Meet the 24-Year-Old Who Could Become the Youngest Woman in Congress
I absolutely love this Women's Health piece because it delves into the real issues that drive our campaign, while shedding light on the humanity embedded within #ErinForUs. "We're really architecting a new vision for ourselves, for society, and for our country… but we can't leave policy out of the equation."
by Kristina Marusic
Erin Schrode has been striving to make the world a better place ever since she was 11-years old.
Twenty-four-year-old Erin Schrode has been striving to make the world a better place ever since she was 11 years old, when she and her mother discovered that their hometown of Marin County, California, had the highest breast, prostate, and melanoma cancer rates in the world.
The pre-teen and her mom sprung into action, going door to door searching for answers (which researchers have yet to fully find), partnering with local legislators, and beginning an awareness-raising campaign that started small—Schrode recalls holding meetings with local high school students about the importance of buying toxin-free personal care products and cosmetics—but eventually blossomed into a national nonprofit dedicated to fostering personal health and environmental sustainability.
Now, after a decade of honing her public speaking, organizing, and lobbying skills, Schrode hopes to take her advocacy to the next level: She recently announced that she’s running for U.S. Congress in her hometown in California’s District 2. If she wins, she’ll make history by becoming the youngest woman—and the first woman under 30—ever to be elected to Congress. Schrode turns 25 next month, which is the minimum age required for Congressional candidates.
“I’m in awe of so many of my millennial peers who are revolutionizing other verticals,” Schrode told WomensHealthMag.com. “We’re really architecting a new vision for ourselves, for society, and for our country...but we can’t leave policy out of the equation. People are disillusioned because the system isn’t working for them—but that’s exactly why we need to get involved.”
The young vegan’s progressive platform focuses on environmental health, human rights, and the future of education and work, and she speaks passionately about everything from criminal justice reform, to student loans, to many of the issues most urgently facing American women—including the need for solidarity.
"We’re really architecting a new vision for ourselves, for society, and for our country...but we can’t leave policy out of the equation."
“There are enough people and forces trying to tear us down that we can’t afford to tear each other down,” says Schrode. “I firmly believe that women-to-women connections, mentorships, alliances, and friendships can elevate us all... I’ve benefited from growing up with a very strong mother, godmother, aunties all over the place, best friends, sisters—this whole network of strong, supportive women. I think it’s important to remember the power in that.”
In fact, it was Schrode’s BFF who ultimately convinced her to run for Congress. After she delivered a big speech about the impact of her hometown on her life and career last month, community members began urging her to run for office. As soon as she started seriously entertaining the idea, she called up her bestie to gauge whether or not it was totally ridiculous.
"I firmly believe that women-to-women connections, mentorships, alliances, and friendships can elevate us all."
“This woman is my rock,” Schrode explained. “She loves me beyond comprehension and raises me up, but she also keeps things real, and keeps my ego in check by smacking me down to size when she needs to….so when she got really excited and said, ‘Yes, this is perfect—there’s nothing more important you could do to set an example for young people and young women, and this is such a perfect extension of who you are and what you believe in and all the work you’ve done,’ I broke down in tears….it meant so much to know that my best friend, my conscience, my keeper, not only thought that I could do this, but that I should.”
When it comes to the ways her feminist outlook affects her stance on policy, Schrode makes her positions crystal clear. “The fact that old men are deciding what a young woman can or can’t do with our bodies is unconscionable to me,” says Schrode. “We have to fight to defend Roe v. Wade. It was one of the most important rulings in the history of our country.”
“Equal pay needs to happen, like, yesterday,” Schrode continued. “We have all the statistics to show how much better corporations do when women are involved in leadership, and we have to fight for policies that provide women with equal opportunities to participate.”
"The fact that old men are deciding what a young woman can or can’t do with our bodies is unconscionable to me."
She also cited paid leave as crucial component of gender equality, noting that we’re the only industrialized nation that still doesn’t have federally mandated paid leave for babies or ailing family members. “That’s not just for mothers,” she said. “It’s also for fathers and all caretakers. It’s ridiculous that we don’t support people when it comes to taking care of their loved ones.”
When asked about how she plans to get all of this done as another cog in the extremely partisan, bureaucratic wheel that is our current Congress, Schrode channeled a young Leslie Knope, exhibiting an unshakable faith in the ability of government to do good by real people.
“So many of my peers are choosing other avenues to create meaningful change, which is totally commendable—but I also want everyone to know, and young women, in particular, how important it is that we don’t shun the political arena. It’s an old boys’ club...the system was created by people who weren’t us, and that ‘us’ is now far more diverse than it’s been for our entire history as a country thus far—so let’s make the system represent us. To make it truly inclusive, we have to be part of the decision-making.”
"I want everyone to know, and young women, in particular, how important it is that we don’t shun the political arena."
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results, right?” Schrode continued. “We can’t just critique the system. We have to get involved and make a new system....thanks to my lobbying work, I already have experience uniting uncommon bedfellows for a common cause, and I hope to use that experience to reach across party lines and find ways to get things done.”
Despite the fact that she’s running against two middle-aged men who are career politicians, and has had more than one well-intentioned elder suggest that she’d be more likely to be elected to Congress if she waited until she was older, Schrode also remains incredibly optimistic about the outcome of the race—even if she doesn’t win.
“At 24 years old, success has many different faces,” she said. “Yes, the ultimate goal here is to prove that we can and should elect a 24-year-old to Congress. But even if that doesn’t happen, I hope to reinvigorate a culture of public service and civic engagement, to show young women what’s possible, and to expand our definition of what a politician can be.”
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