Q: In the past election season there was a sort of “rise of the outsider.” You are an outsider in politics. In the insider-outsider debate, do you think one position is more effective?
A: We need the rabble-rousers, the crazy ones. Steve Jobs said square pegs in round holes. The people who push the boundaries are the ones who push the country and the world forward. I’m so grateful that there are people that are far more radical than I am to make me look normal.
I’ve been pushing for this change from day one. And when I look at the political sphere, specifically about your question, politics as usual is not working. Business as usual is not working. Education system as usual is not working. Criminal justice system as usual is not working. We have these broken, stagnant, divided, antiquated systems. And as long as we keep putting the same types of people into power and positions of leadership, we get the same results. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Our country is certifiably insane by that definition.
The decisions being made today will disproportionately affect us. Who better to have a voice at the table than us? That’s not radical. That’s not insane. That’s sensible.
This election was fascinating. You saw people gravitating toward Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. And Erin Schrode. And so many people said, “this is your election cycle because you’re not afraid to step outside of the box.” We need more people to say, “I don’t fit the mold.” I’m the first to tell you that I don’t fit the mold of a politician and that’s exactly why more people should run.
Q: One of the ways that you don’t fit the mold is your age. You would have been the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Do you identify with the label “millennial”?
A: We, “millennials,” are a product of our times. We utilize the resources at our fingertips. We’re digitally connected. We’re using Twitter to start revolutions, because we don’t know any other way. We are a product of our times, harnessing the greatest technological developments ever in history.
I don’t like all of the stigmas and all of the stereotypes. But most stereotypes are rooted in some semblance of truth. And I sort of want to flip that. We are the most connected, the most collaborative and the most aware generation the world has ever seen. And that’s thanks, in large part, to technology. Okay, that can mean we can play our fill-in-the-blank app, our fill-in-the-blank game behind our screen. We can hide. We can be insular — completely self-obsessed, completely self-absorbed. But we can also harness that for good. That’s what I try to do. How do we catalyze our generation? How do we catalyze millennials to utilize all of the privilege we’ve been given and all of the tools at our fingertips?
Q: What about stereotypes or labels that come with being a woman, especially one who speaks up and is bold? Do you run into the “boss-bossy” double standard?
A: I’m not an idiot. I know why people invite me into boardrooms especially in corporate America. It checks a box. I’m young. I’m a woman. “We did that. We got her perspective. Clap. Clap. Clap.”
I think people so underestimate women’s intellect or why women are in a room. I tell people, especially young people, all the time, “You’re going to be discredited because you’re young, and you’re going to be discredited because you’re a woman. So you better show up all the more prepared. That much more articulate with clear scientific backing and research for your platforms.” Otherwise people will say, “Oh, honey. Oh, sweetie.” Cut me a break. I get it all the time.
I got a really lovely message two days ago about how I was a, “p***y, c**t-dripping bitch.” I hear it all the time that I’m going to be gang-raped, and they’re going to laugh with glee. That this is only because of all of the semen I’ve swallowed or all the people I must have slept with to get to where I am. It’s completely discrediting all of the hard work of women — the giants upon whose shoulders I stand. The women who have paved the way. And the women who are continuing to pave it.
We are 18.4 percent of Congress. That’s pathetic. We’re over 50 percent of the US population and 18 percent of Congress. And you see the statistics about how business with women on corporate boards do better. We don’t have those statistics about government because we’ve never had a government with that high of a percentage of women’s participation. Is it hard? Absolutely. Have I been the only woman in the room? Am I often the only woman in a room since I was 13? Yeah, but I also have these incredible sisters upon which to draw.
Let’s use Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 and Donald Trump as an example. Clinton would get up and make one factual error in her statement and it would be absolutely dissected. She was “tired.” She was “authoritarian” in her voice. Her suit color “matched Elizabeth Warren’s.” And Trump would get up there, wearing the same suit and the same tie many times and nobody talked about the tenor of his voice or whether he was tired or the nonsense coming out of his lips. But “He said one good point.” And that’s this double standard that has to be called out. It’s bullshit.
Q: Speaking more about being a woman and an environmentalist, I haven’t seen many grassroots organizers with lifestyle advice and product recommendations on their websites. Why did you decide to include this information?
A: When I started “Turning Green” in 2002, Marin County, California, my hometown, had the highest breast, prostate and melanoma cancer rates in the world. No one knew why. And there wasn’t enough money, in one of the most affluent counties on Earth, to do the testing. Breast cancer rates had risen 60 percent in eight years. It wasn’t water. It wasn’t demographics. We started looking at toxins. A study came out that linked the ingredients in personal care products to cancer, birth defects and reproductive harm.
I ate organic food, drank out of reusable water bottles, carpooled, and planted in the garden. But I used Maybelline Full’n’Soft mascara. Britney Spears was the spokesperson for Herbal Essences shampoo. I, as a 13-year-old girl, felt very wronged. What do you mean no one’s looking out for my health and well-being? What do you mean there’s no government oversight? What can I do? At 13, I could change the products I used on a daily basis. Cosmetics and personal care products are where we began as an activist group.
Q: The event you’re speaking at tonight is co-sponsored, in part, by Yale Friends of Israel and the Slifka Center. How does your pro-Israel stance tie with your activism? Where did it come from?
A: The Bay Area is very, very progressive. I grew up in a very anti-Israel climate. I’m half Jewish. My mother is Jewish, but my father is not. I was raised thinking Israel was an aggressor state. I thought it was a land of tanks and hyper-religious people. And that there were humans rights violations being committed against the Palestinians over and over and over again.
When I was 18 or 19, my friend said, “Let’s do Birthright.” I said, “What’s Birthright?” She said, “A free trip to Israel.” I heard in my head, “A free trip to the Middle East.” I got on the plane with a really bad attitude. I landed and I walked outside and I felt this profound, visceral sense of homecoming — of belonging.
I came back to the US with a completely different perspective after being there on the ground in Israel with a real appreciation of the state of Israel. I am a firm believer and defender in the state of Israel and its right to exist. I feel so grateful as a Jew in America that Israel exists — that we have that land. I’m facing unbelievable anti-Semitism here. I’ve faced hundreds of thousands of pieces of hate speech and death threats since June. “Get out of my country.” “Get to Israel or get in the ovens. Take your pick.” Over and over and over again. “You have until Jan. 20th.”
This is my country. I believe in America. I’m not going to leave. I’m going to fight. But to know that Israel is there, to know that this place exists is important to my identity, to my safety, to my sanity. I’ve faced some of the ugliest sides of anti-Semitism in America with the rise of the “alt-right.” In that context, there’s a really important dialogue to have about the differences between anti-Israel sentiments and anti-Semitism and where they do and don’t overlap.
In our country right now, so many people say, “I’m not anti-Semitic. I support the state of Israel.” But they just want all of the Jews in America to go there. I don’t think there’s been a more important time for me to be vocal. These two articles came out before my election identifying me as a Jew, which is not hard to find out. Someone wrote a pretty incendiary headline: “Progressive, pro-Israel, and potentially the youngest person in Congress.”
A lot of progressives in my district read that and said, “You lied to us! You’ve mislead us!” I said, “I, too, am critical of the state of Israel. I’m invested because I care. Let’s find a better path.” It was just amazing to see how people went from “Absolutely, Erin is a horror and a terrorist” to “Oh, you’re critical of Israel? Okay, cool.”
So when you don’t understand an issue it becomes very dangerous. It becomes very polarizing. It becomes potentially fatal.
Contact LIANA VAN NOSTRAND at email@example.com .