Erin Schrode is the co-founder of the non-profit Turning Green. She is also a former Congressional candidate, a journalist, and an activist—and she’s only 25! Erin shows the importance of young people becoming involved in civic activism. We recently spoke with her about some of the issues she cares about, the best ways for young people to become involved in politics, and how social media will influence advocacy and journalism in the coming years.
Erin has dedicated tremendous effort to environmental reform. She noted that so many of the problems our world faces seem daunting and overwhelming, so she recommended finding ways to help the environment on a “life style basis.” One of the best ways to reduce our environmental impact is to consider aspects of our day-to-day life that could be improved, “find those places, and implement solutions.”
Erin has been particularly dedicated to fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline—an oil pipeline which has been met with strong opposition by Native Americans in the region, environmentalists, and other coalition groups. At one point, she was shot by a rubber bullet when she was reporting on the peaceful protests occurring in North Dakota. Today, she is feeling much better and plans on returning to Standing Rock. She strongly feels that the opposition to the DAPL is “the fight of our lives.” “It’s the convergence of the environmental movement, of the human rights movement, for peace and justice. It’s about so much more than one pipeline skirting one Native American reservation.”
“This is the world that we are going to inherit. This is our future. The decisions being made today will disproportionately affect us, and we deserve a place at that decision-making table.” —Erin Schrode
Erin gained a lot of visibility by running for Congress this year in California’s 2nd district—her home district. She said, “I never saw myself as a politician…still don’t.” However, the lack of representation of young people in Congress motivated her to run. She ran with hopes of “redefining civic engagement, reinvigorating a culture of public service, and expanding the definition of who can be a politician.” Although she did not win her primary election, the experience helped her recognize the importance of not only having more people seeking public service, but encouraging more people to become active citizens and participating in the political process because everyone’s voice should matter.
This message is especially relevant for young people. The decisions being made by elected officials will impact our futures. For youth looking to become involved in politics now that election season is over, Erin suggested becoming involved with activist organizations outside of government, as well as increasing involvement at the grassroots level. She said, “I want to see young people getting involved at the local level in moving policy forward, in working with city council, mayors, governors, state legislature.” Additionally, one of the best ways to make sure youth voices are fairly represented is for young people to seek public office themselves. Erin strongly endorsed this claim by encouraging young people to run. “If you really want to affect change and you have clear policy platforms that you want to deliver upon, run. Make it about the issues, but put yourself out there, because nothing will change if we don’t elect better people to this system.”
The last issue is the expanding role of social media, both in politics and in journalism. In the 2016 Presidential election, the world saw positive and negative elements of social media. Erin herself has been viciously attacked online and believes social media has brought a lot of aggression into the mainstream. She observed that “we haven’t seen a spike in hatred, we’ve seen a spike in people willing to act upon and get behind these bigoted, discriminatory feelings and rhetoric.” However, she also recognizes the benefits of the increased prevalence of social media as a democratizing force, and noted that “we can harness the power to reach out to a wider audience, to share truthful messaging, not false news, and hopefully to activate and inspire more people to become involved offline in the nitty-gritty of the political process.”
Many young people get their news through social media, which also has benefits and drawbacks. Erin noted, “I think that it’s really important to find ways to hold social media and digital journalism to the same standards of integrity as it is with traditional print journalism, but it opens up who can be a journalist to a far wider audience which I think is ultimately good. You have to be more discerning as a consumer of news, as a reader, as a recipient, but you can see a wider breadth of opinions and you can see issues from different perspectives, you can gain greater intimacy with the news of the day with any number of topics, any number of places, any number of fields.”
Thank you to Erin Schrode for taking the time to speak with YCA about her experience as a young political activist and about these important issues.
By Kate Canavan