Erin Schrode: We're talking about issues that will disproportionately affect us, yet we have no place at that decision-making table. That is why I want larger representation of women, of people of diverse backgrounds, of people of all ages -- just because that is America, and that is where we're going. We have people making decisions about our education system, on average, graduated from college 40+ years ago.
Kerri Kelly: Meet Erin Schrode, environmentalist and youth activist, as she tells us her story of waking up, getting political, and how to run for office before you're ready.
This is CTZN Podcast, where we are reimagining citizenship and how we show up for each other and the whole of society. I'm Kerri Kelly.
KK: Erin Schrode is impressive. She's young and passionate and hungry, and it's not that she's fearless, but rather, fear-with. She can face her fear and do it anyway. And at the age of 24, she surprised even herself when she decided to run for office, becoming the youngest person ever to run for Congress.
In our conversation, we talked about what it takes to make big leaps like running for office, and it reminded me of an article I read recently that said, "The problem for women is not winning, it's deciding to run. When women run, they are just as likely to get elected as men." But as Eric described her process of deciding, you could hear that narrative that women in particular embody, that we are never ready. Never good enough, never smart enough, never resourced enough to do anything, much less run for office.
So I was inspired by Erin's story of choosing to go all-in, despite what was stacked against her. And she had me reflect on what gets lost when we wait for the right time, what's at stake when we don't go for it, when we don't live up to our potential. And her secret is this: before she decides to do anything big, she asks herself three questions. Where can I be most impactful, what am I most passionate about, what best sets me up for a lifetime of service? We can start before we're ready, and often when we do, we surprise even ourselves around what we are capable of. Check it out.
KK: Erin, welcome.
ES: Thank you for having me. I'm delighted to be sitting down to chat.
KK: I have been following you forever, and I just realized yesterday in our conversation that I met you for the first time exactly at the time where you thought for the first time of running for Congress.
ES: You did. It was at an event in my hometown, in Marin County, in March of last year, and that was the origin.
KK: That was the origin moment, and I got to be there for that.
ES: You were. History in the making.
KK: What a blessing. We'll tell that story many years to come.
ES: Oh, we will.
KK: So you say that environmentalism is the lens through which you live your life. I've heard you say that before. So tell us, how did that come about?
ES: Well, it has to rewind to before I actually entered this universe, when my mom was pregnant with me. And she read a book called Diet for a Poisoned Planet by David Steinman. And in one day, she completely transformed the entire house, and therefore the world into which I was born. And I grew up thinking that was normal, in this beautifully warped but never weird reality. And in the bubble which is Northern California, the Bay Area, in Marin County, we went to the farmers' market every weekend, and I had my glass water bottle, and we carpooled all the time. And it was these little things that made sense to me.
And I never rebelled, because why would you when it seemed so in line with my values, but also practical? And it just snowballed to really encompass every aspect of my day-to-day.
KK: Yeah, yeah. It's incredible and such a privilege that we grow up exposed to that way of living in the world.
ES: I thank my mother every day for shaping my mentality, my view, and for showing me a new possible in everything.
KK: Yeah. And so 24 years later, you are in The Sweetwater, one of the great music halls of Marin County, giving a talk about place. Tell me about that talk, and why was that significant for you?
ES: I am who I am because of where I was raised, because of Marin County and Sonoma County. I went back and forth between the two, my mom and my dad, as a kid. My values, my identity, my professional path. And I'm so grateful and recognize that every day.
And I walked off stage talking about Marin County in the context of launching a new entity around science and agriculture, and this gentleman came up to me and said, "How do we get you to run for office?" And I laughed in his face!
KK: (laughs) What?!
ES: I don't fit the mold of what I think of as a politician. I was 24 years old. I'm a woman. I have never held prior elected office. I don't have tens of thousands, let alone tens of millions of dollars, in the bank. And right here with you, I can go on and on about why I shouldn't run, why I would never nominate myself, why I don't think I'm ready, why I would put up all those roadblocks. And he said, followed by many more people near and dear to me, "That's exactly why you need to run, and you need to do it now."
KK: Yeah, and so I was at that event with you at Sweetwater. It was the first time I was exposed to ... And I remember thinking to myself, "Who is this girl, and how can we replicate her and seed her around the country?"
ES: Thank you!
KK: Because we need more people like you who ... I just remember, I remember feeling your enthusiasm. We talked yesterday about your ripe naivete, but it was pure energy, and it was brilliant, and it was bold.
So in some ways, I'm not surprised that you said yes to running for Congress, but I totally get that we will come up with a laundry list of the reasons we can't run, especially given the role of money in politics these days. And especially given the culture of who we see representing us in Congress. Who are the people, what are the faces, what are the colors of the people that we see representing all of the major policy decisions that represent the whole of who we are in America.
So I want to hear more about your decision-making process. So you're approached by all of these people, which I'm sure felt great.
ES: Eh, great-ish.
KK: But you still are making the biggest decision of your life. What was that process like for you?
ES: First, I just completely discredited it. This is preposterous, who was this person? And I went home, and I couldn't get it out of my head. And I started to talk to very, very close friends. Mentors, people that I respected. And when they echoed his sentiment, I was further perplexed, and I did what I need to do when I need my ego smacked down to size, which is, call my best friend.
ES: And she was walking home from work, and I was reticent to even vocalize this idea. It was something of impostor syndrome. I couldn't run for Congress!
KK: Yeah, how dare I.
ES: How dare I even broach that? Again, I said, my ego check. Who was I, at 24, as a woman, to even entertain this far-off notion? And [Christina 00:08:14] said to me, "Sure. There are a million reasons why you could wait, but why not run while you wait?"
