25-Year-Old Erin Schrode Wants to Become the Youngest Woman Elected to Congress
When Erin Schrode announced her plans to run for Congress, she wasn't trying to make history — the 25-year-old activist would be the youngest women to be elected to the House. All she wanted was to make a positive change in her community by representing California's 2nd District. Schrode has devoted over a decade to bettering the world. There's no texting 90999 to donate $10 to the Red Cross and calling it a day. After a devastating earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, she traveled to Port-au-Prince to assist in the relief effort and founded The Schoolbag, a youth education project that brings school supplies to students. She's made multiple trips to Greece to help Syrian, Afghan, and Iraqi refugees, helped plan urban recycling infrastructure in Ghana, and developed an environmental curriculum for Palestine, Israel, and Jordan (an initiative conceived while Schrode was studying abroad in Israel).
Schrode now serves as a consultant focused on environmental sustainability, and she was recognized by the White House as a “a dynamic, passionate and ambitious young woman committed to creating big change everywhere she goes." Her dedication to public service began at an early age, when, at 11-years-old, she watched her mother champion a public health campaign to investigate the skyrocketing breast, prostate, and melanoma cancer rates in their Marin County, California community. Inspired by her mother's efforts, Schrode soon launched her own initiative to identify and combat issues facing the global public. In 2005 — as a teenager — she founded Turning Green, a non-profit dedicated to educating and advocating environmentally sustainable and socially responsible choices for individuals, schools, and communities.
Unsurprisingly, environmental stewardship is a cornerstone of Schrode's campaign. Launched on March 29 in a personal essay published on Medium, Schrode announced her candidacy by committing to "deliver on the promise of my generation." In addition to combating climate change, Schrode is running on a progressive platform that highlights providing affordable health care, improving education, and forging gender and pay equity. We caught up with her ahead of the California primary to talk about her decision to run, how her message has resonated with voters, and how she would spend her first days in office.
Glamour: Tuesday is the big day...how are you feeling?
Erin Schrode: It's amazing. [I'm running on] too little sleep, but [I’m] absolutely energized. I'm so grateful for all the support this weekend. Our team was out all over the district and people are really excited about what we're doing. Our message resonates. There's momentum behind the movement. People are voting — we're getting pictures in of [early voter] ballots. I'm very energized for tomorrow. It feels so right. It feels like we are doing what needs to be done at this moment in history. I’m sorry — you caught me in a moment where I’m feeling really grateful. I'm proud of what we’re building.
Glamour: You have a long history of activism and working toward bettering the community. What motivated you to run for office? And what motivated you to do so now?
ES: Public service is a lifelong endeavor for me. I founded a nonprofit 11 years ago. I’ve worked around the world and in the United States, taking on social justice issues, taking on climate action, taking on public health, education, gender equity, and coming up against broken policy time and time again. At a time when our political system is at such an excessively scary precipice — where fear-based culture is dominating, where there is such a sharp divide, where nothing is progressing — we need new voices in government in a more acute way than ever before.
I do not fit the mold of who I think of when I think of a politician. But people [have told me] that’s exactly why we need [my] voice. We need a body of elected representatives that better represents the fabric of our country. I firmly believe that progressive female voices result in better policies. You see the positive impact that women have on corporations. You see the numbers. You see the proof. You don’t have those numbers in government because we’ve never seen that many women in government in our country. We are 51 percent of the population but 19.4 percent of Congress. The decisions being made today will disproportionately affect [my generation] and we have no voice at the decision-making table We are the ones architecting the job landscape. We are the ones [making] the decisions of today and tomorrow. Who better to design, shape, and implement the policies than us?
Glamour: What kind of challenges have you faced starting and organizing your campaign? How have the people in your district responded?
ES: I literally launched it alone from my desk in my home town. I wrote a letter to the world about why on Earth a then-24-year-old woman would run for Congress because I needed to wrap my own head around it. I wrote it, I posted a tweet, I shared it on Facebook, and immediately received a deluge of support. There are always going to be people who will put you down. There are always going to be those naysayers and that negative energy but the chorus of positive voices has finally drowned that out.
