Erin Schrode

photo by Joshua LaCunha

photo by Joshua LaCunha

By the time Erin Schrode decided to run for Congress at age 24, she had co-founded an environmental nonprofit, launched a project that provided school supplies to Haitian youth, assisted Syrian and Afghan refugees in Greece and Macedonia, traveled to 70 countries and harbored the fierce conviction that “the decisions of today will disproportionately affect young people. I never thought of running for office but we deserve a place at the decision-making table,” she says of aspiring to become the first under-30 congresswoman.

"My campaign was the most grueling work I could imagine but I’d do it again, if that’s how I can best serve my community."

Schrode wound up launching a congressional campaign this past spring in her Northern California district that championed environmental health, student debt reform and human rights. Though she lost the election and experienced vicious anti-Semitic attacks from online trolls, “We laid out a message for success that went above and beyond coming in first,” she says of attracting national media coverage that helped “expand the definition of who can be a politician.”

The now 25-year-old activist, social entrepreneur and gifted speaker is currently involved in the current campaign and spoke at the Democratic National Convention. Maintaining a whirlwind schedule, she continues to serve as a spokesperson for Turning Green, the nonprofit she co-founded at age 13 with her mother Judi Shils, writes eco-themed articles for Fusion, a media platform geared towards millennials, and speaks all over the world “to inspire political involvement.” Often the youngest person “in any given room,” she credits her success to numerous mentors, being a perennial optimist and living by the motto, Dream and Do. “My mom and I share this,” she says. “When we see injustice, we take action.”

Raised in Marin County, California, Schrode grew up in an environmentally conscious home “where lemons and vinegar were in and chemicals were out.” Instilled with a strong Jewish identity from visiting her grandparents and signing herself up for Hebrew school in the fifth grade, Schrode fell in love with Israel after taking a Birthright trip at age 19. “When I landed in Tel Aviv, I felt the most visceral sense of belonging,” she recalls.

Schrode found her calling as an activist at age eleven when she watched her mother, a television producer turned community organizer, plan a door-to-door campaign to learn why her neighborhood had one of the highest cancer rates in the country. “This unfolded at my house with incredibly powerful activists. We then began to explore the links between lifestyle choices and cancer and other health risks,” she says of co-founding Turning Green two years later and empowering teens across the country to live environmentally conscious lives.

A dean’s scholar at NYU, Schrode majored in social and cultural analysis and studied in Israel, Spain, Ghana and Argentina. In each country, she honed her skills as an activist, including writing an environmental education curriculum for Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian youth. As she traveled through multiple countries, “I started to see that environmentalism knows no bounds and when I graduated from college, I wanted to keep doing what I was doing, realizing there was a niche for millennials like me to fill,” she says.

Determined to stay “true to my values,” Schrode doesn’t rule out running for political office in the future. “My campaign was the most grueling work I could imagine but I’d do it again, if that’s how I can best serve my community,” she says. “My through line has always been to make the world a better place.”

The 2016 Women to Watch Honorees: