Aliza Kopans

During a call with Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood’s (CCFC) Action Network, one participant reflected on her journey toward joining the organization. “I thought I was an island,” she said of her desire to raise her children ‘screen-free’.” Following her statement, a rush of memories hit me—moments when I have felt like an island; alone in my morals, wants, and vision of justice. The gut-wrenching feeling of solitude when one wants to create change, is painful. Her statement ended with “Then I found this community and realized I am not alone.” Suddenly, a realization counteracted my heavy feelings: with a network of support, change can take place.

I have marched in support of women’s rights and walked out of school to protest gun violence. I have skipped tests to demand climate justice and donned masks to call out racism.

In each of these movements, I felt an overwhelming surge of togetherness and within that togetherness, a kernel of great power. Committing to making a change, even to just staying true to your own beliefs, is a daunting task. Yet if you approach the change with others—backed by their support, encouraged by their words, and inspired by their stories—making a difference suddenly feels possible.

Every activist who spoke with us this summer, from Muhammad Hassan, who traveled a long journey to seek asylum in the US, to Gabby Queenan of Mass River Alliance, who influences decisionmakers’ water policies, spoke highly of the communities they had joined through their work.

“Sometimes, I feel like [achieving justice] is a battle, and we’re in the trenches” professed Gabby. The fight for justice is never-ending and working towards a more just world when one is not even sure if it is achievable is a draining task. Developing and sustaining a “cohesive team” with whom you can celebrate the victories, rebound after the losses, and strive for greater equality makes the fight worth it.

The communities are not always as visible as hundreds of protesters, shoulder to shoulder (or in this era, a little further apart), physically standing together, but the behind-the-scenes networks are still there, fortifying change-sparking movements. I have found a community in my Teen JUST-US Boston cohort: fellow teens who aspire to make a difference. I leave our video calls energized by the ambitions of my JUST-US peers. I take great comfort in knowing I will have these wonderful people to turn to for insight and motivation for many years to come. At CCFC, I have discovered another strong network, this one dedicated to preserving the rights of children to a play-filled childhood. I have met adults who respect my perspective and encourage me to use my voice. I have collaborated with teens who understand my want to lead a low-tech life and invite me to join their movements prioritizing humanity over technology.

While I feel empowered as a part of these communities, it is inevitable that the isolating “island-feeling” will strike again. Inevitably, I will wonder if creating lasting change is possible, since I am just one person floating alone with some sand and a single palm tree as company on my island. But this time, instead of drifting into uncertainty, I’ll draw from what I have learned this summer. I will call out to those around me, to the networks willing to guide me in the quest for justice. And I will remember: I am not an island.

Aliza Kopans
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