And there's some words you'll never forget, and her words resonated so deeply within me, because that somehow took the onus off of me. This idea, sure, I could wait. Some would say I should wait. But what happens when we don't wait, when we throw that rulebook out the window? If I were a political pragmatist, I never would have run for Congress. But thank goodness I didn't listen to the norm, to the status quo.
And I had 11 days between then and the filing deadline, and I-
KK: A lot of sleepless nights.
ES: A lot of sleepless nights, and I'm a note taker. And I got on the phone, and I was writing down everything that everyone said. Not that I was internalizing everything, but I needed to hear different ideas and opinions and responses from those closest to me. And it was overwhelming positive.
But my mother was one who challenged me the most. And this is my mom who's the co-founder of Turning Green, my best friend, my role model, the ultimate epitome of our motto, which is "Dream and Do". And she was my fiercest challenger.
ES: And she said, "Why would anyone vote for you, given that you have zero name recognition, no money in the bank, and are challenging an incumbent with 70 days until the primary election?
KK: Those are good reasons.
KK: But not all the reasons.
ES: Not all. But I had to outline even more explicitly why I was running, and what did success look like? Yes, I wanted to win the election. But what was I going to do? And I started to write. That's how I process, that's how I make sense of these. And I had to convince myself before I could go out and convince anyone else.
KK: Yeah, yeah.
ES: And create that framework. So I decided to begin to draft an open letter to the world, and came up with three main ideas that were driving my desire to run, and would be the pillars of our campaign, around redefining civic engagement, reinvigorating a culture of public service, and expanding the definition of who can be a politician while adding value to to society. I wanted to make those 70 days count no matter what, and I'm a boots-on-the-ground activist, so there we were. This was my home turf, and I wanted to be up and down this district, and so I wrote this letter, having no idea how the world would respond.
KK: And how did they respond?
ES: Keep your [inaudible 00:11:01] ...
KK: And what happened next?
ES: On Tuesday, March 29, 2016. I was sitting in my bedroom. People think that it was this whole elaborate machine. It was me, solo with my dog at home, and I sent one Facebook, one Instagram, and one tweet. And was going live with a Medium blog post, because this was how I was going to put my message out into the world, to use the tools that are native to me growing up as a millennial in this day and age.
And I pressed "send" ... Before I pressed "send", my finger hovered over that button.
KK: (laughs) I bet.
ES: Am I really going to do this?
KK: And no turning back.
ES: No turning back. That was a major life decision. I never imagined that it would carry me as far as it did, that people would respond, that this would birth such a movement. But I knew that something was going to shift.
And the messages started rolling in by the tens of thousands that day, the likes of which I'd never seen in my life. I'd never done anything where I'd felt more relevant, where I felt people coalesce with such an urgency. There was a young boy from the northern part of my district, near the Oregon border, and he wrote to me. He said, "Erin, I was never interested in politics because nobody ever looked like me. Nobody talked like me. Nobody remotely understood what it was like to be me. How can I volunteer for your campaign?"
And those sorts of messages, and people going ... that I know, "Erin, where did this come from?" Yet it makes so much sense. So that idea that it is a leap, because we view politicians as a different breed of human being. However, it's a natural progression from activism and civic engagement.
KK: And about winning and losing ... Because one of the things I love about what your friend said reminds me of a quote from one of my professors, Marshall Ganz, who always said, "Start before you're ready." And I think one of the reasons we never start is because we hold ourselves to a bar of winning or perfection or success, and we don't leave room for anything else. And I think it was Nelson Mandela who said, "I either win or I learn. I never lose," something along those lines.
And I think that's a symptom of our culture, that it's like, how dare we fail. And you talked a lot yesterday, about all of the different political positions that we could run for, and I heard a statistic a couple months ago that there are, I think, 300,000 state assembly positions in our country. 70% of them go uncontested.
KK: But regardless, I think the spirit of engaging politically in this way and claiming our commitment to representing our communities and to just going for it isn't about winning, it's about learning. And maybe it's even about losing.
ES: I think back to when we started Turning Green, and you mentioned that as a 13 year old, I was going up against a multi-billion dollar beauty industry.
KK: Yeah, no big deal.
ES: Well, if I knew then what I know now, I never would've done it.
KK: That's right.
ES: But when you are that age, when you are a child, you don't call it failure. You see you failed. You fail again, you fail fast. You call it learning.
And nowadays, we overthink things as adults, and we're so concerned about our reputation and about what other people will think and being seen as a failure. So guess what? We did not win the election. We came up 6.6 points short of advancing in the June 7 primary. We did far better than anyone thought. We got 21,000 votes, and I had friends saying-
KK: 21,000 votes!
ES: It's 20,994, but who's counting? But I think about what happened in those 70 days. I think about the micro-movements that we started. I think about the ways in which we drew these direct connections between people, voters, our constituents, and policy decisions. And that was beautiful to happen in my home state and in our community. But the message went so far beyond the borders of California's 2nd District, what it represented.
ES: And you said, Glamour Magazine! Why was Glamour writing about our campaign? Because a 20-something woman is their target demographic.
KK: That's right.
ES: However, they've delved into soil. And I'm obsessed with dirt. I think the answer to climate change lies beneath our feet, and I have all sorts of other puns. It's the new bottom line.
ES: But to see that was exciting. And to see the Today Show show up and walk door to door, to see how we were leveraging technology to make up for millions of dollars, months of time, and that's success.
KK: Oh, yeah.
ES: So there are so many ways in which the message spread, people became engaged, often for the first times, politically. Or realizing that there were things they could do in their own communities, within politics and far beyond.