A young woman wrote [to tell me] I inspired her. I got a note from a mother about what my campaign means to her daughter and that I've shown her daughter that it's possible to follow her dreams. I get tears in my eyes. I get chills reading [these letters]. But when you get down to the issues and the things that are going to make or break our campaign, that where I've spent the bulk of my time. I've worked on policy at a county, state, and federal level. I’m an activist and a mobilizer. You want to talk about climate action? I have concrete solutions about carbon farming. You want to talk to about toxins? Let's speak about comprehensive toxin reform for the most vulnerable members of the population, particularly women and underprivileged children. Education and jobs? Who better to speak about the future of learning and work than someone who graduated three years ago feeling the burden of student debt, who knows what it takes to navigate and enter the job landscape with relevant skills today? That's what’s turning on voters left and right in our district.
Glamour: Your primary opponent Representative Jared Huffman has accused you of playing "identity politics" and using your age and gender as reasons for people to vote for you. How do you respond to comments like this from him or others who are trying to dismiss you because you are a 25-year-old woman running for office?
ES: There is so much more substance to our campaign where my experience, expertise, and passion shine through more than my age and my gender. However, those are inextricable pieces of my identity. Those do affect the path I’ve lived, the path I’m living, and the path I will live. They inform my everyday [decisions] and they change dramatically how other people respond to me. I have taken agency and ownership [of my age and gender], but it is not alone a reason that people should vote for me and don't let that be lost on anyone. For someone to call out — particularly an older man — a young women for being young and being a woman [is preposterous]. I don’t want a country that’s run by hundreds young women, but I believe there is a place for us [in government]. We need something different. We need something new. And I am running to bring a new generation of voices into the fold and work with people of all generations. I am a huge proponent of mentorship and partnership and learning from each other. That means [working with] people who have decades of experience. But don’t discredit the experience I do have because of the era in which I have raised, educated, and begun work.
Glamour: How have other young women reacted to your campaign? There aren't enough women in office, let alone young women. Are they excited by the prospect of their voice being represented or have you encountered any skepticism?
ES: Young women, by and large, have been so supportive. I feel this outpouring from my peers. I’ve heard from so many women all around the world. The idea that, “If she can do it, I can do it”—that catalyzes a whole generation. I [hope] that women all across the country feel it possible to run for and hold elected office.
Glamour: Congress has a record low approval rating but voters seem to feel stuck when it comes to voting members out of office. Do you see your campaign as a way to change that?
ES: Absolutely. Our generation is the most collaborative, the most well connected, the most well-informed we've ever seen. We have not spent decades entrenched in [stagnant] power and we are more willing to work across the aisle. As those bonds rise, so, too, will that synergy and that camaraderie. I spoke to the chief of staff to the youngest congresswoman to date who happens to be a Republican — Elise Stefanik of upstate New York. Her chief of staff was the first staff member of any elected official to take a call with me because her whole office was excited by the fact that I was running. That excites me because while we might not see eye to eye on the issues, we recognize the need for greater representation and more [female] voices in federal politics.
Glamour: This election cycle seems to be themed around "anti-establishment" candidates. As a 25-year-old making her first bid for office and using social media to not only spread her message but engage voters, would you identify yourself as someone who's going against the grain?
ES: For sure. I’m not afraid to say that. I’m a disrupter. I’m a challenger. I’m an outsider. The only reason that we can mount such a campaign is because of the power of digital media that we’re leveraging at a fraction of the price for a far greater reach. Nobody took us seriously when we first started. A 24-year-old announcing her campaign two months before the primary who hasn’t held elected office? That sort of thing goes against the establishment and the DNC-endorsed incumbent, who, when we launched, was sitting on half a million dollars [in campaign funding]. He now has over $600,000 and we have over $60,000—it’s 10-1 odds stacked against us. But we are pushing him in a positive and more effective direction, having him talk about issues that we’ve brought to the table.
Glamour: Speaking of campaign finance, what has fundraising been like for campaign?
