“She has a nice smile, and a backbone of steel.”
Tiff Bluemle couldn’t help but laugh when she recounted receiving this feedback from a state worker who was asked to evaluate her job performance.
“That’s how you get things done,” Bluemle explained in an interview with Emerge Vermont. You engage with others– and then get to work.
Bluemle, a 2020 Emerge Bootcamp alumna, is running for State Representative in Burlington’s South End. She is a first-time candidate, and has been a leader and advocate in Vermont for many years. Bluemle was the Executive Director of Vermont Works for Women for seventeen years and has directed Change The Story VT for the last five. She has served as a board member at several organizations: The Public Assets Institute, The Vermont Energy Investment Corporation, and The Vermont Council on Rural Development. While Bluemle has a lot to offer, she insists that her campaign is not about her.
“I want to be a conduit for the lived experience, and the good ideas of folks not just in my district…and try to bring those to the fore,” Bluemle said. “That’s difficult in this current situation.”
From widespread Zoom fatigue to social distancing obstacles, campaigning during a pandemic is not an easy feat.
“Having contact with people is kind of the theme of our time right now: how do we have meaningful contact with people so that we understand where they are and what’s on their minds?” Bluemle posed.
I want to be a conduit for the lived experience.
As someone who describes her work style as “intensely collaborative”, talking to as many community members as possible is integral for Bluemle. To engage with voters, Bluemle has set up honk-and-waves, neighborhood parades, and backyard get-togethers. She even teamed up with the Lake Champlain Chocolates ice cream truck to visit neighborhoods together to meet voters over ice cream. Years of experience bringing people together equipped her well for this new challenge.
In 2015, Bluemle worked to unite Vermont gender equality organizations to start Change The Story VT, an initiative designed to align their initiatives to fast-track the economic well-being of women. Since launching this initiative, Change The Story has collected and published data revealing gender disparities in Vermont, and created programs to help workplaces become more inclusive and equitable.
Before working in nonprofit and social services fields, Bluemle was a high school history teacher. Her roots as an educator combined with her work in gender equality and the criminal justice system (as part of her work with Vermont Works for Women) means that she has seen the real challenges that Vermonters face, and knows what tangible change would look like.
“We already have a lot of systems set up to support people, but [that also] set people up to fail…because the original intent of the policy has been lost, or we don’t have the skillset that we need to do the work,” Bluemle said. “That’s not effective government, [and] it’s not a good use of our money. Until we hear more of the stories of folks who have wrestled with those systems and been hurt by them, they’re hidden from us.”
By “systems”, Bluemle is referring to the ways in which Vermont and its social services programs address inequalities and aid individuals. Vermonters affected by racism, poverty, environmental injustice, food insecurity, and other harmful issues deserve to be heard: and Bluemle has plans to make it happen.
“I think Zoom has enabled us to see that we don’t have to ask people to leave work in the middle of the day to go testify in Montpelier,” Bluemle said. In addition to using technology to expand access to the statehouse, she also suggested that legislators adjust their working hours to accommodate Vermonters who work all day.
To Bluemle, making sure all voices are heard isn’t just part of a Representative’s job; it is their job. And Bluemle says she is ready for it.
“I really [do] want to be on the other side of the table this time,” Bluemle said. “Especially now, because of what’s happened in recent months and the choices we’re going to make, and the ways in which those choices are going to define who and what we value.”
An important part of Bluemle’s campaign experience was Emerge’s June Bootcamp.
“I think that it grounded me in some of the basics involved in running a campaign,” Bluemle said. “The most important part of the program for me was hearing other people tell their stories, why they were running, what was difficult for them, what they were finding really exciting or interesting.”
Emerge is so grateful to have Bluemle as a part of our program, and we are excited to see what issues she will shed light on and the voices she will amplify wherever she goes. We know that no matter what the future holds, one thing about Bluemle is set in stone: she knows how to get things done.