Erin Schrode is a citizen activist/environmentalist. Only 25 years old, she recently ran for Congress in California's District 2. This young leader is frequently tapped as an expert for and featured in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, CNN, ABC, NBC, FOX, Seventeen, Forbes, Glamour, and various multimedia outlets. We catch up in a lovely secret garden in NYC to talk women, diversity, and fundraising.
Yulia: [00:00:50] I'm here today with Erin Schrode. She's a citizen activist and she's also the youngest woman to run for Congress in California's District 2. She is a community organizer and a vocal advocate for environmental and public health. The young leader is frequently featured in The New York Times, Vanity Fair. CNN ABC NBC Fox 17 and Forbes Glamour the list goes on. She's a rock star and I'm so glad to have her on the show today.
Erin: [00:01:14] Thanks for having me. I'm happy to be here.
Yulia: [00:01:14] Thank you. Thank you. So this is the question that I always ask my visitors. What was your dream growing up?
Erin: [00:01:24] Growing up I wanted to be on Broadway. I wanted to be an actress and started doing musical theater as a young kid. I absolutely fell in love with that thrill of creating characters and being on stage of performing. I still love it to the day.
Yulia: [00:01:41] So how did you get into activism? How did you make the leap from Broadway to activism?
Erin: [00:01:47] Activism is hardwired into me in my DNA. My mom,when she was pregnant with me, wrote a book called Diet for a Poisoned Planet that in one day completely transformed her entire world and therefore literally that which I was born into. but in 2002 Marin County where I am raised had the highest breast prostate melanoma cancers in the world. And no one knew why. And there wasn't enough money to do the testing. So the supervisors and mom...and that didn't sit right with my mom and she organized a grassroots door to door campaign. They went to 50000 households in one day and asked a very simple question Why. And nothing correlated. It wasn't water it wasn't demographics. And so they started to look at lifestyle choices with UCSS department of epidemiology. And a study came out linking the ingredients in personal care product to Cancer, birth defects and reproductive harm. And suddenly these really far off issues of public health, of climate change, toxins became hyper personal. And I felt that my parents deserve to know. I didn't think that I'd still be on this journey a decade later. We're going to be 12 in January. But I knew I couldn't stand by idly. I knew I had to tell people. So we organized our first meeting and the rest is history.
Yulia: [00:03:01] Moms are great, right?
Yulia: [00:03:03] My mom's my hero. She's, she's my guiding light, my inspiration. She's tenacious. She's a dreamer and she's a doer. She's everything to me. She's a best friend.
Yulia: [00:03:14] My mom was my best friend too it's kind of funny, right? It's really great but it's also really stressful sometimes for me. But it's really a gift. It's a gift. And like I grew up also my grandma my grandma's my best friend too. So I feel so lucky to be able to have those great. Friend relationships with my mentors basically.
Erin: [00:03:32] I do too. She's. She knows everything about me. She knows how to get under my skin and also how to propel me to soar at new heights.
Yulia: [00:03:41] I think that's the goal for a mom right. To just be a guiding light but also be a source of knowledge and friendship. You grow up without a dad, right? Your parents are divorced.
Erin: [00:03:50] My parents are divorced. My dad was in my life, though. I would ping pong back and forth. I am a perfect combination of the two of them. My mom is this activist, this go-getter,this people person. my dad is a genius. He's unbelievably intelligent. Book smart. He's a teacher. He's an academic. He's an intellectual. He's also an athlete. He's a renaissance man. He's a carpenter, he's everything. So I got a lot of skills from both of them as a kid.
Yulia: [00:04:21] That's awesome. That's awesome. Let's discuss your campaign agenda. I really wanted to interview you because you are into environmentalism. So I want to talk about your campaign agenda. How do we get more people interested improving local communities?
