25-Year-Old Erin Schrode is the Youngest Woman to Ever Run For Congress
These days, a common response to reading about an awful event in the news is to read up online, and maybe post an article on social media. Or throw up a devotional Instagram—that image of the Eiffel Tower ensconced in a peace sign, summoning us to #PrayForParis comes to mind—and tweet additional support. Perhaps donate to Red Cross or Amnesty International. Check in with a friend in harm’s way, which Facebook now makes incredibly convenient with their “Check-In” feature, and click share. Today, digital compassion becomes currency in the unwieldy world of over-sharing and self-branding.
But Erin Schrode, the 25-year-old running for Congress in California’s second District, has had a more dramatic response to world disasters: She books a flight. In 2010, Schrode was a freshman at NYU when a calamitous 7.3 magnitude earthquake hit the already-ravaged island of Haiti. Within days, she was on her way to aid disaster workers, went to work in the Critical Care Hospital in Port-au-Prince, and then founded an organization that eventually brought school supplies to over 30,000 Haitian children.
Five years later, in response to the Syrian refugee crisis—the worst humanitarian problem since World War II—Schrode got on a plane again, this time to Lesvos (a Greek island off the coast of Turkey) to lend a hand in the camps. She returned three more times—and, being the millennial that she is, stayed at an AirBnB rental, blogged, and Instagrammed throughout. Schrode also pioneered an environmental curriculum for Palestinian, Israeli, and Jordanian youth while studying abroad in Israel, and spent many nights protesting in New York City alongside Black Lives Matter activists in the aftermath of Eric Garner’s death.
Do you feel bad about yourself yet? I do, but let’s back up for a moment because it only gets worse. Schrode made a name for herself at 13 when she co-founded Turning Green, which began as an organization dedicated to inquiring into harmful chemicals in beauty and daily use products. Born out of her concern about the unusually high breast cancer occurrences in her hometown of Marin, California, Turning Green has since flourished into a little movement around promoting environmentally sustainable and socially responsible lifestyles. Schrode has spoken at both the White House and the United Nations; consulted for and spoken at corporations like Apple, The Coca-Cola Company, Disney, and Chipotle, amongst many others; and created a skincare line with Whole Foods. She also has walked New York Fashion Week; been named a Young Challenger at Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus’ Global Social Business Summit; and has traveled to 70 countries.
“I do not seek to hide or mislead in terms of who I am and what I represent. I’m a 25-year-old woman who has not lived with any expectation of holding or running for office.”
Born in 1991, Schrode is of course a millennial—which, if you listen to mainstream digital media and hundreds of so-called trend pieces, is defined as someone who suffers from chronic laziness, entitlement, and narcissism. We are dues-paying averse, eschewing traditional success narratives for that of The Social Network—or the famous-for-being-famous Kardashian or Vine star ethos. If this holds true, Schrode represents the best we have to offer—she is the Nietzschian über-millennial who, yes, neither has a legal degree nor has ever held a government position, and has only been able to legally drink for four years, but is actively trying to and really believes she can change the world. And her efforts seem to be paying off; last month, NowThis Entertainment made a short video about her campaign that has since gotten around five million hits.
“I am idiosyncratically myself,” Schrode told me before a fundraiser held in her honor this past Friday in Manhattan’s somehow-still-edgy Lower East Side. “I do not put up veneers, I do not seek to hide or mislead in terms of who I am and what I represent. I’m a 25-year-old woman who has not lived with any expectation of holding or running for office. I think about the people whom I grew up with whom I thought maybe would be the ones to run. Would I do anything different had I known [that I’d be running]? No.”
At the event, she wore a black lace shift dress hitting just above the knee, black pumps, and a big blue pin that read: My name is Erin. I’m running for US Congress. Let’s talk. #ErinForUs. Her brown hair hangs long and straight—she is very pretty (not the point, but worth noting) and leads with her (large, almond-shaped) eyes that register engagement, concern, or excitement on a moment’s notice. She is polished, but looks her age—there is not a trace of a pearl-necklace wearing, neurotic Tracy Flick vibe here. We almost immediately spoke about Beyoncé (Lemonade had come out six days prior). “Praise Queen Bey,” said Schrode. “I’ve been talking about her in so many interviews. I mean, god, I love that her and Michelle Obama have been talking about the difference between bossy and boss,” she said. This is classic Schrode: she’s genuine, on-message, and I feel like we’re already best friends.