KK: So I heard someone say ... I went to a run for office seminar, and they said, "It's rarely run and win. It's run and learn, run and learn, run and win." Eventually you run and win, but one of my questions for you is, what did you learn? And I'm sure there are many points along the way, 70 days of, I'm sure, 24 hours a day of leaning in and going for it, because you can't ever question. You have to go all the way.
But what did you learn? Did you have doubts along the way? Do you have, like, "I totally would've done that differently if I could go back"?
ES: Yeah. I learned a heck of a lot. Abraham Lincoln, they say he lost every election he ever ran until he won the presidential election.
KK: That's right.
ES: And you see so many politicians in our day and age. However, I just want to set the record straight. I was in this to win this. I wanted to implement the solutions about which I spoke, but I think going through that process, sure, I had doubts. It's not easy, and it's been really interesting to see now, to be able to have the privilege to be a resource for people running for office. You don't realize the degree to which you put yourself out there, and people think everything's fair game, and they can attack you for all of it. Thicker skin.
KK: Did you feel exposed?
KK: And, I'm sure, vulnerable and ...
ES: Yes, but that is all part and parcel of this game. And thankfully, I have thicker skin than I ever knew. But again, politicians aren't human. They're something else, so we can go after them. But what I saw-
KK: Right, like putting politicians on pedestals is sort of what you're talking about.
KK: We forget that they're human, we forget that they make mistakes, we hold them to a higher bar. We don't allow for the humanity.
ES: We forget that they listen to the things that we say.
KK: Many of them are, in fact, doing things that are horrible.
ES: Yeah, and-
KK: And out of integrity, but they still are human.
ES: It became exposed, in two articles, if you will, that I was Jewish, right before the election. Well, I got-
KK: That was "exposed".
ES: ... hit with neo-Nazis by the hundreds of thousands.
KK: Oh wow.
ES: And the alt-right. Unbelievable anti-Semitism.
ES: But the love and the support that I received far outnumbered that. I think I learned a lot about movement building, and if you want to run for office and you want to win office, two things are critical in that. Money and name recognition. Now, was campaign finance reform a key pillar of our campaign when we started? No. Is it an absolute imperative if we want to accomplish any change in this country? 100%.
KK: Big time.
ES: So I think you need ... If you see it as a ramp, 70 days wasn't long enough. And you have to start early, because you need to get your framework in place. And there's a lot that you can do with social and digital media, and we had a video that went viral and got 6.5 million views. That put us in a new stratosphere.
KK: I saw that video. It was amazing.
ES: Yeah, and it was simple, and I had on no makeup and my hair in a messy bun, and we shot it at 7:00 a.m. But hey, it was about the content. And I think that it was also about-
KK: Yeah, and it was also you.
ES: It was about me, but I think more than me, our campaign slogan was Erin for Us, and yes, the name on the ballot was Erin. So that needed to be a part of it. But it was about a generation. It was about a nation. And we talked about policy solutions. And I've seen now in a number of people who have run -- young people, people of all ages, all genders, all backgrounds -- that you actually need the substance there.
And, so, yes. I want people to run, but I challenge them with what it is, why they are running. What it is that they stand for. And in my life, it's always been about purpose, not position. And the position's not Congress, as of June 7, 2016, at least not right now. However, steadfast in your purpose, and I think that's so important when you're considering whatever life path you're going to take. What is your purpose? Why are you in it? And if you know that and you can effectively communicate that to others, that's beautiful.
KK: Well, I think that's what I meant when I said it was about you, because I think your purpose was felt in that video. And I also think, it's not about the candidate. It is about the way in which candidates put their skin in the game, put themselves on the line for the wellbeing of everyone.
ES: You've gotta be all in, 'cause these campaign trail lives, they aren't easy. But I'm so grateful to every single person who stepped up, to every single sleepless night, to every small event, to every first political donation. It takes a village.
KK: And you were saying that you needed thick skin to navigate the exposure and the learning and the mistakes, and I can't even imagine the transformational arc of that 70 days for you. But I have to believe that there were some people in your court, stakeholders, people that you trusted, your trusted advisers, that when you felt most exposed or most vulnerable, or when you were questioning, "Why the fuck did I ..." I don't know, I'm putting those words in your mouth. But I imagine there were moments when you were like, "Whoa, this is hard." Who were those people in your life, and what about having them at your back made it possible for you to move forward?
ES: I am so grateful to my friends. I am so grateful to the messages, just of checking in. "How are you?" Not Erin for Us.
KK: Did you eat today?
ES: You, the human. The friend that showed up on my doorstep with glass containers full of plant-based food that she knew I needed. The people who reminded me to go to sleep. Those that said, "What do you need? What can I do?"
I honestly forged new friendships. People who have been through the political circus have a certain knowledge that you cannot gain through anything but experience, and I've had two dear friends run for office since, two who were involved in the political arena and were so supportive of my campaign. One of them, he ran for mayor of Wilmington, Delaware, and lost by 200 and some votes.
ES: And he was the first person to call me when I announced my campaign. And that meant the world and then some. So it's just those little check-ins, again, to remind me that I too am human, and that it's okay to be on this journey. And then the people that stepped up in my community and said, "Erin, you do that. We got this covered." And that's the ground game, that's the support and the basis. Sure, you can have people cheering you on from around the world, but they're not there. They're not in the trenches with you. And they're not voting for you.
So the people in my community who put their name on the line. I was a renegade challenger candidate. They put their reputation on the line to some degree to host events for me, to post on their social media about me, and that was so beautiful. I am so grateful for everyone in my community who took a chance and said, "Erin for Us."
KK: And I want to acknowledge that I really do think you won-
ES: Thank you.
