When statesman Gouverneur Morris penned “We the People” for the preamble of the U.S. Constitution, he helped to define the U.S. as a single entity — created by and for a group of individuals.
Renowned consumer advocate Erin Brockovich loves the word “we.” In fact, she whips it out — as well as its close allies “us” and “our” — with great regularity.
For example: “Today, we look to someone else to give us the answers and lead us. We stand in our own way. I think we’re all born leaders.”
Though she has no problem using the first person “I” when taking responsibility for her actions, Brockovich celebrates her ability — our ability — to loudly and proudly proclaim membership in the constitutionally defined coalition of “we.”
She also wonders if “we” have forgotten about the individual responsibility that comes with being a part of Team U.S. and/or Team “Us.”
True, Brockovich’s people-first platform endorses positive character traits such as honesty, integrity and respect. Like so many of us, however, she wonders when these overworked nouns will be permanently transformed from “buzzword” to “action item.”
That said, she candidly yet optimistically adds: “I am seeing lost hope and when that hope is renewed then ‘we the people’ can speak and we can lead.”
In the 1990s, Brockovich spearheaded an investigation revealing that Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) had been poisoning the water in Hinkley, California, for more than 30 years. As chronicled in the 2000 film “Erin Brockovich,” PG&E was forced to pay out the largest toxic tort injury settlement in U.S. history: $333 million.
The movie may have launched Erin Brockovich, the brand, but the film’s heroine, the real-life Brockovich, has quite literally been keeping American heads above water ever since.
One doesn’t really “interview” Erin Brockovich. If you’re lucky, face time with Brockovich allows you to absorb her natural charm and time-honored belief system while preserving another endangered natural resource: active listening.
With the knowledge that she is sometimes viewed as aggressive, Brockovich explains: “I’m very kind and compassionate. I believe people feel they can confide in me. It helps when we put down our armor and realize none of us is perfect. We open up more. But don’t mistake my kindness as a sign of weakness.”
Despite Brockovich’s ongoing commitment to her principles, her words — her passion — come forth as if presented for the first time.
“It’s never about Erin; it’s about us. We have so much more in common than we realize. At the end of the day, we all care about our health, our welfare and our children,” she says. “I’m just a foot soldier on the ground.”
In fact, she summarizes her successful action plan very simply: Erin Brockovich’s primary goal is to “right wrong.”
Brockovich’s No. 1 obsession has not waivered since before her high-profile battle against PG&E. It’s still all about “water, water, water, water and water.” In fact, Brockovich’s father warned a young Erin: “In your lifetime, water will be a commodity.”
As president of Brockovich Research & Consulting, Erin Brockovich is one of the most requested speakers on the international lecture circuit. She also recently announced the formation of The Erin Brockovich Foundation, a nonprofit organization meant to educate and empower even more communities in their fight for one of the basic foundations of human survival: clean water.
Professionally, Erin Brockovich is also in a unique situation: she essentially shares her personal brand with her cinematic doppelganger, Julia Roberts.
With a business world now obsessed with developing “branded content” — the careful blend of entertainment and marketing — the film “Erin Brockovich” stands as a shining example of early content marketing. Ironically, the film was released long before anyone had conceived of the notion of a YouTube video as a platform-building sales tool.
Stronger and wiser
Spend time with Brockovich and you can’t help but appreciate Roberts’ brilliant, Oscar-winning film portrayal. In person, however, Erin Brockovich actually accomplishes the seemingly impossible: she almost makes you forget about Julia Roberts entirely.
After all, Julia’s Brockovich is frozen in time in the late 20th century, whereas Erin’s Brockovich is fixated on the issues of today. She is older and wiser, yet wickedly funny and refreshing. Nonetheless, like her cinematic Ghost of Brockovich Past, she is still a force to be reckoned with.
As is almost always the case with efficacious people, there is no substitute for the original.
“I’m over 50 now and I feel stronger and wiser than I have felt my entire life,” says Brockovich. “I feel more empowered by myself, my decisions and my confidence than ever before.” (Proof that advancing age should generate the aforementioned sense of empowerment, not a sense of entitlement.)
“People think I’m this big, bad person who comes in to stop something. I’m more of a motivator. I’m about personal empowerment,” says Brockovich. “The people have given the power to government and to businesses. The people have forgotten to give the power to themselves.”
The power of being human
Brockovich also has a very clear message for those sitting atop our nation’s environmentally precarious corporate ladders: “You can be the hero. You have the means to be morally responsible. You have the ability to be the solution. Industry and consumer can join forces. They need each other and they have pulled away from each other.”
So the next time you hear someone quip that Hollywood has nothing to teach us, consider this: Erin Brockovich and “Erin Brockovich” continue to be powerful educational tools — on action and compassion, on humanity and morality. Or, as Brockovich puts it: “the power of being human.”
Now, with the understanding that our country was formed by unparalleled displays of stick-to-itiveness, stop and take action. Seize your Brockovich-identified, born-leader status and renew your focus on a historically significant, all-inclusive and perpetually powerful pronoun: We. The people will thank you for it — and so will Erin Brockovich.
For more on marketer, publicist, writer and speaker Randall Kenneth Jones, visit randallkennethjones.com