Around a dozen students gathered Thursday night to hear 25-year-old Erin Schrode, an environmental activist and entrepreneur, talk about her candidacy for the U.S. House of Representatives, the threats that clutter her social media feeds and the importance of fighting for social progress.
Zachary Cohen ’18, co–editor in chief of The Yale Politic and Melanie Grad-Freilich ’19, membership chair of the Women’s Leadership Initiative, interviewed Schrode, who founded the environmental organization Turning Green when she was 13 years old. Schrode encouraged students to protest, run for office and “show up” physically rather than just using social media to promote policy.
The hourlong event in William L. Harkness Hall was co-sponsored by the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale, Yale Friends of Israel, The Politic and the Women’s Leadership Initiative.
“Now is not the time to curl up or to shut up,” Schrode said. “Now is the time to double down like we never have before.”
Had she won last November, Schrode — who ran for California’s 2nd Congressional District seat — would have been the first woman under the age of 30 to be elected to Congress. Although Schrode lost to incumbent Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., she encouraged young women to run for Congress regardless of their party affiliation. During her campaign last year, she sought advice from Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who was elected when she was 30 years old, making her the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Noting that the “most disruptive” actors in media and business are under 30 years old, Schrode said young people who have a “pulse” on the present and will “bear the burden” of the future should have a greater voice in government. Grad-Freilich asked Schrode about the difficulties of running for office as a woman and in particular whether Schrode suppressed any of her traditionally feminine traits on the campaign trail. Schrode said her campaign team wanted to hire a consultant to study the effects on voters of her hair styles, shoes and clothing, as women running for office are scrutinized in ways men are not. She added that men are rarely labeled “bossy” or “tired,” though women often are. But, Schrode pointed out, if more women run, female politicians will not face such gendered critiques.
Schrode also spoke about the obscene messages that overwhelm not only her public social media accounts but also her private email and voicemail. Many of them threaten sexual violence or refer to her with vulgar words. She said she has also received many anti-Semitic messages. She turned to the audience and asked if anyone had been the target of hate speech. Calling on those who raised their hands, she asked how it felt to be a target and related their experiences to her own.
“You start to think I must have done something wrong by being born Jewish,” Schrode said. “We start to internalize, to rationalize, to normalize this behavior. We have to take a deep breath and say that we have to operate from a place of peace.”
Yonatan Millo, Jewish Agency Israel Fellow at the Slifka Center, said the center organized the talk in part because the student body should hear more about the sort of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel rhetoric Schrode experienced from across the political spectrum.
Schrode told the News before the talk that after a headline called her “pro-Israel” during her congressional campaign, many of her supporters turned against her. Though she was not raised in an observant family, Schrode said that during her birthright trip to Israel, she experienced a profound sense of homecoming that caused her to rethink her previous stance that Israel was an “aggressor nation.” Now, she said, though she is critical of the Israeli government, the existence of the state of Israel is important to her identity, society and sanity.
She also emphasized that people should take action on issues that do not impact them. For example, she traveled to Standing Rock last year to participate in anti-pipeline protests and was shot in the back with a rubber bullet. Schrode said both law enforcement and media refused to acknowledge her experience.
“I watched police rewrite the truth,” Schrode said. “It was captured on video. I had witnesses and doctors. The media covered that ‘truth,’ that ‘alternative fact,’ with the same respect and proper time allocation as the real truth.”
After the talk, many students said they were struck by her candor and honesty. Ana Barros ’18, chairwoman of The Politic, said that though the current political climate is disheartening, hearing Schrode was empowering. Valentina Connell ’20, a member of the Women’s Leadership Initiative conference committee, said that she aspires to be as genuine and passionate as Schrode. Grad-Freilich said Schrode was present and engaging in ways political speakers rarely are at Yale.
Schrode graduated from New York University in 2013.