KK: ... in all of the ways. Just in who you were, what you embodied throughout that campaign, 'cause I remember watching it, and we were totally rooting for you. But also in the way in which you did change the narrative -- getting Glamour to write about soil is one example -- and to lift up things like regenerative farming as radical policy and strategies forward. And you changed the face of what a politician could look like, and I think those things are radical. In a culture where it looks like only certain people get to hold positions of authority and decision-making on behalf of the whole, you changed the game.
ES: Well, first of all, thank you. I'm humbled. But yesterday, I got a note ... I think it came on Instagram, it came in a text, from a young woman who's running for city council in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And she wrote it just to tell me she was running, and that I was her inspiration behind running.
So it is not lost on me, the symbolism of a young woman running. However, what you said first, I don't know if it makes me more proud, but the fact that we talked about policy positions. So yes, I get what my candidacy represented, the same way I understand what Barack Obama -- not that I am equating myself to Barack Obama -- but for so many people in America who identified with Barack Obama. For Hillary Clinton to be the nominee. You have these historic moments and people saw someone that they'd never seen as a politician able to run. And that empowered them.
However, there was substance beneath it, and that's the policy -- the environmental and public health, learning and the future of work, human rights, tech innovation -- that were backed up by statistics, by policy positions, so people were inspired, but then also could really get behind tangible ideas for progress.
KK: Yeah, and I think that's right. I think that it wasn't just a symbolic run, I want to be clear. I totally agree, you had a rock-solid policy platform that was clearly articulated and tangible, and it was translated in such a way that I think people could really understand. And so I totally agree with you.
ES: Well, I had all my policy wonks -- they know who they are -- writing, because I ... First of all, I wanted to come out of the gate with things that we were clearly standing for. But people started asking questions about a multitude of topics, and I wanted to have that available on our site, but also to be better versed in my myself. And policy wonks are policy wonks, and I am very well-versed in some, but not well-versed in all. And you have to know a little about a lot, and a lot about a little. And I am so grateful for all the work that went on behind the scenes, so that I could figure out a way to translate it into terms that people understand. User-friendly politics, if you will.
KK: Yeah, that's right.
KK: I want to give a shout out to our community of supporters on Patreon, without whom this podcast wouldn't be possible. CTZN Podcast is reimagining citizenship for all of us. Not the kind that requires documents and papers, but an everyday practice of how we take care of each other and the whole of society. We're daring to ask hard questions about who we are and who we are to one another, and what's possible when we show up for the wellbeing of the whole.
But making a good podcast takes a village, and so we're building one on Patreon. And what we love about this platform is that it's mutual. It's about supporting one another. By joining this community, you get lots of good stuff from us, like practice tools and meditation, community forums that inspire conversation, and lifestyle content that you can trust.
And not only does it keep us going, but it keeps us honest and real, and pushing the envelope of courageous conversations that are independent, transparent, and authentic. You can opt in for as little as $1 per month, or $5, or $10, and so on. And think of it this way: for the equivalent of one coffee per month, or one yoga class, or one dinner, you get to be a part of something bigger, a call to action to become better citizens for humanity.
So check us out on patreon.com/ctznwell, and build with us as we create a culture of wellbeing that works for everyone.
KK: I love also what you're saying about how everyone has a part to play. Not everybody has to run for office. We need organizers, we need marketers and comms people. We need policy wonks. We need people who are going to show up at your door with green juice, and remind you to sleep and ask you how you are. We need spiritual leaders to help us make sense of these moments.
ES: But also, yes, all of that, and that roughly falls within a political arena or support system. But for me, we need the disruptors who have startups, that are building new economies. The people that are leveraging technology to take media to new heights. Those that are delving into the depths of science and research, taking nonprofits to places we'd never before seen. I want all of that to continue, but I also want people in those fields, at the top of their game -- those that I would want to run for office -- to not count out that possibility of translating that innovative, entrepreneurial mindset into the policy arena.
KK: So unlike most people who, I think, at some point in their life, have a "wake-up call" ... Something happens to them, or they see clearly for the first time -- and many of us have had these in many different ways -- and then finally feel called to social change and activism ... It is clear that you were an activist in the womb, you already-
ES: Thanks, Momma!
KK: Thank you, Mom ... And came out kicking and screaming as an activist, thank God. But something happened to you in your work with Syrian refugees that made you realize there was something much bigger at work, and that changed, I feel like, your perspective on how change works and how change should happen. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
ES: For sure. It was one of the more transformative experiences of my life. I'm an activist, that's how I self-identify first and foremost. A citizen activist, which is, I think, why we get along so well.
KK: We do!
ES: For me, I've never been one to shy away from taking action. My mother raised me to believe that small groups of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world, to quote Margaret Mead, and that you cannot stand by idly in the face of injustice. So I have shown up. That is my knee-jerk reaction. Is it always the best one? No. But there is a role for people to play in showing up, and when I saw a picture of a 3-year-old boy wash up dead ashore in Turkey, something inside me snapped, and I thought, "If this is really the largest humanitarian crisis in our world today, if there are more people on the move than ever in history, why is more not being done?"
And I went to Lesvos, Greece, just off the coast of Turkey, and I worked, welcoming refugees. At that point, it was about 65% Syrian. And I came back and I went back and I wrote, and these pieces went viral, and I came back, and I was on CNN talking about refugees. And I came back, and I brought volunteers and supplies and money. And my friends said, "Erin, are you just going to keep going back?"
And I said, "No. We need systemic change if we want to see anything shift in this landscape. We need to address it from a policy perspective." I did not know what form that was going to take, but I was watching governors in my country at that time close their borders to the most vulnerable among us, and thinking, "Something's gotta give."
