Environmental activist Erin Brockovich encouraged her audience to resolve environmental issues and persevere in the face of obstacles.
“There seems to be a real disconnect between people and the environment,” Brockovich said. “One is contingent on the other. One cannot live without the other. If we don’t start prioritizing and taking a look at what’s important to all of us, we could have a real crisis.”
About 250 people attended the Students for Ecological and Environmental Development’s annual fall speaker event Wednesday night in Cahn Auditorium.
Although Brockovich had little legal experience, her 1990s investigation revealed Pacific Gas & Electric poisoned Hinkley, Calif. residents with toxic ground water, which led to the largest direct-action lawsuit in U.S. history.
"She is an example of an ordinary person who accomplished a goal for the common good," said Stephanie Fuerte, Medill junior and SEED fall speaker co-chair. “She got the right message out to the student body and emphasized it was all about individual action and that we can all make changes. In Erin’s personal story, she saw something was wrong. She said something, and she did something about it.”
Brockovich also mentioned that people sometimes stand in their own way of achieving their goals. The lessons and values her parents instilled in her helped her greatly during difficult times, she said. Her mother stressed the importance of “sticktoitiveness” – dogged perseverance – while her father emphasized the value of honesty. In order to keep to these goals, she created a program called RAM, which stands for Realization, Assessment and Motivation, to empower others. She stressed the importance of remembering the motivation for one’s work in accomplishing one’s goals.
“Those who have the privilege of knowing have the duty to act," Brockovich said.
She also urged students to watch Last Call at the Oasis, a documentary about the global water crisis, and work with communities in Illinois dealing with environmental crises.
“I found her discussion about motivation, to not be afraid to make a difference in your community, very inspiring,” said Weinberg sophomore Lauren Wustenberg. “The most heartfelt part of her speech was when she was talking about the values she grew up with. It was what really drove her in her own life and how she found a way to change to the world around her.”
Brockovich also addressed common questions about the 2000 film based on her work, Erin Brockovich – she said the movie is accurate and the "Bite my ass, Krispy Kreme” character is real.
Overall, she primarily focused on speaking about her work and encouraged students to take up action and protect the environment.
“Remember this: What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us."