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She is a 25-Year-Old Environmentalist. Now She is Running for Congress.

A big, big thanks to Story of Stuff for sharing our #ErinForUs message...

by Andrea Newell

Citizens around the globe are watching this U.S. presidential election year with horrified fascination. It is like a slow-motion trainwreck.

Voters in the U.S. are frustrated with established politicians and our broken, gerrymandered political system. Many of the political candidates, at both the state and federal levels, are older, white men with a legal background and political experience. Our government is not diverse or representative of all of our citizens, and it shows in the laws that are being written and passed.

Erin Schrode, co-founder of Turning Green, is 25 and running for Congress in California’s District 2. If elected, she would be the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

Erin burst onto the scene with a recent speech in her hometown of Marin. Following her talk, people started asking: Would you ever consider running for office?

Erin cares deeply about the environment, education and human rights. In the far corner of her mind she had considered politics, but she imagined that that would be years from now, after she was, well, established.

She believes “it’s time to expand the definition of ‘politician.’”

“When too many of us are being ignored, excluded, and discriminated against, it is our time to not only mobilize on the streets of our hometowns, but also in Washington,” she wrote.

She stepped up as a civic changemaker as a pre-teen. At 11, she helped her mother investigate the sky-high cancer rates in Marin. That experience changed the direction of her life and started her on her leadership journey. She debuted her public speaking skills by speaking in front of her 8th grade class about their campaign, and at 13, she co-founded Turning Green.

She has traveled to more than 70 countries, worked in disaster zones, advised businesses on sustainability, and is co-founder of an environmental nonprofit. It is certainly a unique resume for a Congresswoman.

Some people will likely dismiss her political run. Not so fast.

As she points out, 51% of the U.S. population is women and 35% of our population is under 30. Who is representing them in Washington?

Instead of waiting and hoping that someone who represented her values would come along and run for office, she decided….that she is that someone.

Why don’t more talented, young people get involved in politics? Erin believes that truly talented people who can really make a difference veer away from politics. They worry that they will have to give up their beliefs and bow to wealthy donors in order to get elected. She is determined to stay true to herself.

“I’m an environmentalist. I’m an activist. I’m a woman. And these identities cannot be stripped away from me.”

She is facing a tough fight against the current Democratic seat holder, Jared Huffman; Republican opponent Dale Mensing; and Independent challenger Matthew Wookey. All three are older white men. But Mensing is a cashier and Wookey is a history teacher, proving that Erin is not alone in her belief that government would benefit from representatives with diverse backgrounds.

Prominent leaders in the democracy movement tend to agree with this assessment. So much so that a coalition of groups funded a groundbreaking new tool whose name says everything: In one handy web app, anyone can step up as a prospective candidate—she or he can find available positions to run for, take a course on how to run, and find voters in their district.

“If we want to build a new paradigm, we need people to be brave and actively choose a lesser worn path, but one with rich possibility. Think: how can we create a country of togetherness, inclusion and love, rather than send a message of division, hatred, and fear? How can we elevate discourse? How can we drive real policy reform that is felt in the day-to-day?” she wrote.

In this election cycle, voters have shown that they are willing to listen to and follow unconventional candidates: people with grand ideas. Citizens are looking for change, and more people are stepping up.

Maybe Erin will march up the steps in Washington before her 26th birthday. And even if she doesn’t, she has cracked the stodgy image of politicians and shown other talented people that it can be done. And that’s a big victory right there.

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