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Politics

I'm 24 Years Old and I'm Running for Congress

By Erin Schrode

I never wanted to be a politician. I am an activist, an educator, a social entrepreneur—a citizen who is committed to environmental action, public health and equal justice.

Erin Schrode is running for United States Congress to represent California's District 2. Photo credit: Erin Schrode

Grassroots community organizing is hardwired into my DNA, nurtured by a cadre of doers in Marin County, California. When it was revealed that Marin — despite its unparalleled natural beauty, high concentration of organic farms and protected lands — had the highest breast, prostate and melanoma cancer rates in the world, my mother sprung into action. As a young girl, I watched her deftly orchestrate her first campaign to unite boots-on-the-ground vigor, compelling storytelling and sound scientific research. The question was clear: Why had cancer rates skyrocketed?

Why? “Why" gets to the root causes of an issue, rather than address supposed symptoms, which can be more costly, dangerous and short-lived. Why, then, am I running today?

Broken policy is failing us all, as fear and vitriol permeate politics. I can no longer watch as partisan gridlock threatens our future and that of communities around the country. We need commonsense reform—and we need it en masse, yesterday. Clean water is a human right. Women add value to society. Mental health is a veritable illness. Black lives matter. Affordable healthcare helps families. Education can be an economic engine.

It's time to deliver on the promise of my generation.

Amid a massive demographic shift and immersed in culture of innovation, my digital native peers are rising to positions of leadership, shaping social norms and revolutionizing every vertical. From media to agriculture to infrastructure, no industry will remain untouched by technological advancements. Most create new business models or lead cutting edge non-profit work to affect positive change, deliberately working around the political arena.

In addition to passion and energy, we ask different questions and prioritize collaborative solutions. Not daunted by failure, beholden to special interests or settled in the status quo, we seize the moment to take informed risks —bringing to the table a wild range of experience, diverse skill set and nuanced fresh perspective.

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.

Call me crazy, but I still believe in the institution of government. We have the knowhow and tools to shape a future we are proud of, in terms of global and environmental health, learning and work, and human rights domestically and abroad—and cannot afford to wait.

It is not enough to mitigate further environmental degradation. We must employ new and existing technologies to reverse damage, plan for increasingly common climate-related disasters or hazards and ensure sustainable resource management, responsible consumption and businesses that deliver profit on financial, ecological and social levels. Without an environment, there can be no justice. We are all entitled to take a deep breath and sip clean water — and should be able to trust our leaders to defend those rights. Our health and safety is tied to that of our planet. We both benefit and pay the price of mismanagement and destruction of the commons.

It is not enough to denounce the current education system.We need a new, dynamic approach to learning and working. The antiquated frameworks of schools and jobs fail amid today's changing landscape. Students of all ages need access to relevant, fluid curriculum that fosters creativity, imparts transferable skills and sparks entrepreneurship. Crippling debt thwarts growth, hinders independence and burdens families. Loan forgiveness for hardworking citizens is essential, as is remedial training for professional pivots when current jobs disappear. You once got an education in order to earn a livelihood. Now we struggle to earn a livelihood to pay off loans from graduation. Education is not only the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world, but also the basis for personal and global growth, prosperity and progress. We must prepare our people for the future of work and solidify the pipeline to fair wage employment.

It is not enough to lament the lack of inclusion or imbalance in access. We need all segments of the population granted equal opportunity and encouraged to develop competitive skills, which provides an actual chance to contribute and succeed. Discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion and ethnicity must stop. Progressive female voices equate to progressive policies—on equal pay, childcare, paid leave and reproductive health, as well as immigration, criminal justice, guns and foreign policy. Empowering women and girls, respecting underrepresented populations and fighting for reduced inequality is not a choice, but a moral imperative with lasting positive impacts.

Eco awareness illuminates interdependence to inform decision-making. Knowledge allows for improved systems, institutions and quality of life. Unique perspectives offer wider frames of reference to improve policy and our cultural fabric.

I believe that democracy should be representative, but 51 percent of our population is women and 35 percent of our population is under 30, yet there has NEVER been a woman under 30 elected to United States Congress. We need diversity and representation in a democracy, people who have the courage to challenge convention and establishment with new ideas, energy and integrity. Millennial and female participation will shape the nation. Progressive thinkers are disrupting with intention. Historically marginalized voices are uniting in chorus. The largest voting demographic of present and future will not stop short of change.

The best qualified person is not necessarily an older, white male. We must stop making that the default, for young does not mean less capable of critical thought. Our Constitution was written by people without grand accomplishments, individuals like you and me who shared a vision. My generation is better connected, well-informed, and more open to debate than ever before — all of which leads to stronger, practical solutions. By harnessing the power of innovation, entrepreneurial spirit and collaboration across silos, our world can be more just, connected and equitable; our business more competitive, prosperous and open; our infrastructure more environmentally-sound, capable and durable; and our government more effective, efficient and transparent.

A country where a young woman is dissuaded from running for office because she is young or because she is a woman is not one in which I desire to live. May we truly be of the people (representative of the electorate), by the people (with ongoing accountability, not only at election time) and for the people (not for lobbyists or donors) where all are encouraged to add value to society by running and serving. If I were to listen to political pragmatists, I would never take this step, particularly at 24-years-old. I do not have tens of thousands of dollars in the bank or family wealth, have not spent decades in law or business, don't self-edit to put forth an image of some squeaky clean conservative life and was never president of any young political organization. But doom is not an element of this campaign, nor is any notion of entitlement.

Change will not roll in on the heels of inevitability, as Martin Luther King Jr. so wisely told us. 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?

Once upon a time, a young girl was born in Northern California. Her parents, of different faiths, divorced when she was but a year old, yet remained fiercely committed to their only child, each working multiple jobs to provide her with healthy food and a safe home, the priorities of so many mothers and fathers across America. With the help of scholarships, she attended schools that challenged her to think critically and to dream. She went on to co-found a non-profit, focus on youth and environmental issues, fight for equity and access, raise up the importance of humanity and dignity, work in disaster and conflict zones, urge corporations toward better practices and gain invaluable experience in dozens of nations around the world. An informed global citizen who has forged an unconventional path, she has now returned home to take responsibility for her corner of the world.

Four weeks ago, I gave a speech in my hometown in Northern California, the through line of which was “if not Marin, where?" My surroundings have fundamentally shaped my personal identity, career path and values. The region where I live is world renown as an incubator, catalyst and pioneer. Last week, I announced my run for United States Congress to represent California's District 2.

This is about purpose, not position — and I have dedicated my life to civic dialogue and action, a fervor which will not cease. I believe that moral authority can carry more weight than formal authority, for one should earn respect and trust for expertise, integrity and judgment—based upon behavior and track-record—rather than assume or be allotted a title. But 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.

This is about people—for there is nothing that we, as committed citizens, cannot accomplish together. How exciting is that? I am honored to embark on this next chapter of service, to learn from, share with and co-create around messages with relevance and accessibility that are actionable. The issues matter—and I look forward to earning your vote, as we unite to deliver for all who have come before us, all who walk beside us, and all who are yet to come in Northern California and beyond.

I have faith in humanity. I trust in the power of community. And I maintain hope in the promise of our generation and nation.

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