“I expected my friends to smack me down the side, and say, ‘You should wait,’ or, ‘That’s nice but you should do x before,’ but nobody said that,” she said of her decision to run. “Nobody told me that I should not run for office. And my best friend said to me, ‘Yeah there’s a million reasons why you should wait, but why not run while you wait?’ I’m talking about the power in going there and daring to do this. If I’m not going there, who is going to run?”
Schrode’s district covers north of the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border, spanning six counties including all of Marin, Del Norte, Humboldt, Trinity, Mendocino, and much of Sonoma. (She grew up in Marin, well known for its high income per capita and liberal politics—as well as being the home of both San Quentin Prison and George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch.) Though maybe not chill—reminder: she is running for Congress and, spoiler alert, might have a chance of winning—she is thoroughly a Northern Californian. “It is the most idyllic piece of land,” she said. “I love New York, but California is just superior.” Schrode had no entourage, no staff in attendance; it was just her setting up before the event. She gamely posed for the Polaroid camera I brought with me, and once the people arrived, worked the room like a seasoned champ.
Her primary on June seventh is an open election, meaning the voter can vote for anyone running regardless of party, and the top two candidates then face each other in the general election. What this means is that Schrode’s goal is to come in second—the incumbent Democrat Jared Huffman, a 52-year-old white man in his first term of Congress, is practically guaranteed to take first—and then pose a serious challenge to Huffman come the general election. As Schrode put it, “There are four candidates: myself; a Republican, middle-aged male; a no-party, middle-aged male; and an incumbent middle-aged male.” (Huffman is a member of the Committee on Natural Resources, the Congressional Tennis Caucus, and Small Brewers Caucus, amongst others; he also serves as the co-chair of the Wild Salmon Caucus.)
“I believe progressive females result in better policy.”
It makes sense, then, that Schrode is actively trying to appeal to the women who make up more than half of her district’s population. Within her campaign’s focus on three main issues—the future of education and labor, environmental health, and human rights—she plans to fight for reproductive health care, equal pay, and paid leave. “I believe progressive females result in better policy,” she told me.
The concept of representational politics is important to her, too. “I am in this to win the election, but I have other metrics for success that I want to accomplish by running: redefining civic engagement, reinvigorating public service, [and] expanding the definition of who can be a politician.” This notion becomes even more important when you consider Schrode’s fluent use of social media—imagine a little girl in, say, Ohio following a day in Schrode’s life on the campaign trail or as an elected official on Snapchat, and thinking hey, maybe this is something I want to do… maybe this is cool.
I hate that I even have to ask the question of how Schrode thinks her physical appearance is impacting her viability as candidate, but she is honest and measured in her response. That day, NowThis had live-streamed a video of her on Facebook, and she received some admiring comments. “I got some marriage proposals today,” she told me. “I think it’s something I’ve come up against. I understand why people sometimes want me to [represent them]. Fine, then let me show the experience I have, let me be the articulate person with leadership skills and policy ideas that will deliver solutions. I’m proud to be a woman. I wear dresses [and] I put on makeup, so I’m not closing myself off to using feminine appeal as a piece of my image but it’s not something that I lead with nor something that I shut down, it’s a piece of my being. Accept it and move on. There’s something powerful about sending that message about femininity to young women.”
Schrode also has that unique politician quality of giving an answer that is briefly personal, and then quickly swerves to the universal; she does it masterfully in her speech at the fundraiser. It’s not a surprise that she gets paid thousands of dollars for speaking engagements; when she speaks, no word is out of place, her eyes dart around the crowd almost rhythmically, she is loose—gesturing, shaking her head, crossing her arms for effect—and she literally leans in to the crowd. In other words, she’s having fun out there. Schrode has another characteristic millennial trait: an almost pathological entitlement to sincerely love what she does, climbing the traditional ladder be damned. Except in this case, that’s not such a bad thing.
All Polaroids shot exclusively for Milk by Emily Barasch.
Stay tuned to Milk for more young politicians on the rise.