Erin Schrode talked to a lot of people before she decided to run for Congress, but one conversation really stuck in her mind.
She had sought out the advice of an older male friend about waging a campaign to unseat an incumbent in her California district. "He put his hand on my knee and said, 'Sweetie, just wait 20 years [and] maybe you can run,'" she recalled in an interview Monday.
Schrode "was completely taken aback." And she decided to go for it.
At 24, the Marin County Democrat would be the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.
Why she's running: Schrode summed up her rationale for running in a March 29 Medium post:
Broken policy is failing us all, as fear and vitriol permeate politics. I can no longer watch as partisan gridlock threatens our future and that of communities around the country. We need common sense reform? —? and we need it en masse, yesterday. Clean water is a human right. Women add value to society. Mental health is a veritable illness. Black lives matter. Affordable healthcare helps families. Education can be an economic engine.
It's time to deliver on the promise of my generation.
Schrode's website described her as a "citizen activist, community organizer and vocal advocate for environmental action, social justice, public health and responsible consumption."
Her activist roots go back to 2005, when reports of high cancer rates in her home county spurred her to co-found Turning Green, "a national nonprofit organization devoted to education and advocacy around environmentally sustainable and socially responsible choices for individuals, schools and communities."
The New York University graduate knows she doesn't fit the mold of the stereotypical American politician ("I think man, I think middle-aged, I think law degree," she said) and that's part of what she said is right about her campaign to unseat Democratic Rep. Jared Huffman.
"You should have a breadth of backgrounds in Congress — and right now we just don't," she said in a phone conversation.
At the same time, Schrode insisted that she doesn't want to be judged on her age or gender, but by her ideas.
Thirty-something: At the moment, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress is New York Republican Elise Stefanik. The Harvard graduate was 30 when she won her upstate 21st District seat, and now chairs the Millennial Task Force of the House Policy Committee.
Schrode sees Stefanik not merely as the nation's youngest congresswoman (to date), but "an intelligent, capable elected official who is young and who is a woman," although they have divergent political views.
Stefanik's sex and her age alone, Schrode said, "should not define her. That should not define me."
Digital footprint: Another thing Schrode said sets her apart from older officials and candidates: Like her millennial peers, she grew up a digital native. "I had Facebook throughout high school," she said. "I Instagram the food that I eat. I am vocal about my points of view on Twitter. There's a 10-year digital footprint."
She's proud of the life she's lived (and documented), she said, "It's been a journey of someone who was never preparing to be a politician."
Change from within: After a life of world travels, speeches and advocacy, Schrode said she ultimately realized that although she hadn't planned on politics, it would be the best way for her to bring the changes she wants to see in environmental protection, public health, women's rights and social justice — in Northern California and beyond.
"The people I want to vote for won't run for office. The most talented, capable individuals of integrity that I know don't want to be associated with politics. That's a problem," she said.
"When people are shirking the political arena, [you] have to have people who still go into the system," Schrode said. "Maybe I'm an idealist, but I haven't lost hope."