Erin: [00:04:37] How do we get people interested in improving local communities? That could be a lifelong quest, right? So the first key pillar of our campaign was around environmental and public health. Why? Because that's my roots that's my background. I think that's hyper-important to the constituents in my district but also it's what I care so passionately about and what I think drives so much of the necessary work we need to affect sweeping change across the board. When I talk about environmental and public health, I talk about toxicity, exposures, how we mitigate risk and put laws into effect to ensure that people don't have these sorts of exposures be it from pesticides and chemicals across the board. But. The environmental health I'm hugely passionate. And it sounds so funny every time I say it I am passionate about dirt. I care for the soil. And the soils is an indicator health, of planetary health. But it's also very very simple way that we can begin to remediate our earth, remediating soils. Taking carbon out of the atmosphere, where it is inherently problematic and putting it back in the soil where it has an unbelievably valuable asset. And that can only be achieved through sustainable agriculture through carbon farming techniques and this rich soil is hugely beneficial to farmers. Organic sustainable agriculture in line with the planet. Planetary health is the answer. It's how we not only prepare for a changing climate and mitigate further risk. It's how we actually reverse the degradation that's already been done. And. I see it in my friends. I mean I push real hard for them to achieve often while I want my friends as you know in the best possible condition and vibrancy they can be and organic has more nutrients, organic is better for you. Organic is better for the planet. We've just seen glyphosate use for example skyrocket in the past. 15-20 years with introduction of GMOs. Glyphosate The World Health Organization classified as a known carcinogen. We wonder why we are toxifying our bodies. Our land our sea our air. And what's happening because of it? Choose organic. Organic agriculture. Is how you save the planet. And I think plant based, too. The single biggest difference you can make in terms of reducing your personal impact on the planet is to get rid of animal products. And I don't expect to whole world to go vegan tomorrow, as delightful as that may sound. But I do expect you to eat more in line with what we're supposed to eat from this planet and that is not factory farming. And these massive and industrial agricultural practices. Period. End of story.
Yulia: [00:07:29] So what is the most difficult part of running for Congress?
Erin: [00:07:34] Gosh. Honestly the run was the best 70 days of my life. I am not a politician. I never thought I would run for office I don't see myself as fitting that mold. Which is ultimately one of the driving factors that people said is why I needed to run. I think the most difficult part was daring to go there. Was daring to do. So I committed to it in filing the forms, in setting up the committee with the FEC and opening a bank account and creating a website. But I wrote this open letter to the world about why, in my right mind a 24 year old woman would have the slightest desire to run especially in the current political landscape. And. I wrote that really to make sense of it for myself so that I had these ideas clear in my own head. But I knew I pressed submit on that post. When I sent the tweet, the instagram, and the facebook that this was real. That this was going out to the world. And there was no going back. And I didn't know what the universe had in store. I couldn't have. Imagined in my wildest dreams. But. That was the most difficult part. And I think that is the part that so many people especially women and especially young people get caught up in and they don't commit. They second guess. They tell themselves a million reasons why they shouldn't run why they should wait. No. You can run. You should run and hopefully you will.
Yulia: [00:09:01] You know that's the biggest thing for women especially when starting businesses too. The statistics say that men just put together some really sloppy business plan and they just come in and they present it and they get funded. And women wait to perfect it. They wait to actually raise money for the product. They wait to show users. And then they presented. But there's a difference between this. Almost like entitlement where men just go for it. And they get it. And women just take too long and we second guess ourselves where we should just be ballsy.
Erin: [00:09:33] You gotta dare to do.
Yulia: [00:09:36] You gotta dare to do. So. We just spoke a little bit about using social media for creating communities and as women we technically have really large communities because we're super social. And when it comes to crowdfunding campaigns, running for Congress, raising money stuff like that that's where women usually excel. How can we use technology to create stronger communities?
Erin: [00:09:56] Technology is an incredible tool, but technology is not an end in and of itself. And I think people get really caught up in thinking that's enough or that what they do in the digital sphere is everything. It's not. It's a way to connect. It's a way to amplify. But. We exist in the real world and if you're not doing anything in the real world its going to be very difficult to connect with other people in digital spheres. So I think it's important to take that concrete action and then to go out either with an idea with a passion to invite people in and then you will respond and then you have a story to tell. I think. Especially in this era of content overload. How do you cut through the crowd with a great story and with strong visuals. And people see that across social media. Our first video came out the first week of our campaign. It got over six and a half million views. And. That took our whole campaign to a new stratosphere. But then you started to see all these people reaching out. Via social media who were inspired. Who wanted to be a part of the movement. It was contagious. But they felt that what we were doing offline carried weight. It's unlike anything we've seen before because lone Warriors individuals and small towns across the country and around the world who don't have those support systems. Can have the digital ones just for them to go further to do more to believe in themselves. That never existed before. That sort of support structure sharing resources of energy of ideas. Of hope. It's a beautiful thing.
Yulia: [00:11:34] Digital inspiration. Yeah it's amazing. I think about this a lot too because you can't just go and create a video. You have to get out there you have to do something. It's about doing something in the real world being very very active in the real world and using the digital to amplify that. So you ran a grassroots crowdfunding campaign. What advice do you have for others for raising funds?
