Erin Schrode has spent her life as an activist, community organizer, and advocate for environmental action, social justice, public health, and responsible consumption. She has done more in her 25 years then most have in a lifetime. And now Erin is setting out to make history by running for California's 2nd congressional district which includes the counties of Del Norte, Humboldt, Trinity, Mendocino, Sonoma and Marin. If elected to public office, Schrode would become the youngest woman voted into Congress and, after speaking to her, if anyone can do it, she can.
What are your qualifications to run for Congress?
Eleven years ago, I co-founded the environmental advocacy group Turning Green which operates programs to inspire, educate, and mobilize the next generation in an effective and relevant manner. I've worked on concrete legislation in the county, state, and federal level with a coalition of stakeholders (businesses, scientists, journalists, the public, school administrations, across party lines and backgrounds) to accomplish solutions for the greater good on everything from agriculture to green chemistry, from toxins in baby toys to food safety labeling, to carcinogens in everyday products. And I’ve been on the front lines on environmental & social justice here and around the world. I want to bring this knowledge back to the place that I love and make us a model of the good that we are capable of. I'm not afraid of risk taking and I’m a member of the most collaborative and innovative generations. The past few years, I spent working at the intersection of corporations, millennials, and sustainability to deliver solutions to better reach my generation and I’ve come up over and over against broken policy. Now, I’m ready to step into the role in California's 2nd congressional district and make a difference.
What was that pivotal moment when you decided to run for Congress in the 2016 elections?
I gave a speech a month ago and I thought, "If not Marin, then where?" I spoke about the impact of Marin County, this place, my values, my identity, my professional endeavors as a pioneer, champion, and catalyst of so much good. I walked off stage and people encouraged me to run for office. I never thought of it as an option but that was the moment. The most talented and capable people I know nix government. Business offers faster growth and nonprofits are more effective and have more integrity. But if we keep shoving away the political arena we will end up with the same broken policies and that’s not serving anyone. So, I’m diving in.
Congress is structurally broken. Parties are not working together. Do you think you could work with people with differing political ideologies?
I have a two-fold answer;
1. My generation is far less divided along party lines ready to take the reigns. We’re not beholden to any party or special interest. We’re solutions oriented and as my generation enters this space we will be more effective in working together.
2. When you have a clear goal, people realize they have much more in common. For example, the criminal justice system is one of the largest ills plaguing society today in terms of racial divide in our country. A lower prison population benefits all. If you put facts in front of stakeholders, you will see people willing to take concrete action to advance the common good. I'm willing to push the envelope to bring people that need to be at the table.
As a member of Congress, if you could wave a magic wand and pass any bill into law, what would you want to pass immediately?
Women's rights are at the utmost importance. The fact that we are the only industrialized nation without paid leave is a travesty. Pushing forward a bill for equal pay and paid leave is crucial to an entire sector of our population from participation and prosperity. If I could wave a magic wand as a woman, as a progressive, as someone who believes that women's contributions to society are invaluable this needs to change yesterday. That yesterday must be today.
I want to turn my attention to your competition. What are the areas that differentiates you from Jared Huffman?
First, I believe progressive female voices result in better policy. That agendas set by women are stronger agendas. We have 19.4% female representation in Congress and yet we are 51% of the population. That's reprehensible. Women need a voice.
Second, young people are better equipped to lead. I'm better poised to understand and drive government forward with the same innovative approach of my peers who are leading in the science, communication, business and technology sector. I respect Jared's background in environmental law and the legislation he has introduced. I will build upon that and do more. I am not just an environmentalist, I am an environmental activist with a strong track record being in the trenches fighting and mobilizing strong coalitions behind these movements. The environment is key to my work but I will take on other issues in a big way and champion education, workforce development for a changing face of industry, women's rights, and gender equity.
Do you think your age gives you a disadvantage?
The innovative approach of my generation that we have seen revolutionizes every sector must be brought into government. We need innovative technological solutions to make government more efficient and effective and bring it into the 21st century. I also feel the decisions being made today will disproportionately effect my generation. People are not talking about student loans, debt, and relevant skills in our education system. I graduated university with huge debt. My friends are feeling that crippling burden how fast industries are changing and jobs are disappearing. We need to be better equip with new sets of skills. My generation is more collaborative, not being beholden to any status quo, not having decades entrenched in corporate sectors, or legal offices or the halls of Washington D.C. We're fresh stock and prepared to catalyze a movement for good.
In order to win a seat in the U.S. Congress, a candidate has to give voters an opportunity to get to know his/her qualifications, positions, and political goals. I would like to know your responses on other key issues.
Abortion: Do you support pro-choice or pro-life legislation? We must fight to ensure a woman right to choose remains at a federal level.
Afghanistan: Do you support United States' combat operations in Afghanistan? I support a transfer of power in a way that best serves in terms of control to Afghani forces and government wherein we do not leave a larger mess on the ground then when we entered. That means we need to empower local forces to lead that change while at the same time providing comprehensive diplomatic support to encourage policy-driven resolution, rather than one that continues to escalate violence.
