During the 2016 election and the weeks that followed, millennial activist Erin Schrode wrote a series of pointed articles addressing her concerns over the looming administration of President-elect Donald Trump.
In “I'm a Survivor of Sexual Assault. I've Just Never Said That Publicly Until Today,” the 25-year-old connected her own experience of being sexually assaulted to Trump’s statement to Billy Bush that he liked to grab women by the pussy. In another article, “This Filthy Jewess Is Done With ‘Alt-Right’ B******t,” Schrode cataloged the myriad ways she had been harassed online, particularly for being a Jewish female activist.
She wrote: “It is up to us to recognize, name and denounce hate speech and discrimination when we see it, to drive out a wave of darkness that has the power to poison hearts and minds, bring down institutions and society, and reverse centuries of progress and victories — while posing imminent danger to the safety and wellbeing of millions of human beings.”
This sentiment has been at the core of Schrode’s work — to call things as she sees them, to be present and active at all times. And she leads by example: In the fall of 2015, Schrode was in Lesvos, Greece, helping refugees off of lifeboats. The following spring, she launched a campaign in her hometown of Marin County, aiming to become the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, noting that there are no people under 30 currently serving in Congress, and no woman under 30 has ever been elected to office.
“I ran for Congress earlier this year to redefine civic engagement, to reinvigorate a culture of public service and to expand the definition of who can be a politician,” says Schrode. “The decisions being made today will disproportionately affect us, yet we have no place at that decision-making table.”
While she lost in the primary to a much older male incumbent, Schrode’s platform of increasing eco-awareness and economic justice for women and minorities struck a chord with many millennials, as well as older folks looking for a change. Schrode hopes this inspires people to take action themselves and not wait around for a hero.
“[Over the next four years], local and state government will be more important than ever before,” Schrode says. “The power of the people is greater than the people in power — but we must mobilize, act concretely and put change into motion. We need to build up alternative legal, financial and advocacy frameworks to protect and defend the most vulnerable among us.”
A graduate of New York University, Schrode has been involved in some form of activism her entire life. When she was in her early teens, she and her mother began Teens for Safe Cosmetics, which later became Turning Green — a nonprofit aimed at getting young people to reconsider the toxic chemicals in many of their household and personal care products.
Stacy Malkin, 48, the co-founder and co-director of US Right to Know and author of "Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry,” met Schrode during this formative time and remembers how inspired she was.
“About 10 years ago, Erin invited me to attend an event she helped organize, Project Prom, at Union Square in San Francisco,” says Malkan. “I arrived to find a bunch of teen girls standing onstage wearing prom dresses and combat boots, vowing to wage war on the $50 billion beauty industry until they get toxic chemicals out of products. I found it so inspiring to see teen girls speaking out with powerful voices against an industry that has made so many girls feel so powerless.”
Combating this sense of powerlessness has been a key point in all the work Schrode has done, especially in recent months. In September, she was interviewing one of the protesters at Standing Rock when police shot her in the back with a rubber bullet. When this story was spread across social media, particularly in the darker corners of the internet, Schrode took it upon herself to ensure the focus wasn’t on her, but rather on the broader issue of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the ways Native communities have been disrespected.
“I see Standing Rock as the movement of our times — the convergence of the fights for our environment, human rights, peace and justice and so much more,” says Schrode. “It was an honor to be able to stand shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm, side by side with my fellow water protectors and brave brothers and sisters on the frontlines.”
“Erin was raised to believe that one person can change the world,” says Malkan. “What I admire most about Erin is her willingness to walk up to the greatest injustices on our planet, meet them head on, and ask what she can do to help — from pulling Syrian refugees out of sinking boats in Greece to getting shot with a rubber bullet at Standing Rock. She seems fearless, but I think it's more that she is committed to doing what needs to be done, even if it's scary.”
In a climate where millennials are often painted as apathetic, many might consider Schrode an outlier — but she doesn’t see it that way. She believes young people are more informed, more concerned and more active than ever before.
“We are the most well-connected, collaborative generation to date,” she says. “Technology has provided us with such a powerful platform with which to organize and connect — and we are and will use it for good in the real world.”
And for those who want to discount her because of her youth, she reminds them that the proof is in the pudding — she’s out there doing the work every day.
“People make assumptions about my motives or abilities based upon what they see — but I stay the course,” she says. “I have been a proud activist for over a decade, taking on issues that are relevant to a far wider demographic than youth or women, collaborating with diverse stakeholders, making a tangible difference — and I have no plans on ceasing anytime soon.”