Students Discuss Political Engagement with State Rep. Tiff Bluemle

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Tiff Bluemle. Photo: tiffbluemle.com

Julia Keeton, Staff Writer

On January 11th at 3:30 pm, 11 BHS students gathered over Zoom to speak to State House Representative Tiff Bluemle. The Student Political Engagement Committee (SPEC) organized the meeting to discuss improving student political engagement.

“If you mention a local candidate’s name, for the most part [students will] be like ‘Oh I’ve seen them on signs. I don’t know who they are,’” SPEC member and BHS senior Alex Wick said in his introduction to the group. 

Though students may not know her, Bluemle wants to know them. 

“I love talking with young people,” she said. “I see this as part of my job.”

Bluemle agreed to participate in the January 11 discussion after receiving an email from SPEC member Lily Besaw. Bluemle represents the Chittenden 6-5 District in the Vermont State House of Representatives and began her first term on January 6, 2021. She previously served as the executive director of the Vermont Works for Women Fund (VWW). She also founded and continues to be involved with VWW’s partner organization, Change the Story. As part of their work in assisting women and girls gain economic independence, Change the Story partnered with the BHS girls soccer team last year for their successful #equalpay T-shirt campaign

The T-shirt campaign proved BHS students are interested in political action. However, most of those present in the Zoom call did not seem to have much faith in politicians. When Bluemle asked what words they associated with the term, students typed in the chat, among other words, “bigot,” “special interest,” “corrupt,” and “elite.”

This cynicism does not deter BHS senior Ariel Felcan from continuing to advocate for social justice.  

“Policy makers are the ones that have the ability to enact lasting change and equity,” she said. 

SPEC works to ensure that students realize they have this ability as well. 

“I think that SPEC has definitely given me a bit of perspective on the ability that we have to change things and influence change locally,” BHS senior and SPEC member Emilia Bloch said. “I feel like in a lot of bigger issues, I feel a little powerless, but SPEC has informed me a lot about local and state issues.”

SPEC members at the 2019 Youth Climate Congress. Photo: Courtesy Ariel Felcan

BHS senior Tula Adie, also a member of SPEC, said the group has volunteered at the polls and represented BHS at events like the 2019 Youth Climate Congress, where students from across the state traveled to Montpelier with the goal to draft legislation combating climate change.

Bluemle said she is “constantly wrestling” with how to reach more people and engage them in the political process. In an effort to achieve this, she attends Neighborhood Planning Association meetings and has her campaign material translated from English into Somali and Nepali. She is also currently partnering with Democracy Creative, a nonprofit organization that works to “create tools, art, and experiences that help build a more inclusive and effective democracy.” 

Felcan lauded Bluemle’s improvements to her campaign’s accessibility.

“I think if you don’t have your own drive to get involved [in politics], it’s really hard to,” Felcan said. “…I think it should be more mainstream for kids to keep up with politics, especially local politics, because those can directly affect you.”

SPEC meets every Tuesday from 3:30 to 4:30 at the ONE community center on Allen St. To get involved, email Ariel Felcan at [email protected]