Nashville, TN — Standing up for a community or even just a single person is an incredibly difficult task. But every community has its leaders, and those leaders are the ones who inspire change.
Ariana Tzanos, 17, works as the executive director of Youth Civics Initiative — an organization dedicated to connecting youth with opportunities to create change — and is deeply involved in the New York political scene. She’s fighting to make a positive change in the world, but she said she wouldn’t call herself an activist, per se. She prefers to be called an organizer.
“I enjoy the word organizer so much more than ‘activist’,” she said. “I feel like activists are somebody on stage who's… gonna say they have a bigger impact but I think that organizers, it's where the work's at.”
Tzanos, a 12th grader at a public high school in Queens, NY, said that the most meaningful experience she has had so far was lobbying for climate change last winter. It was an incredible and unique experience because, while she had lobbied in the past, she had never gotten the chance to lead a movement.
“I got to lead a lobbying group for climate on the local level,” she said. “We got two cosponsors (for the bill fighting climate change) out of it, which was exciting.” She also said that she really enjoys lobbying because of how easy it is to make a difference, especially when you’re in a group. Tzanos said that lobbying is difficult alone, but if you can do it with a few other people, it’s actually super easy to get things done.
For many people, activism is a crucial part of an identity. This is also true for Tzanos, who got started in the field in January 2021 for a city council campaign. The fact that she’s been involved with powerful movements has helped her to become more confident and not be scared to speak up. She’s learned that it’s okay for people to disagree with her thoughts and positions, but that it doesn’t mean that she should stop advocating for what she believes in.
Tzanos must be on the right track because the two accomplishments she’s most proud of are speaking on a panel in front of the Boys Club of New York helping to organize Kristin Gonzalez’s (a state senator for NY) internship program — both of which happened in summer. She helped to train and maintain relationships with Gonzalez’s 25 interns. Of the experience, she said, “It was really cool to go from fully nothing to having a bunch of interns.” This type of hands-on experience is exactly the kind of thing that’s changing lives and proving Tzanos’s role as an important community organizer of Queens, NYC.
But making a difference isn’t always easy, especially as a young professional. She feels like she’s leading two different lives, between school and work. While she doesn’t consistently talk to her teachers about her organizing experiences, she does feel very close to the adult sponsor at the Youth Civics Initiative, named Jane Hatterer. She’s a mentor to Tzanos and ensures she makes her own choices, but is always there for support. Of this relationship, Tzanos said, “She lets me run things, but she also provides advice, when needed (and) helps build partnerships.”
And, while things like lobbying and speaking at conferences are impressive, Tzanos also thinks that there are smaller, more everyday ways to be an organizer. “I'm very pro-reading the news,” Tzanos said, “which is not making a difference per se, but it's at least knowing what's going on.”
There are many ways to make a difference in this world and it’s important to try and participate in a few of them. And, especially when a person is younger, it can be hard to put themselves out there to make a change. But with role models and trailblazers like Ariana Tzanos, who are working towards a better world, it’s safe to say that change is well on its way.