So I hear Helen Keller's words in my head all the time. "I cannot do everything, but just because I cannot do everything does not mean I will not do something." And that was my something. Showing up and taking on this issue in a powerful way. But it's not just that issue. It's the compounding of so many issues. And sure, we can try to address all of them, but there is a dearth of holistic, systemic policy solutions and people with the political will to engage and to not be beholden to special interests, or to a decade-long career in politics. I have not been entrenched in any system -- in business, in law, in government -- for decades. So we need people who have that experience, but we also need bold, fresh voices who are not afraid to challenge the status quo, who are more willing to reach across the aisle to unearth common sense solutions for the common good.
And this was my thought process. My last trip to Lesvos was in February of 2016, and March was when I announced the run for office.
KK: That's right. That was the impetus. And do you think, had that-
ES: That's the last straw, yeah.
KK: Yeah, and had that not happened, you might have been like, "Run for office? What?"
ES: I think it was a perfect storm of many things, and when we started Turning Green, it was always twofold. It was about behavior change, it was about conscious consumption, it was about grassroots, it was about bottom-up, it was about movement building. But it was also top-down. It was about legislative action, it was about advocacy. And we realized that they had to go hand in hand. And I was involved in legislation in my town and my county and my state, at the federal level, around green chemistry, around public health, around toxins, around hemp, around agriculture. The list goes on and on.
And so I always was watching that, but more from the periphery, never thinking that I could get involved in the system.
KK: Yeah. And I hear you talking about another system, too. In effect, that something broke inside of you in that experience, and also in the way in which you described how governors within our own country were closing our borders. And since then, obviously, we're experiencing a laundry list of rollbacks that feel like they are going in the opposite direction of dignity and wellbeing and freedom and fairness. And I feel like that has something to do with our consciousness and our culture and what we believe about each other. What would compel a governor to close their borders to the most desperate, or to deny rights and freedom, basic human dignified rights, to the most vulnerable?
And so, what do you think about that, the ways in which not only do we need to engage in the political levers that enable systemic change, but what do we need to reckon with within ourselves and together about what we believe about ourselves, and what we believe about humanity?
ES: We have to recognize the humanity in the other to honor human dignity. There's this beautiful South African phrase, Ubuntu, "I am me because you are you." And too often, we get caught up in our own lives. We're busy and we live in these echo chambers. We have a lot going on, and you don't take the time -- we don't take the time, I don't take the time -- to meet someone, to look them in the eye, to attempt to understand their lived experiences, their truths, their realities.
And when I was living in New York City ... We've been hearing for all of time, but it had peaked, around young Black men being shot dead by police officers, being locked up and incarcerated at startling rates. This epidemic, this legacy, in my mind, of slavery and mass incarceration, which Bryan Stevenson talks about a lot. A hero of mine.
And now, this was in my city. This was someone that was-
KK: Which has always been in your city.
ES: It's always been in my city, and we can talk about Marin City and Marin County. But Eric Garner was strangled to death by the NYPD when I was living in New York. I could not not show up. I could not turn a blind eye. And I took to the streets for the first time in my life, and started to recognize this role, first of all, of white privilege. But that I have, not just as an ally, but as an accomplice, to put skin in the game however and wherever I can. And I recognize that in breaking through police barricades when friends would ask me to do it, because the chances of my being arrested were so much lower.
KK: That's right.
ES: But being a voice for these Syrian refugees. Well, if you're not going to send a news camera to the island, or it's too dangerous to go to the home country, or whatever political bias won't allow you to do either of those things, put someone on who has that firsthand footage, who can try to elevate that narrative. We saw it again with Standing Rock this year. I was shot by police with a rubber bullet on the front lines. The irony is not lost on me that the white girl getting shot at Standing Rock got more news coverage than almost anything else at that point to date.
This is not about me. This is about a compounding oppression of hundreds of years-
KK: That's right.
ES: ... of my Native American brothers and sisters. But if I can do anything to lend my voice, to use my privilege to join forces arm in arm with my brothers and sisters of any background -- faith, nationality, race, you name it -- use me. I'm there to be of service.
KK: You and I had a conversation yesterday about how, especially in the health and wellness community, how easy it is to get stuck in the bubble, and how in many ways, we can choose to just take care of ourselves, especially those of us that are privileged. We can choose to live outside of the healthcare system and pay for our acupuncture and chiropractics out of our pockets. We can choose to buy organic, because we have access and money to afford it. We can choose to go onto the front lines or not. We actually have that choice.
ES: The first gift of all of those choices is the gift of knowledge. We know to know.
KK: I really think this is a part of what you're talking about, about redefining civic engagement, about reimagining citizenship, is ... how do we see one another in a different way? How do we get outside of our bubble and get outside of our box? How do we put more skin on the game and really embody the role of accomplice, and not just ally, and not just a Facebook post in support of different issues? And that's not to say that's bad, but what do you think is the role of how we show up?
ES: It might feel like we live in a digital world, and we're sitting here talking to you-
KK: We are in a digital platform right now.
ES: ... via the interwebs.
KK: And thank God for that, right? Thank God for that.
ES: But it's a tool.
ES: It is not in and of itself enough. So, as soon as you're finished listening to this podcast, go outside. Hi. I'm sitting here with you, looking you in the eye, shaking your hand. Change starts in your own community. So, yes, have we been sitting here talking about my work around the world and other cities? Absolutely. But where did I begin? In my backyard.
So if you are looking for a pain point and injustice, a wrongdoing, you don't have to go so far.
KK: That's right.
