by Taylor Bates, 18 (see photo). He graduated in June from Champlain Valley Union HS and is headed to Tufts next month.

Taylor's known here not only for his teen-ness but for having ensured that VT was one of the first three states to qualify as having a "green delegation." Out of his own pocket (he's hoping to fundraise later) Taylor made a $7.50 investment in alt energy for each of the 27 delegation members in order to offset the emissions associated with their travel to and from Denver.

Taylor says he appreciates efforts to include previously under-represented groups at the Denver convention, but he suggests that the Obama campaign "is about ending the politics of identity." Taylor isn't interested in being "a token young person here" and wants to focus on ideas rather than on skin shades or gender. He also wants to learn skills in Denver in order to "become a better Democrat, a better organizer."

Peter Welch and Bernie Sanders are scheduled to address the VT delegation in the next couple of days. I'll be there when they do and I'll tell you what they said.

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