For this series, students from Hunter College interviewed CIDNY Action Network members and staff about their work with us and what brought them to organizing. Author Nadia Guennouni is currently working towards her Masters in Mental Health Counseling.
Elizabeth Melas was born and raised primarily in Greece as an American citizen living abroad, until she came to the United States for high school in 2004. During her junior year of high school, Elizabeth developed a large tumor around her brain stem that required immediate removal. The removal of the tumor left lasting damage that caused neurological ataxia, which in turn caused speech and vision problems as well as the inability to walk. She went on to get her Bachelor’s degree in International Criminal Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
“I did not let any of that stop me from being me,” Elizabeth says. She identifies as an activist, first and foremost. Elizabeth is deeply rooted in justice in all forms, particularly political, social, and environmental. She is a strong advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, the rights of immigrants, and the right to a clean environment.
Her first foray into activism was at a Bernie Sanders rally in 2014, which changed how Elizabeth viewed her role in the world of activism. Prior to that rally, she always had an interest in activism, even as a child. Elizabeth says, “I’ve been an activist mentally since I was 7 years old, but I did not know how to get involved until recently when I started going to rallies.”
Since that rally in 2014, Elizabeth has gone to several more rallies and marches, even speaking to a crowd of 13,000 people. Elizabeth has also participated in events with New York Progressive Action Network (NYPAN) and Rise and Resist. NYPAN mobilizes citizens and advocates for, and defends, the well-being of the people within its communities through conferences and lobbying at the local and state level. Rise and Resist (RaR) are a direct action group committed to opposing, disrupting, and defeating any government act that threatens democracy, equality, and civil liberties. CIDNY partners with RaR on some actions and events, particularly on health care and subway accessibility.
According to Elizabeth, “Facebook has made it so easy to find events and organizations to get involved in.” Facebook is also what brought Elizabeth to CIDNY. She joined the group a few years ago, but became more involved in the past year through a mutual friend she shared with our Executive Director, Susan Dooha.
Elizabeth has taken trips to Albany with the CIDNY Action Network to lobby for the rights of people with disabilities. She finds this very fulfilling because “instead of talking about politicians, I’m actually talking to the politicians trying to affect change.” She has also gone to the Supreme Court of New York recently to fight against the MTA. Elizabeth views these lobby trips as doing her civic duty for the community. She intends to continue to work with the CIDNY Action Network to lobby Albany for the rights of the disabled and she hopes to one day lobby Congress in Washington DC. As she tells it, “it really feels like my voice matters and that is all I really want.”