ES: You can start right where you live, and you cannot replicate something until you do it. You cannot scale a solution until it's a reality. So you have to begin. You have to start somewhere. And that is this incredible power that we all possess in our own local communities, as individuals.
So that's how it begins. I believe that's how we start to address any of these seemingly insurmountable challenges, is by breaking it down and saying, "Okay. I'm an expert in my own community. I care passionately about X, Y, and Z cause." There are three questions I ask myself before I do anything. Where can I be most impactful, what am I most passionate about, and what best sets me up for a lifetime of service? And I believe that-
KK: Everybody, write that down.
ES: I want to say, I asked myself that when I was 13 and we were starting Turning Green. I didn't. I absolutely asked myself those three questions before announcing the Congressional run, and now, in every decision I make. And you've gotta choose. You cannot take on every ill in the world, or you will fail. So where can you be most impactful based on your experiences, your circumstances, your identity, your location? X, Y, and Z. Where can you be most impactful? What are you most passionate about? Because let me tell you, this business of world change, it ain't easy. And there's a lot of people that will be up against, and it's a lot harder than you think it is.
So you need to be willing to put skin in the game, put in that sweat equity, stay up late at night, sacrifice things. What are you most passionate about? What lights your fire? And what best sets you up for a lifetime service, because this is not about me, and it's not about you, I'm sorry.
KK: I can handle that.
ES: This is about something so much larger. So take yourself out of the equation.
KK: It's about all of us, actually.
ES: And all time, what do you want your legacy to be when we are gone? And that's humbling. And so thinking about that, where can you be most impactful, what are you most passionate about, and what sets you up for a lifetime of service?
KK: So you said yes to really putting skin in the game and running for Congress, and I want to name a couple statistics about why that's significant. Right now, women represent 51% of our population, and currently, there are 84 women in Congress, which is about 19.3% of our population.
ES: Which is a huge leap from last Congress's 18.4%.
KK: That's right.
ES: 0.9%, bravo, ladies.
KK: The 115th Congress, which is the one we are in now, has leaped forward, one would say significantly, but nevertheless, a huge gulf of representation amongst women. And then, 38% of our population is non-white, and yet they represent 19% in Congress.
And with regards to age, I just saw this great Bloomberg chart that showed what Congress would look like if it matched our generational makeup. And millennials -- are you ready for this? -- would hold 97 seats.
KK: Whereas they now, depending on how you define a millennial, hold few, and none under 30. And so when we think about changing the face of politicians, of who we are, of how we best represent the whole of America, what needs to happen? How do we really create a culture of representation in this that honors the spirit of democracy that we all deserve?
ES: So, some people will say, "Well, you're playing identity politics." Let me just say a few things to rebut that right away. I do not want young people running the country just for the fun of it. We are better poised to lead the present and the future of our state. We're talking about issues that will disproportionately affect us, yet we have no place at that decision-making table. That is why I want larger representation of women, of people of diverse backgrounds, of people of all ages, because that is America, and that is where we're going. We have people making decisions about our education system, on average, graduated from college 40+ years ago.
KK: Mm-hmm. 13 men just wrote The Better Care for Reconciliation Act, which I call, better care for some on behalf of everyone.
ES: Right, and people making decisions for women's bodies, for any number of issues. About our incarceration system, about the war on drugs. Who is that disproportionately affecting? Black and brown communities.
KK: That's right.
ES: So here we are, with a largely old, white, male Congress, making decisions for a population that is increasingly less old, less white, and 49% male.
KK: So, where do we go from here?
ES: First of all, we tell people, all people, "You can run. You should run. And I hope you will run." And we support you, this idea ... More voices means more choices. It means a stronger nation, a better democracy. I am a proud American citizen. I believe in the promise of this country, but it is a promise yet to be fulfilled. And we have to be willing to challenge the status quo. We have to know that when Democrats run against Democrats and Republicans run against Republicans and third parties pop up and hopefully grow stronger and stronger, that is democracy in action. That contest of ideals is what we need more of in this country.
So yes, you should run. There are 500,000, approximately, elected positions in this country. So you don't need to run for Senate or Congress. There's state legislature, there's county supervisors, there's school board, there's mayoral races. We need all of that. And if you really want to make this country a better place, then we can't give that shrug of inevitability. We have to believe that we are capable, that we are powerful, that we are rich in our own experiences to run.
KK: Yeah, and I love also what you're saying around how even in our choice of running, we also have to be bold and take responsibility for who else is at the table. And I think in a lot of ways, especially in our political culture, it's ideological. It's about being right or wrong and knowing everything. And I think there's something to be said about how we really don't know everything, especially when we exist through the lens of our experience. Like, I am a privileged, white, cisgender woman. There is a lot I don't know, there is a lot I know I don't know. So it is really important as we work together around solutions for our future that we make space, that we come to the table with people of all ages, all along the gender spectrum, of all colors and ethnicity.
ES: That's why it's so exciting to see so many organizations popping up with the sole purpose of devoting themselves to getting X, Y, or Z type of person to run. Yes, we need more people to run in general, but we need to support specific marginalized, underrepresented, historically oppressed populations to have the opportunity to level the playing field. People who aren't born into privilege, who aren't born into that trajectory to run for office, because that's really who we need to run.
KK: And when we think about who we are becoming as a whole country, the more we can step up and be bold in our own role, but also pay attention and take responsibility to how we can include all voices, and how can we make decisions together, I think the better off we're going to be.
Okay. So obviously, these are precarious times.
ES: Deep breath.
KK: Deep breath, everybody. Whenever I broach this subject, I'm met with equal parts "holy shit" and hope, because it's true that this administration has been rolling back everything that we've accomplished in the last eight years.
ES: In the last hundreds of years of the existence of our country.
KK: Many decades.
ES: There was a newspaper editor who was doing an article in January and asking people what they thought the first 100 days of this administration would consist of, making predictions. And they asked a number of politicos and influencers and X, Y, and Z. And I wrote a paragraph about my fears of the Trump administration taking away the very infrastructure and systems that allow us as citizens to effect change.
ES: That allow us to speak freely, that allow us to hold people in power accountable. And it was a pretty bleak picture. And he wrote back to me, "That was rather ominous." And, well, let me tell you about what's been happening. We are seeing so much of what I hold dear as an American citizen rolled back, negated, ignored. Cancelled. That is terrifying. That is what we should be afraid of, in my opinion. Not any one issue, but the larger systems that are rolling back our citizen power to speak truth.
KK: Well, I think in some cases, people are paralyzed by that. They're stuck.
ES: Where do I start? It's this shiny object idea. They take us over here and then they take us over here-
KK: That's right. It's deliberate.
ES: We can't fight on all fronts.
KK: That's right.
ES: We're physically incapable.
KK: Well, so, some of us are dissociated because it feels hopeless and because it's too much. It's overwhelming. And for those of us that are in the game, we're running around with our heads cut off. And I think, that's not to say that we're not making progress in the Resistance. I really think we are, and I think our show of force has been remarkable in the last couple months.
ES: We're leading this completely organically. There is no one leader of the Resistance. It is arguably the most powerful resistance force our country has seen. It's amazing.
KK: Yes, it's so incredible, and I think we have to keep remembering that it's happening. And that while there is this big rollback and rewind in many ways, there's something-
ES: (singing) History is happening!
KK: History is happening, and we are moving forward very powerfully. And it might be a slow cook, but something is happening, and we are changing not just what we are doing, but the shape in which we are doing it, the spirit with which we are doing it, the strategies which we are employing. And, having said that, I do think that it has been hard to hold our commitment to responding to every rollback. Every day there's bad news, every moment something arises that feels critical, quite frankly.
ES: And is critical.
KK: And is critical, and impacts the wellbeing of everyone. And so, how do we do that? How do we respond with courage and the boldness that you describe, and hold a commitment to the long game? And this is the part where I feel like we really need to maybe invest a little bit more energy. Like, how do we articulate and put forth a vision of who we are becoming and where we are going that is far down the line so that we can stay sustained and inspired in this work, so that we don't get fatigued, so that we don't give up, so that we don't throw the towel in and become hopeless and disempowered?
ES: We need those visions, those bold, audacious, revolutionary ideas of where we're going, because that gives us hope. There's two things that I would say about that. One is, we have to set ourselves up for success, and that means stepping stones. That means milestones. That means pausing, not to have a party and say, "Woo, we did it," but to congratulate ourselves and to realize how far we've come, and that we might still have miles and miles and miles yet to go. We might not be able to see even where we're headed, but we're getting there. And that's a morale booster that people so desperately need.
But the other piece is that if we try to do everything, or we are constantly concerned about the latest way in which our power is being ... people are being oppressed, X, Y, and Z, fill in the blank, and you keep shifting gears, you're never going to get anywhere. If you also think that you have to respond to everything, maybe it's not exactly in line with your expertise or it's not your #1 concern. That's okay.
My thing is the environment. I'm an environmentalist. I proudly own that. Does that mean I think environmentalism is more important than any other cause that people care about? No.
KK: It's just your piece of the ecology.
ES: It's who I am. And so the more that we can come to own specific pieces and raise each other up ... This isn't a hierarchy of suffering. This is all of us doing our part to make the world a better, more peaceful, prosperous, just, healthy, sustainable, thriving, delightful, beautiful space. And I'm going to do me. And you're going to do you. And we're going to support each other, because there are probably places where we intersect.
KK: And I share that vision with you, and I love that you articulated that, because I do think that there's also something to the way in which we're obsessed with talking about what's wrong, and we're not-
ES: Doom and gloom.
KK: Doom and gloom and all the problems. And of course we are. We have to. We have to articulate, we have to speak truth to power. We have to lift the veil.
ES: But that's not conciliatory. What we found from from Day 1 with Turning Green and why people responded positively to us is because we wanted to bring them along. We put forth solutions. People said, "Yes! I can get behind that. I can do that." That is activating, that is mobilizing. So while we have to recognize the severity of the place in which we find ourselves right now, and the fact that, yes, people's physical and mental safety and wellbeing and health are in imminent danger, just talking about that will not get us anywhere.
So, what are you doing about it? And if that is one thing and it affects one person, I'm with you. See it through.
KK: Yeah. I think people turn to us at CTZNWELL not because we have all the answers, and I think you've heard-
ES: None of us do.
KK: You've heard in this conversation a number of times us go, "I don't know."
ES: I wish more politicians would say, "I don't know." I wish more-
KK: Wouldn't that be radical?
ES: That specific vulnerability.
KK: Yeah. I don't know the answer to the question, or I don't know what the solution is, and I'm a commitment to ...
ES: And if people ask me questions on the campaign trail, and you see this all the time, and they go, "What do you think about this?" You go, "Well, it sounds like you're an expert," and bringing more people into the fold. And that's something-
KK: Yeah. "What do you think?"
ES: Task forces. That's something we saw in the last administration. People coming together who were experts in this, being raised up by the administration to saying, "Listen. You had a solution that's working over here. Let's do it again."
KK: So I think what we're trying to do with this podcast is not tell people what to do and not assert a specific position on ... And not even act like we know all the things. But really create a conversation and a practice for how we can respond. And part of, I think, the courage of saying "I don't know" requires a deep spiritual practice. It's a capacity to be vulnerable to your point.
