Erin Schrode is a social activist by choice and a politician by chance. But just because Schrode isn’t a natural politician doesn’t mean she isn’t suited for the job. In fact, it probably makes her more qualified.
While Schrode is known for her activism and veganism, her star also is rising in the political sphere. Why? Because she supports smart environmental policy, fights for the little guy, and believes in supporting women of all ages—oh, and she’s only 25 and running for Congress in California’s District 2.
EcoSalon recently interviewed Schrode about what got her into activism to begin with, why she’s now a politician, and her ideas about how young people can get involved with issues they are passionate about.
Image via Lauren Angueira
EcoSalon: When did you get into activism?
Erin Schrode: I’ve been an activist my entire life. I’m a proud co-founder of Turning Green, a nonprofit that was started 11 years ago.
I got involved because Marin County, the place where I was born and raised, had the highest breast, prostate, and melanoma cancer rates in the world—that didn’t sit right with me. When this study came out, linking the ingredients in personal care products to cancer, birth defects, and reproductive harm, I suddenly felt large issues, [such as] health epidemics, climate change, environmental toxins, and public health, were relevant—even to 13-year-olds.
What struck me most was the fact that there was no government oversight. There was no regulation at all and that was the inspiration to start Turning Green. We started from a grassroots, solution-oriented approach. That was the best response we could have as 13-year-olds! We worked with high school and college students to inspire, educate, and mobilize.
But after literally decades of doing this, working on projects, spending time studying, and looking through an environmental lens by visiting Ghana to work on recycling infrastructure in public schools, the Middle East to build an environmental curriculum for an eco-education center in the Palestinian authority to bring together Israeli and Palestinian youth, I saw the incredible power of environmental education; of individual responsibility to galvanize populations—particularly young people. And I just kept going. I went to Haiti after the earthquake and worked in disaster relief and launched an education project. And I’ve been back and forth to Lesbos, Greece, working with refugees for the past six-eight months, earlier this fall, winter.
EcoSalon: How did activism lead you to politics?
ES: People asked, ‘are you just going to keep going back? are you going to keep doing?’ I said no. We need policy changes and we want the impact to last.
I’m not a politician—I’m an environmentalist, a social entrepreneur, and community organizer—but for me, I saw the need. I gave a speech about two months ago. When I walked off stage, people asked, ‘how do we get you to run for office?’
I don’t fit the mold of someone I think should or could be a politician. However, after talking to friends over that very long week and a half between that speech and the filing deadline, I repeatedly heard, ‘we need that voice in government; we need your voice.’ That’s why I’m running. I believe in a representative democracy. And the decisions we make today will disproportionately affect us. There is so much that needs to be done. So, I did it. I filed and I’m running for Congress.
Image via Lauren Angueira
EcoSalon: What issues are you most passionate about?
ES: Environmental public health is where the lion’s share of my expertise and passion are. We hear a lot about climate mitigation strategies—preparing for the changing climate. But what about reversing the degradation that’s already been done? I have become incredibly passionate about soil, dirt—about what lies beneath our feet. And the opportunity to sequester greenhouse gases into soil, remove atmospheric carbon and put it back where it belongs—in the ground rather than where it acidifies the ocean. We have this unbelievable resource—it’s economically viable, technologically available, and we are not using it to the best of our ability.
But from a policy standpoint—to incentivize that for farmers to use cover crop methods, agroforestry, no-till—I have introduced a very aggressive carbon sequestration timeline to remove atmospheric carbon. I was in France for COP 21 with a lot of groups and panels concerned this incredible idea of carbon farming—of sequestration as a viable option that also benefits farmers. In our district, it is such a huge piece of our economy. I’m excited about that—to coalesce people on a commonsense solution for the common good in D.C.
The other passion is in the public health arena—where I began and became passionate about toxins reform. We haven’t had comprehensive toxins reform in this country since the 1970s. And that affects the most vulnerable populations—children, babies, women, low-income neighborhoods—they often bear the brunt of the largest toxic burden. For me, it’s important to have safety assessments, proper timelines for the banning or removal of hazardous chemicals, chemical data information, proper labeling, and disclosure.
Image via Lauren Angueira
EcoSalon: What is your recommendation to young women who want to get involved and support these types of policies?
ES: Start local. Look in your own backyard. My activism journey began because of a need that I saw in my hometown as a young woman. I didn’t set out to launch a movement, or run for office, or to impact someone a world away—it started with myself, my peers, and my backyard.
I think in a world where there is so much information and an overload of content, an overload of problems—how do we “do”—that act of doing is far too rare in today’s world. And I think we as women, in particular, we should speak up for ourselves. We don’t want to do it—we’re unsure, we wait. We need to just do it—take a risk—start something. Because when you find a solution, guess what? People pay attention to you because that’s noteworthy, applicable, scalable—that’s something you can be proud to stand upon and coalesce people behind.
Ladies, the other thing is: we have to stop tearing each other down. And I mean that. I see it every day in ways that we’re not necessarily even aware of—but women supporting women of all ages, mentorship programs—the deck is stacked against us. We represent 19.4 percent of Congress—that’s not that much better than the 13 percent of engineers. Those numbers have got to change and the only way they will change is if we believe we can fill those positions. So do it. If you’re interested in policy and government, run locally!
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
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Image via Josh LaCunha