Erin: [00:12:01] You can't raise funds without for funds. And that can be scary that can be daunting, that can be paralyzing. Especially as a woman. In one of the videos I made a very very direct ask for money, for people to donate. And I explained to them why they needed to donate. We needed votes and in order to get votes, you had to reach people. In order to reach people you need communications methods, can make cations methods you needed a great message and to develop a great message you needed amazing people and tools and to hire the people and have the tools, I needed money. And in order to get money I needed you to give money. And so I broke it down and I think that if there's something that Bernie Sanders of Barack Obama's campaigns proved it's that the smaller grassroots donations really can. Move the needle. And the leaves are falling, the planes are flying.
Yulia: [00:13:01] The sirens were going off earlier. It's New York!
Erin: [00:13:02] Raising money is hard! The unexpected comes your way it's challenging you face adversity. People say no. But that's the worst that people can say is no. And I think you'd be shocked at the generosity of the people who came out of the woodwork. Who maxed out. The people who got behind me that I hadn't spoken to in decades. The people who wrote the checks that had never heard of me but believed in my message. I think that telling a story is really really important to pull at people's heartstrings to hit them where they really feel it in order to write that check.. But ask, ask widely,ask openly, ask frequently and ask directly because people often want to help they don't know how and when you break it down and say I need a check from you for $500 and they say I can't do that. I can do 50. And you say. Amazing. Thank you. But you wouldn't have gotten 50 had you not asked and maybe somebody will say 500, I'll do that and my spouse and my child can also do that. There you go, you're well on your way.
Yulia: [00:14:04] I think women have this thing where they're a little scared to ask for money because the money is just such a sensitive topic. And. I think the moment you do that though you realize that it's no longer money it's energy. So you're asking for energy.
Erin: [00:14:18] You're asking for support.
Yulia: [00:14:20] You're asking for support.
Erin: [00:14:20] You're asking for the ability to power a movement or a product development pathway. Or an event or an initiative whatever it is. You are asking for the ability to execute. And that in our day and age comes through funding capital. And that's OK. You need it. Everybody needs it. You can't achieve it. I can't run for office without it. So I was bold and I was brave and I asked. And people stepped up.
Yulia: [00:14:56] That's so interesting because they say that men usually put together like a sloppy proposal and they don't really have a product running. You know they would just go and they will. They just ask for a lot of funds where women just wait too long. And we wait for everything to be perfect. So I think the goal is to just. Just do really great work and ask. And know that you deserve it and you're doing great work and people will support you and they believe in you as long as you keep on doing the great work.
Erin: [00:15:21] Do the work. And ask for money.
Yulia: [00:15:25] It's true. In hindsight. What do you wish you did differently?
Erin: [00:15:29] I wish I had started sooner. Seventy days simply was not long enough to reach enough people to know about our campaign. The most common questions that was asked was "Why don't I know you're on my ballot?" One guy even came up to a bunch of us that were standing on a street corner on Election Day. So proud that he voted, but had never heard of us and said I would have voted for you. Absolutely. Had I known. So it takes a long time. And name recognition wins elections. So I wish I'd had the infrastructure had on day 69 on day one. But I learned. A ton. A ton. It was the greatest education I could have had both in terms of organizing and what it means to run a political campaign but also on the issues. I got a master class in so many different topics. It was so beautiful the way in which people coalesced.
Yulia: [00:16:19] That's awesome. You know they say when you're fundraising you have to plan a campaign six months in advance.
Erin: [00:16:24] At least. Probably eight to 10 months in advance.
Erin: [00:16:27] There is. This humongous learning curve. You just get a data download basically when you actually do a project. And. Now. For the next time you know like 5000 more things now the whole thing is just do. Just do and learn and do again. Just do and learn. Reiterate It's almost like.
Erin: [00:16:44] Fail. Fail fast. Learn from your failures and make them into the next success.
Yulia: [00:16:50] So what's been the hardest part of getting support from elected officials and political organizations in California.
