Erin Thomas is the Policy and Research Coordinator at ICAAD and has been involved with ICAAD since 2017. A skilled facilitator and researcher with impact, Erin has worked on difficult human rights issues in the Pacific including gender-based violence, nuclear justice, and climate justice. Erin is an organizer at heart and thrives on bringing people together around advocacy efforts. She earned her B.A. in International Relations from American University in Washington D.C. and her M.A. in Development Studies at the University of Auckland. She was born in Indiana and now calls Auckland, New Zealand home.
What do you do at ICAAD?
Like the rest of the team, I work across a few areas. I take the lead on our Pacific projects and spend all my down time cultivating and building relationships with our partners on the ground. In our larger programs, I find myself playing the role of translating material across disciplines with a variety of partners. Multidisciplinarity is our strength, but it often requires some translation to ensure that, for example, the activists with grounded knowledge can draw from legal, tech, or data science related capacities as projects develop.
A recent example of this is the Right to Life with Dignity project. I’ve had the opportunity to facilitate discussions with frontline climate activists and navigate the space in between the technical knowledge and grounded realities.
What motivates your advocacy efforts?
What drives me is the belief that we all truly deserve better than the systems we have. International human rights law gives us a great direction in terms of where we should be heading. Rage stemming from injustice is a source of motivation, but it’s my relationships with other advocates that keeps the flame alive. Just as it can be beautiful and rewarding, this work can also be disheartening and disappointing. For example, losing campaigns or collective energy fizzling out around a project can be discouraging. However, being with each other and remembering that people are the why is a powerful motivator for me.
Who or what inspires you?
Generally, I’m inspired by the fact that we’re standing on the shoulders of giants. Understanding the legacy of those who have been fighting for justice long before us is both humbling and inspiring. In terms of individuals, I’m inspired by the work of Anne Braden who was a powerful civil rights advocate in the South working to organize white people around anti-racism. I also draw inspiration from those in my family who have played different roles in the civil rights and queer liberation movements. The common threads are the courage to speak up and the humility to be a part of something much bigger than yourself.
What is an important lesson that you’d like to share with other human rights advocates?
Don’t go it alone, and remember your power. We all find ourselves in varying social positions that unlock different levels of power to either reinforce or change the systems we operate in. See your power and don’t be afraid of it. Power isn’t currency, it’s a muscle. For those of us who aren’t key decision-makers or wealthy elites, people power is how we make change and also how we strengthen our communities. Find your people power and use it.
You can find Erin on LinkedIn here.