Women are making great strides in the U.S. political arena, from a woman running for president to possibly having the youngest woman ever to be elected to Congress.
Erin Schrode, 25, is in the running for Congress in California’s District 2 in her hometown of Marin County. The New York University graduate is going against two other candidates in the hopes of filling the seat currently held by 52-year-old Democratic Rep. Jared Huffman.
She said: “I think people are really sick of the political scene. We don’t see it as accomplishing much. We don’t see it as relevant to our lives. A lot of my friends say, ‘It doesn’t matter anyway. It’s all rigged. Who cares? The people I vote for won’t matter.’ People in California, New York and Texas say, ‘My state’s going this way anyway, so why is it going to matter?’
“It’s got to matter. I want to reinvigorate that culture. I want to show people that we not only must get involved, but we can get involved. If more of us are involved in politics then we can have that exponential impact.”
Schrode is an environmentalist and activist fighting for issues such as equality for women, paid leave, reproductive health care and equal pay. Her campaign platform consists of three parts: environmental health, future education and work and human rights. For her to make significant change in politics, Schrode reminds voters she needs to first be elected.
“It comes down to votes. We need to get 60,000 people probably more. I need to come in second in the primary to go against the general,” she said.
Schrode grew up in Marin County in the San Francisco Bay area, where her family moved early on for her father’s teaching position. Her mother, a former TV producer, made significant changes to their lifestyle by switching their food to organic and getting rid of plastic use. She credits her parents for instilling in her an awareness for health issues and her mom for jumpstarting her career as an activist.
In 2002, a study revealed that Marin County had the highest breast, prostate and melanoma cancer rates in the world. Cancer is a disease that has personally affected members in Schrode’s family. Marin County supervisors stood by and said they lacked the funds to carry out testing to find the root cause, but her mom sprung into action.
Schrode said: “She organized the majority of campaigns and went to 50,000 households in one day and asked people why. Nothing correlated and a study came out shortly after linking ingredients in personal haircare products to cancer and birth defects and reproductive harm.
“Suddenly I felt that I can join my mom in this fight. That I can be a voice. That I can take this on in a personal way to protect the health of my peers and particularly that of young women.”
In 2005, when Schrode was 13, she co-launched Turning Green, a nonprofit for environmental advocacy. Since then she has traveled to over 70 countries promoting global and environmental health, encouraging others to take social responsibility and reminding them to register and vote.
In preparation for her congressional campaign, Schrode had to gather 60 signatures, open a special checking account and file with the Marin County registrar. She also just recently turned 25, which is the minimum age requirement to be sworn into Congress. She wrote about her motivation behind the election in a post on Medium:
“I seek to redefine civic engagement, reinvigorate a culture of public service, expand the definition of who can be a politician, and infuse meaning into the very act of running […]
“I believe that democracy should be representative, but 51% of our population is women and 35% of our population is under 30, yet there has NEVER been a woman under 30 elected to United States Congress.”
So far, Schrode says people have been supportive and eager for a new voice to represent them. She says she hopes that a new generation of leaders will be able to make decisions without being restrained by party lines or special interests from corporations. Many have criticized her young age and lack of experience, including a personal friend who she considers an active leader.
“Sweetie, don’t do it […] Wait 20 years, he’ll retire and then you can run,” he said, according to Schrode.
Since announcing her candidacy, she has received thousands of messages including one from a 16-year-old girl.
Schrode said: “[She] wrote to me about what it meant to her that I was running because her father told her that she couldn’t run, that it wouldn’t make a difference, it didn’t make sense, that it was impossible, x, y, z — all these reasons about why a young woman running couldn’t happen, shouldn’t happen. She showed him an article about my candidacy at the dinner table to prove that it could, that it will and that it is. And she can too.”
Schrode is focused on issues that Democrats are known to champion, including gender equality and education. Commenting on the 2016 presidential election, Schrode says that she loves the grassroots power and environmentalism of Bernie Sander’s campaign. In addition, she says she has “longstanding, tremendous respect for Hillary,” who she calls a “dynamo” in fighting for women’s rights and health. Bringing it back to her own campaign for Congress, Schrode said:
“There has never been a woman under 30 elected to the House of Representatives. Don’t vote for me because I’m a woman and don’t vote for me because I’m young. I believe that progressive females have better policies. Young people have the pulse on the future of the state and are better equipped to lead.”