Erin: [00:16:57] I was essentially persona non grata with the Democratic Party because I ran against an incumbent Democrat and you just don't do that. I learned. As i put quotes in the air, right? We need to challenge the status quo. Demo on Dem races pushes the party pushes the incumbent pushes other candidates in a better direction. And I'll tell you. The party didn't even acknowledge my candidacy. No organizations would consider endorsing me. It was a rude awakening. Here I was putting myself out there for so many organizations. Especially the ones that supposedly exist with the sole purpose of encouraging women or young people to run. They'd tell me nice but they're not endorsing my race or OK fine or slam doors in my face or not answering emails or phone calls. It was challenging. It was disheartening. It was dismaying not to have that support. But June 8th, suddenly the Democratic party was very interested in me as the future of the Dem's. Suddenly a lot of elected officials were willing to take those meetings or phone calls. It's all a game and it's a massive and massive system. And I have never been much good at waiting my turn and just delved into it and. Didn't get the support of some people because of that. But now. Everybody's really happy that I ran. And wants me to run again in just they want me to go and flip a red seat blue.
Yulia: [00:18:34] You ran into personal attacks as well as anti-Semitism on the campaign trail. Those are both really hard things to talk about actually. And. I think a podcast is a great way to bring that up and maybe segue that into the current political climate and everything else that's happening. Things are just like bubbling up.
Erin: [00:18:54] I. I haven't lived in a bubble my whole life. But. I had never been the targe of. Any sort of horrific derogatory racist attacks or attacks on any grounds of race or ethnicity of gender. I was appalled. I woke up five days before my campaign to hundreds of messages. From the alt right from this group of people that have been fueled by Trup and by his despicable nature by his unwillingness to flat out condemn this behavior. This rhetoric. I'm Jewish. I'm half Jewish. My mother's Jewish. And two articles came out saying that I was Jewish. That simple fact. And they absolutely desecrated me because of that. Fire up the ovens, you evil cunt. We're going to gang rape you and bash your bagel eating brains in and laugh with glee. unspeakable pure evil. And my first reaction was first reaction was horrified, but hen I said maybe this is commonplace. Maybe this is the sorts of attacks that come your way when you put yourself out there when you run. The FBI quickly assured me these were not common place. That this is nothing they'd ever seen directed at a candidate before. And they didn't stop. I was told by my team this wasn't the time to speak out against it. This wasn't the message I needed to be sending. And so I sat on it for 24 hours and I said I can't shut up. I've never been one to stand by idly. I'd have spoken up and spoken out on behalf of so many other groups. That have been targeted or persecuted. Now it's not just my people it's me. It's so hyper personal. And. The posts that I wrote I wrote on Facebook got a lot of attention went viral and people thanked me for speaking up for calling. It's 2016 and anti-Semitism is alive and well in the United States of America and around the world. And people can ignore that the same way. That people can ignore that we have the most horrific racial relations in our country in decades. The way that people can't ignore that there is, you know, horrible discrimination against women happening here and now we're seeing that in the current news cycle. And I think you know there's this this old poet. Poem that came out after the Holocaust about first they came for the "fill in the blank" and I didn't defend it because it wasn't me and then they came for this and then they came for so and so and then they came for the Jews and then they came for me and there was no one left to defend me. And I think that there is some of this. Well it's not me it's not my people and people just, "well you know... Trump made derogatory comments about Mexicans as drug lords and rapists. Yeah. You know Trump made derogatory comments about Muslims. Yeah Trump made derogatory comments about POWs. About Gold Star families. About disabled people. About women. About fill in the blank. And when you have a man like that leading a political party the Republican nominee poised if they get their way, the president of the United States. I mean, I put my head in my hands. And I can't even fathom that sort of reality. It's toxic. His most comments about women Don't be fooled. They are indefensible. The fuels a culture of sexual violence and gender discrimination, of physical harassment, of rape culture. This man is a bigot. He is a predator. He's a monster. And I will condemn it left and right because the fact that people are still voting for him or planning to vote for him in this election appalls me. I am ashamed of where our country is going. I think it is dangerous. And I'll tell you this alt right that he is fueling. These white supremacist racist sexists have targeted me. I know what that feels like, unfortunately. And I'm not going to back down. I haven't let it defeat me. I've let it light a fire under me and turned it on its head. I made some very conscious choices not to call it out on social media to further fuel it. But me speaking out anytime. I'm now their hissing weasel. They love me. Its sick.
Yulia: [00:23:40] It's crazy. I look at everything that's happening and I just get so frustrated. But then I start looking at it on the flip side thinking you know what. This is the unveiling. It's all the stuff that's been sitting there and bubbling and hasn't really come to the surface and then all of a sudden somebody turned on the heat and all of the stuff is just bubbling. And it's a way to address it and go, this is not ok.
