“I was one of those little girls who used to dream of being president. Maybe this is how it starts.”
I read these words in a Facebook post by Emily Marburger, mayoral candidate for the township of Bellevue, Pa., near Pittsburgh, when she shared her story of what inspired her to start a career in politics.
Like so many, she was recently spurred to action by a change in our country’s direction. Seeing ideals that she disagreed with becoming a focus for our forward steps was disheartening. Plus, she had spent several years helping the under-served, low-income families, as a banker in her hometown, and wondered if what she foresaw on the horizon would truly benefit all of us.
As a child, Marburger first thought she might want to be president when she understood “how the president could actually impact the world. I was past the age where I thought the president was like a superhero,” from the stories we heard about George Washington chopping down a cherry tree. “I was probably between 10 and 12, and I knew that our president could really make a difference,” she said.
But that was the last time she thought about it until recently. Why?
“I didn’t know the path to take,” Marburger explained. “I didn’t have guidance or resources for that career, but everything I did ended up preparing me anyway.”
Marburger’s foray into political involvement was before she could even vote. In 2004, she said that her political mindset began to take shape. She had witnessed what four years under President Bush had done to our nation both at home and as a world power (plummeting economy, poor foreign relations, and more involvement in conflicts abroad.), and she wasn’t pleased. So Marburger actively campaigned against him when she was just 15 years old. Voicing her beliefs in the conservative area where she grew up, Saxonburg, Pa., was brave, and she didn’t think it had much impact. But she knew she had to speak out and be a part of the political process. It’s one of our rights and privileges as Americans.
In college, Marburger majored in journalism, but she remained interested in politics. For the school paper, she covered the 2008 election and attended the G20 summit in Pittsburgh in 2009 as a student reporter. With the tough economic times of the years surrounding her graduation in 2010, however, Marburger was unable to find a position in journalism and instead entered the banking industry. This was when she got a glimpse of how the lower class lived.
“I worked with people in low- to moderate-income areas,” Marburger said, “and I was shocked to see what they had to do to survive.” Not only did she help them improve their credit scores and balance their checkbooks. “People on social security would ask me to help them decide which bill they didn’t have to pay that month.” They couldn’t pay for water, gas, electric, groceries, and everything else every month, so they had to rotate through utilities so they wouldn’t miss too many payments and have them turned off. No one should have to make decisions like that.
When she saw the results of the election in November, she was blindsided.
The day after the election, she joined others on Facebook discussing the results, and she met two people from the Pittsburgh area with whom she shared views. They met up to commiserate, but the meeting “quickly evolved into a group that focused on countering the negative rhetoric of the president.”
The group called themselves “Pittsburgh for Progress,” and as the group rapidly grew, they got involved in many national issues. Not only have they participated in the Women’s March and town halls with our representatives in Washington and raised money for Planned Parenthood, but they also provide resources for people in the Pittsburgh area who want to run for office.
Marburger, herself, decided to run for mayor a short time after starting the group. She knew that her experience working with citizens of the area, running community projects, and with her MBA training made her more than qualified. She encourages others to join the process, as well.
“We need to connect more with our representatives,” Marburger said, “but we don’t even have acceptable voter turnout.” It is typically around 10% in Bellevue. “Everyone needs to be involved at some level: voting, running for office, talking with representatives. Many of us were lulled into an idea of being safe over the past several years, but now we have to get involved in our system of government.”
As an example, she mentioned climate change. With all the peer-reviewed research supporting the idea that humans are negatively impacting our planet with excess carbon from fossil fuel use, much of our country finally understood what was happening. “We have to keep pushing forward with cleaner energy use. But that’s not the direction our leaders want to go, so we have to speak up.”
Being a young politician is challenging, but Marburger has been inspired by “the women coming out and sharing their stories. They encourage me. Women have told me about burning bras, being the first female scientist in a laboratory, and so much more.” These women thought they did enough in their time as pioneers in their fields and trailblazers in women’s rights, and they are happy that someone is there to “carry the torch that shouldn’t have to exist.” Marburger said that we have to “keep the momentum up so we don’t become complacent.”
Motivated by her desire to do better, Marburger’s focus is on fostering improvement in the community. How? She strives to understand the underserved and marginalized. “People shouldn’t be going to bed hungry. We should be able to design a system that benefits the whole community, not just certain groups.”
The support for her ideas of how a community should function began with her family. Both her parents have always backed her in achieving her dreams. Despite differences in political opinions with her father, Marburger said that he cooked hot dogs for a trash pickup that she organized. Her husband left his comfort zone to knock on doors and talk to crowds about her goals.
Mentors have stepped forward, as well, to help Marburger achieve her vision. People like Mayor Bill Peduto of Pittsburgh and Mayor Rich Rizmack of nearby Plum have advised her on where to campaign or initiatives to look at as mayor. She is grateful for everyone who has helped.
Because politics can be such a stressful and conflict-ridden field, I asked how she keeps balanced and in control when faced with difficult situations or negativity, but Marburger said that these things don’t impact her much. “Growing up in a conservative area and speaking out there trained me to accept negative reactions to my political views. They have been normalized. Nothing has been so negative that it’s become a hurdle, yet.”
Marburger is among a growing number of women seeking public office. By “growing,” I mean “explosive.” When you look at elected officials today, a minimal number are women—from regional to state to national offices. Current numbers hover around 20% for mayors of the 100 largest U.S. cities, mayors of cities with a population over 30,000, State Senate, U.S. Senate, U.S. House, and Congress. The State Legislature and State House numbers are slightly better at roughly 25%. To better represent the diversity of the population, we need more women to run for office. “Our voices need to be present in discussions and decision making. For example, women on a committee would speak up about how women are discriminated against in the workplace and why an act needs to stay in place to protect them.”
Since the election, seminars, online courses, and groups that work with women to teach them how to run for office have been inundated with requests for advice. Although the numbers do not directly indicate commitment, it’s clear that there is a change in the way women intend to deal with the disparity in representation.
Women’s issues seem to be particularly under fire right now, and the quote Marburger chose for her sign for the recent Women’s March is a call to action: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are not my own.” — Audre Lorde
For those with political aspirations, Marburger advises to “just keep persisting, push forward.” She said that she had a difficult time finding the information she needed to learn how to pursue election to public office. However, the elections office in your city (in Pittsburgh it’s downtown near the county courthouse) is the place to start. She recommends finding information on voter registration and what is required for you to run for office in your area. Local Democratic and Republican committees are supposed to find people to run for office and provide them with resources, but many of the committees do not function the way they are intended. In person, contact and phone calls work best.
The right support is essential, too. “Seek people who will encourage you in your path. It’s always worth it to speak up for what you believe in and build a better community, so just keep trying.”
To discover more about Emily Marburger, follow her on Facebook at Emily Marburger for Mayor. Visit www.MarburgerforMayor.com for a list of events to help improve the community and get to know her.