ES: It’s hard. Is that too honest? [Laughs.] Campaign finance reform was not on my radar screen when we launched this campaign. It’s now central pillar of our campaign. It’s a barrier to accomplishing any sort of change. The amount of money you need to raise in order to simply be competitive is insane. I'm expected to spend hours upon hours dialing for dollars when I could be out talking to constituents about the issues that matter, engaging people in discussion, learning, visiting, any number of things. That just doesn't work for me. A lot of the money has come from small-dollar grassroots donations. The cap is $2,500 and there have been some very generous individuals who have maxed out. We haven't received any — I just signed a pledge with Greenpeace — fossil fuel lobby money. We haven't received any PAC money at all. I’m really proud it's a people-powered campaign. We are making every dollar go a long, long way.
Glamour: You're a master of social media but what is it like when the darker side of these platforms is revealed — specifically, when it was recently utilized to post your personal contact information and prompted a flood of anti-semitic messages attacking you for your platform and your Jewish faith?
ES: It hurts. It really does. I did not walk into this campaign naive. I don’t think politics is a clean and pretty game. I did not honestly expect such attacks of pure hatred on my being. I was appalled. And other people have been appalled. This isn't just about anti-semitism. This is representative of an uptick in hate rhetoric that we've seen throughout this election cycle. Honestly, I'm rendered speechless and if I looked at everything it would leave me in tears. That's not to generate any sort of pity party, I don't need sympathy. This is the last thing I want to be dealing with literally the day before the election. But, so it goes. When you stand up for your values and you put yourself out there and you have a certain identity. People are attacked every day in far more violent and detrimental ways on the basis of race, on the basis of religion, on the basis gender — on any number of factors. And I’ve never felt that [before] and now I am. It's made me believe in what I’m doing all that much more because we need people to take a stand against hatred and discrimination.
Glamour: You've said you want to deliver on the promise of our generation. What do you think are the biggest challenges facing young people today? And how do they relate to society as a whole?
ES: We’re not that different than any generation in the past. We’re a product of our times using the tools of our times. I am a young person and I talk to my peers. You hear about the crippling burden of student debt, of graduating from college with a diploma that doesn't mean as much as it used to mean, of graduating with tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. It affects what job you take; it affects where you live. Maybe you move home and then it’s a financial burden on your family. There is no way to refinance this debt in a way you can refinance any other debt. Then you enter the workforce without the relevant and required skills. When we are not able to fill the jobs that are available in our country, that represents a problem. Relevant skill training and lifelong learning are huge issues [I will address]. And I’m an environmentalist, so I want to talk about climate change. Climate change is happening at a faster pace than anyone expected. The sea level is rising in half the time [it was expected to rise]. That’s not generations away. The varying frequency of these natural disaster is a huge burden upon our infrastructure.
Glamour: Let's flash forward to January 2017. Everything's gone great, you're now a member of Congress representing California's District 2. What are the first measures you'd take as a representative?
ES: Just so you know, I’m smiling ear to ear right now. Thank you for putting that image in my head. One of the first things is passing paid leave. That’s something that has to happen. We’re the only industrialized nation without it. That’s integral to my role as a woman, as a mother (someday, I hope), and for fathers and children. It has to happen.
Right now when people talk about climate change, the most frequent things they talk about are mitigating further disasters and mitigating further situations-capping emissions, not polluting as much, making sure we don’t cause more damage. What if we could sequester and take out of the atmosphere the greenhouse gases that are already there? What would that mean? The answer literally lies beneath our feet: It’s soil. If we can figure out a way to parse the carbon dioxide from the air and put it back in the soil, it becomes incredibly beneficial and makes the soil richer for farming and agriculture. We can incentivize carbon farming to sequester greenhouse gases. It’s economically viable, technologically viable, and it makes sense for the economy, for farmers, and for environmentalists. Those are my two top things, as well as student debt. We have to allow for people to refinance that 100 percent. We need to establish some type of student loan forgiveness program through national service.
Obviously, I don’t think I'm going to snap my fingers and magically think this will happen. But I'm going to fight. I'm going to keep fighting, and I am not going to stop.
Glamour: And finally, what would you say is your campaign theme song?
ES: Can I take Beyonce "Run the World"? It's an anthem. I love it. I love the way she's redefining what's possible. We need more powerful female role models that put out there that they're proud and they're a woman.
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Photo Credit: Erin Schrode