By Constantine Martin
Overcoming hate speech and not being afraid of who you are and your beliefs can be one of the most gratifying feelings in life, an equal-justice activist told students at this university Tuesday night.
Erin Schrode, a former U.S. Congress candidate in California’s District 2 in 2016, talked about her career as a citizen activist, social entrepreneur, environmentalist and writer, highlighting the anti-Semitic hate speech she has encountered and how she overcame it.
Schrode told her audience about the countless threats, insults and discrimination directed at her Jewish heritage she experienced while running her campaign for Congress and how she fought to remain true to who she is amidst a sea of negativity.
Schrode did not initially run into any issues regarding her Jewish faith, but her background quickly received attention once brought into the public eye.
“Four days before the election, two articles came out identifying me as a Jew,” said Schrode. “I’m not going to tell you I thought anti-Semitism was dead in 2016, 2017 or 2018, but I had never been on the receiving end.”
Schrode was sent messages such as, “Get out of my country kike, get to Israel where you belong, that or the oven is taking you,” and was emailed pictures of her cropped into Auschwitz, a former Nazi concentration camp, she said.
Schrode confessed that while her campaign team urged her not to speak out about the hate speech that was being targeted at her, it did not deter her from continuing to fight for environmental action, public health and equal justice.
“The cause that you take on right now does not have to be the cause you take on for the rest of your life, but you have to take it on and see it through,” said Schrode. “Among everything that I have felt the last two years, the vast majority of which could have rendered me silent, left me crying in my room, but I have felt the love [of the Jewish community].”
The speech was held in Jimenez Hall and drew a crowd of about 30 students and faculty.
“She was an incredible speaker. Very charismatic,” said sophomore mechanical engineering major and Mishelanu Co-president Lee Kirshenboim. “Too be so young and have done so much is out of this world. It’s inspiring to me.”
Schrode was invited to speak as part of Israel Week, an eight-day event focused on recognizing Israel’s culture and is sponsored by student organizations such as Terps for Israel, Mishelanu, the Jewish Student Union and Maryland Hillel. Schrode’s speech was the third and final of the Terps for Israel Speaker Series.
“Once I was told there was interest and I was told about [her] story a little bit, I was very invested in making this [speech] happen,” said junior marketing major and Terps for Israel President Avi Schneider. “No way we can replicate the things she said and actually illustrate the power of what she went through.”
Schrode has been living in Puerto Rico for the past six months, helping set up kitchens for those less fortunate. She has helped open 26 kitchens across the island and provide over 3.4 million meals to people in need, but flew back to Maryland for a couple days to speak to the students, she said.
Schrode has been featured in and tapped as an expert for the New York Times, CNN, Vanity Fair, National Geographic, ABC, NBC, BBC, FOX and numerous other news organizations. She has also received multiple honors such as being elected as one of 10 Inspiring Climate Leaders by Participant Media, alongside activists such as Al Gore, Bill McKibben, and other global luminaries, according to her website.
“I have never been more proud of my identity, I have never been more proud of my connection to the state of Israel, and I have never been more proud to be a part of [the Jewish] community that supports each other,” said Schrode.