Like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” Erin Brockovich, who also hails from Kansas, found herself caught up in a whirlwind that set her on a path to discovery.
Her famous story of a single mom fighting the odds to bring justice to residents of Hinkley, Nevada, who were poisoned by toxic water is chronicled in the feature film, “Erin Brockovich.” Despite the naysayers challenging her ability, Erin persisted and prevailed.
“You’re not a doctor; you’re not a scientist; you’re not a lawyer. What do you know?” Erin recalls people questioning her when she began investigating the connection between cancer incidents and toxic tap water. “You don’t have to be an expert to know something is wrong. I’ll never forget that day in Hinckley—the perfect storm came together; I had nothing to lose and everything to gain,” she says, noting that she learned to follow her intuition at a young age.
“As a kid l was always outside. I felt embraced by the environment. It taught me about observation—when to be still, when something was wrong; when it’s in trouble, I was in trouble,” says Erin, who recalls running though the wheat fields, catching fireflies and walking with her father alongside the streams in the countryside of Lawrence, Kansas.
“Enjoy the water, Erin… it won’t always be here,” Erin says she was told by her dad, an engineer who ran the pipelines for Texaco. “He saw things; he told me to enjoy the streams because water would become a commodity in my lifetime. He’s gonna be right.”
“When I started my work in Hinkley, instinctively it all came together,” remembers Erin, who credits her mother with instilling her with inner strength and self-confidence.
“Instinctually, you just have to be strong within who you are… My mom would tell me just because someone else may see you as inferior,” don’t listen. “Most of us doubt ourselves and that’s where we get caught up. We let others define us, but it’s truly about how we see and love ourselves,” says Erin.
And like the single mom sans law degree portrayed in the movie, Erin believes every person can take action and make a difference—especially moms.
“Moms are the biggest force,” says the mother of three children and four grandchildren. “It just takes one pissed off mom to get it going—99% of the time it’s moms—they take it upon themselves” to change things. “They can show up to City Council meetings and speak up, and they have the gift of ‘stick-to-it-ness,’ a propensity to follow through and a dogged persistence born of obligation and stubbornness,” says Erin.
“Oftentimes, they don’t want to speak up—I’ve heard that a million times, but once they own that, they take charge,” says Erin, naming the Essure lawsuit brought to light by women harmed by a birth control device who banded together to fight back and refused to be victims as one example of the power generated by a group of determined moms.
Fueled by her innate passion and purpose, Erin helped force a powerful, multimillion dollar corporation admit their wrongdoing and pay restitution to the people harmed by their actions, and she urges everyone to stand up and do their part in her new book, Superman’s Not Coming.
The book provides examples of how the average person can enact change. Celebrating people who realized they had to rise up and join in the fight, the book “gives good insight on how the system works and really takes you through these community issues and shows you how to get started,” explains Erin. “I think we’ve had this idea that magically state or federal agencies will fix the problem—we’ve been kicking the can down the road for too long. Collectively, we can make some changes.”
“It's always been, By the People, For the People, We the People, that can and will get it done,” says Erin on her website, Brockvich.com. "She makes it clear why we are in the trouble we’re in and warns us that if we’re waiting for someone to save us, Superman isn’t coming. Nor is the government or the environmental agencies. No one is going to solve this for us. It is up to us, we the people,” and she shows us how.
Her website, CommunityHealthbook.com, provides another avenue for people to share important information about local issues, from environmental and pharmaceutical drug woes to infrastructure and medical device failures. Dedicated to helping empower people to take charge and spark change, Erin views the current COVID crisis as an opportunity to pause and take stock.
“COVID has been a reset for all of us; it has given us time to stop and look around. I feel that we’re in a reboot and waking up,” she notes. “I wonder if we’ve been asleep or too comfortable—there was an illusion [that things were fine] but, as we shake out of it, we see that whatever we’ve been doing in the past isn’t working now. We can change old business models and antiquated systems, laws and politics that don’t work,” she says, pointing to the recent wildfires, water issues and climate change.
“What are we thinking, for God’s sake? We need to look at cleaning up these problems. We can’t keep kicking the can down the line and think someone else will do it for us,” she notes, quoting Joan Baez: “Action is the antidote to despair.”
A 20-year resident of Agoura Hills, Erin believes there's no place like home and says California is a “beautiful gift.”
“I love it here! The geography offers everything—ocean, mountains, desert, cities—it hurts me to see the damage that’s been done to the water tables, the failure of our infrastructures, the fires and people leaving the state,” says Erin. “I think that this state needs to cherish what we have and protect it. Business can exist and there’s plenty of room for safety and a profit.”
In the end, says Erin, “I absolutely have hope that it will come back—everything does; it’s how we handle that transition. The moral of the story is, we forgot that as people, we have a heart, we have a brain, we have the courage—it will be us that can find our way back.”