And so, what is that for you? What are the ways in which you invest in your own capacity building? You described it before as having "thick skin", but I think it runs deeper for you, just in knowing you and all the things that you've accomplished for your whole 25 years on the planet. What are the ways in which you take care of yourself so that you can respond with courage and compassion? What are the ways in which you practice getting clear and conscious? You talked about the questions that you answer when you're confronted with a situation, and we call this practice, because it's like a habit. And it's the way in which to break with status quo.
ES: First of all, optimism is a value that my mother instilled in me from the get-go, and of all the many profound gifts she's given me, that is the greatest. I would not wake up every day if I didn't believe in something better, and in the power of people to create that. So I see optimism as a piece of my daily practice. Not dwelling on everything that I can't be, that I can't do, but what we are capable of. And it's really about framing. It's about intention. It's about lenses. And that is a part of 24/7. So if I can shift that, that practice is profound for me.
Food is my medicine, and I am incredibly privileged to have grown up in a place with the largest concentration of organic farms of anywhere in the country.
KK: Marin County!
ES: Glorious Marin County. But I think so much about the importance of what we put in our bodies to fuel our physical selves, but also our minds, and how when we don't give that to the youngest among us, and when we cut off access to fresh, nutritious foods, we are cutting off entire segments of our population, and that's what's driving the Conscious Kitchen, which is our Turning Green program that started in Marin City, in my own backyard, in our community.
So for me, a piece of my daily practice is fresh, healthy food. That grounds me, it connects me to the soil. It's a piece of why I care so passionately about protecting our Earth so that it can provide for all of us, and so that it can also sequester all that we put out. But it's not-
KK: Personal and systemic.
ES: It is.
KK: At the same time.
ES: And there's not much else you can do when you're chopping vegetables, so there's something-
KK: Is that your meditation?
ES: It is, truly! I see it in my trips to the farmers market every week, knowing my farmer, knowing from where my food came.
ES: Yeah. And then going home, just chopping. And so I think about that-
KK: We're going to design a chop meditation for you.
ES: Great, I love it. I write a lot. I got a lot of thoughts bopping about this head, and I could spew them, and I often do. I ramble. But when I distill my thoughts, why do I feel that way, why do I believe what I believe? What's really irking me? Where did that sense of pain, of sadness, of fear, of anger, come from? And everybody has their own method. And for me, putting a pen to paper is an incredibly powerful tool.
Again, education. That stems from a solid educational foundation that I had, that I'm fortunate to have gotten scholarships to go to these schools that taught me how to make sense of these ideas. But me and my pen and my paper, we take on the world.
Nature, which is where I feel most alive, where I feel most like I'm living my purpose, where I also feel like just a little speck on this blue dot. And I'm so grateful, again, to come from where I come from, and to feel my feet planted in the sand or in the soil, and my hands in the sky. And it sounds so mundane, but I'm so grateful for that. And there's something so humbling, and it reminds you of just how little each of us are, but also how incredibly capable.
KK: And I think that brings us full circle with your purpose. And if in nature, you feel most alive and most yourself, it's no wonder you have been such a fierce citizen activist for environmentalism.
ES: You protect what you love. And I love our Earth.
KK: Yeah. Well, I am so grateful to be in this conversation with you. Super juicy, and to be in collab-
ES: To be on this journey with you!
KK: I was just going to say, and mark my words, we will work together. I'm excited for what you're up to, and I just can't imagine what you are going to accomplish in the long journey you have ahead in your life, for what you have done in the first 25 years of your life is unprecedented. And so, thank you for being bold and courageous. Thank you to your mother for seeding activism and wellbeing into your cells before you even took your first breath. And let's move forward together.
ES: We've got things to do.
KK: We've got work to do. And that's also an invitation for everybody out there. I think you've heard a number of times from Erin today that we all have a role to play, and even the smallest act makes a difference. And it's the aggregate of all of our actions, all of our roles, all of our purposes, and all of our work together that is actually going to take us in the direction of where we need to go.
ES: I really don't care so much what you do. I care that you do it. Apathy. Apathy is the largest issue plaguing our world today, so this is a call to action to start something, to do something, and to know that we and many, many, many more people have your back, believe in you, and we'll elevate each other for the greater good.
KK: Well, that is a perfect last word. Erin, thank you so much.
ES: Thank you.
KK: We are reimagining a citizenship where everyone belongs. And that calls us to fight for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US. Among them, 800,000 young people are living in fear because of the DACA crisis. An attack on immigrants is an attack on all of us. We need to fight to keep our families together and ensure the wellbeing of everyone. Please make it a practice of your citizenship to demand permanent protection, dignity, and respect for our undocumented communities. You can learn more about how to engage at fairimmigration.org and unitedwedream.org.
While this podcast is coming to an end, our work in the world is just beginning. This week's call to action is to start before you're ready. Ask yourself, where can I be most impactful, what am I most passionate about, what sets me up for a lifetime of service, and then do it. You can follow Erin on Twitter at @ErinSchrode.
Special thanks to our producer, Trevor Exter, and DJ Drez for the amazing soundtrack. You can check out his music at djdrez.com. And thank you for being here today. You can stay in the know and engaged by subscribing to our weekly newsletter WELLread at ctznwell.org.
CTZN Podcast is community-inspired and crowdsourced. That's how we keep it real. Join our community on Patreon for as little as $1 per month so that we can keep doing the work of curating content that matters for citizens who care. And don't forget to rate us on iTunes and share the love by telling your friends to check us out.