Budget: Do you support reducing defense spending to balance the budget? There are ways we absolutely can make government more efficient but national security is of the utmost importance and we must remain vigilant and support our troops with the resources they need.
Tax increase: Do you support an income tax increase on any tax bracket? Yes, on individual earners in a higher tax bracket – who make over $90,00 annually – and corporations.
Campaign Finance Reform: Do you support the regulation of campaign contributions? Since running for Congress, I now realize what a huge issue this is. The amount of time, energy and money required to fundraising to run a campaign is absurd. I'm running against a well funded established candidate. But we're going to unfold something soon related to campaign finance reform. This is needed in every level of government.
Capital Punishment: Do you support capital punishment for certain crimes? No - absolutely not. We need to end the death penalty immediately and solitary confinement for juveniles.
Economy: Do you support providing tax incentives to businesses for the purpose of job creation? Yes, I’m currently working on building a business frame work and tax incentive. I am not adverse to bringing on people who are more experienced especially effective policies in labor, agriculture, economic development and education reform. I am very proud of that piece of my campaign. It’s very millennial in that approach bringing on people who are subject matter experts, especially on effective policies, in all these areas to contribute to stronger policy across the board.
Energy: What energy sources do you support including off shore drilling? I’m for developing a comprehensive renewable energy framework. 80% of young American voters want to transition to clean energy and that is essential in the climate crisis. There's a mandate from my peers, alongside government and scientific communities, to offer clean energy solutions and that excludes off-shore drilling.
Environment: What are your thoughts about the international climate change agreement recently negotiated in Paris, France when it comes to saving the planet from global warming? Do you support the federal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions? I was at COP21 in Paris and really inspired by the energy and people. Unfortunately, this is rare, but what matters now is delivering on the solutions and enforcement. We need a comprehensive global plan and I am hopeful, not naive, that we need international treaties to accomplish the great good. We also have to act to reverse climate change, not just mitigate further negative impact. This is something I am very passionate about and I see a huge opportunities.
Guns: Do you support restrictions on the purchase and possession of guns? Absolutely, I believe in the 2nd amendment but I also believe we immediately need comprehensive and effective background checks, ban semi-automatic weapons, address our mental health system, and close the loophole in gun show sales. Gun violence in this country is tantamount. Ending the violence is imperative for a healthy American future.
Health Care: Do you support repealing the 2010 Affordable Care Act? Absolutely not; I support the Affordable Care Act, but we need to do more with healthcare. I’d like to see the implementation of a true single payer system, as was originally intended with the ACA.
Human Rights: Do you think that the U.S. should accept refugees who are fleeing ISIS and the Bashir al-Assad dictatorship in Syria? How many? Yes, absolutely. The people fleeing ISIS and Assad are terrified by the very carnage that we see washing up on the shores in Europe. These are professional, university educated people, looking for a better future. In the U.S., we said we will accept 10,000 which is a very low number and we are no where near reaching that quota. We have strictest vetting process to enter the country specific to refuges. There are easier ways to enter America. This ocean that separates us from these refuges doesn’t mean we can afford to remain silent. A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. I cannot not stand by idly and watch. We are a country of immigrants. Some of the greatest thinkers and contributors to our society are from immigrants. We have to remember that so we cannot close our doors.
Marriage: Do you support same-sex marriage? The fact we are still having this debate in 2016 is beyond me. Love is love and we have to assure that at a federal level. When Gavin Newsom started marrying same sex couples in San Francisco, it was one of the most exciting days of my life. Everyone has the right marry whom ever they want.
National Security: Where do you stand on U.S. national security efforts around the world? This is a much longer conversation. The national security efforts that I am primarily focused on is around energy and natural resources, conservation and conflicts that will arise from the limited resources we have in our world. I applaud and support the efforts of people committed to those fights on an international level. My approach is from an environmental and public health stand point, which is also of the utmost importance. I wholly support the men and women who protect and defend our country and security. And because of that, I will not endorse putting them in harm’s way.
You said, "It’s time to deliver on the promise of my generation." What are those promises that are not being delivered?
My generation has revolutionized every vertical. We have transformed the automotive industry, communication, space travel and we must bring that same innovative approach into real world transformative solutions in the political arena. We hear all the time; “It’s up to young people to lead," and I’m excited to bring that into Congress. It’s the hope, future and ways we can craft a better world.
I believe in the institution and power of government and the opportunity to drive for solutions particularly we as a generation rise in power and come at the government level with more civic engagement and public service as a viable opportunity - that is success and will lead to the greater good.
After a lifetime of being told they can do anything, it's not surprising millennials are doing just that. They're captains of industry, innovators, and now running for Congress. I’m very inspired by Schrode and her quest to make an impact to our community. Learn more about Erin Schrode on her website, or on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And make sure to register to vote - Rock the Vote.