Erin: [00:24:09] I hope so. And if that's a legacy of the Trump campaign that our country finally comes to terms with the crisis we have around sexual assault. 30 million plus people have joined this conversation around. It's not ok. #notokay on Twitter. We're seeing so many brave souls come out and tell these stories. I haven't. It's not something that I'm ready to tell or to talk about. I call up my mom and I said hey mama and then I spoke and she spoke and we cried and talked about that this is the current state of being a woman today. that we are subjected to this sexual assault. That it's normalized. It's dismissed as mere locker room talk. And it's it is not OK. And we have to own that. And men have to own that and I'm really grateful to see so many athletes and so many powerful men come out and absolutely denounce it. To see so many members of the Republican party say No, this crosses the line. I wish they'd said it for the many horrible things that Trump has said in the past but they finally reached that point.
Yulia: [00:25:17] I think that's probably the most important thing that can come out of this election. The fact that women have a voice and we can use it on social media and we can band together and go it's not ok.
Erin: [00:25:28] It's not OK and it's not just women. You saw it in the debates that the Muslim hashtag around Muslims reporting. I think the most retweeted debate was his Muslim reporting crazy man threatening woman on stage in Missouri. So, you know, Muslims coming together and realizing their collective power. Women coming together and realizing their collective power. Latinos, all of these immigrants that are saying no we are not illegal. A human being cannot be illegal. And raising their voice. To see African Americans together. To see all of us coming together across these racial lines against hatred because it's the same sort of targets that just, you know, have a different person that they're attacking at the moment.
Yulia: [00:26:07] You know I've got a crowdfunding platform for women and diversity and I always say that everybody is similar and we have the same adversities. Even white men have adversities. You know we all do but it's all about common respect and giving everybody equal opportunity. And that's all we ask for. We just want to respected. Everybody wants an equal chance. The main question is are you going to run again?
Erin: [00:26:27] Yes I'm gonna run again. I've never done something where I felt more relevant. Where I felt I could have more of an impact, where i could catalyze more change. Where people coalesce with such urgency around one goal, around one mission. I see my peers, my friends the smartest most capable people I know, changing the world through disruptive startup models and business taking me to new heights. Using non-profits in ways we've never before seen. Where is that innovative thinking in politics? It doesn't exist, but when too many of us are excluded ignored disenfranchised discriminated against, left on the sidelines, we have to organize in Washington D.C. We have to invest in our political structure and putting better people into office and putting people that better represent our generation. Thirty five percent of our country is under the age of 30. 51 percent are women. We've never had a woman under 30 elected to national office. We have no one serving under 30 today. It's not just about age. It's not just about gender it's about representations it's about who has a pulse on the present and the future of the state. So I'm bringing that innovative thinking that disruptive spirit that entrepreneurial ideals into politics for our generation and for the nation.
Yulia: [00:27:52] I know that the U.S. House of Representative only has 84 women out of a total of 435 members and none are under the age of 30. It's astounding.
Erin: [00:28:03] It's astounding. It has to change. And. Progressive female voices are lacking and desperately needed and we need more young people who haven't been entrenched in this power structure for decades to enter the arena to work together to build those bridges and to rise in power you know change the government and change the world.
Yulia: [00:28:27] So the final question is what is your dream now.
Erin: [00:28:31] My dream is to. I have so many dreams. My dream truly is to inspire educate and mobilize young people to lead the change in their lives on their campuses and their communities towards a more sustainable just healthy planet for all. And I think the way that I can best do that is at this intersection of media and policy. It's always been about purpose not position for me. That's my lifelong mission. And I think that I can best achieve that by working with young people with these malleable minds that are not yet set in their ways. Don't blindly accept the status quo. So for me to be able to have that opportunity with the next generation with people younger even and then I. To turn them into conscious active citizens. Is. A. Privilege. And a responsibility
Yulia: [00:29:35] So where can people follow you online and what is your website?
Erin: [00:29:39] My name is Erin Schrode and it's really easy. It's erinschrode.com. Erin Schrode on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Skype, Snapchat, All the things. I'm the only Erin Schrode in the world so I got all the handles.
Yulia: [00:29:56] You are indeed. And we're so grateful for that.
Erin: [00:30:01] Well. I'm just trying to do my part. One more human being thats trying to tread lightly. Make others come along on the journey.
Yulia: [00:30:05] It takes one candle to light others. be the light spread the light. Have a beautiful day and I'm just so excited for all the work that you're going to do in the future.
Erin: [00:30:15] World changing to come together.
Yulia: [00:30:17] Seriously.