Elana Levin

Elana Levin, Co-founder Organizing 2.0

“Social media means we don’t have to beg corporate media for coverage anymore. We can create a situation where the media had to cover us. By making it a trend and creating powerful images in cities, a media that didn’t want to cover Black Lives Matter has to cover police violence for clicks, or they’ll look like fools.”

Pronouns: She or They

Meet Elana Levin. Elana Levin works at the intersection of pop culture and online organizing. For twelve years, she has been a trainer in online strategy and a digital strategist for labor unions, nonprofits, and grassroots campaigns. Elana served as Director of Online Organizing for the immigrant-led community organization Make The Road. Currently, she is Director of Trainings at Netroots Nation, Program Director at New Media Mentors, and is the co-founder of the Organizing 2.0 conference, the leading online organizing conference and year-round training hub for nonprofits and unions in the New York area.

Elana teaches workshops on fan activism, leveraging the lessons of pop culture storytelling in campaigns, and in that same vein, she is a podcast host for Graphic Policy Radio, which offers media criticism and interviews with pop culture creators and fans (especially the Marvel Universe). Elana tweets about labor, online organizing, and Superhero comics at @Elana_Brooklyn, “all the damn time.”

What Does She Do?

Elana is the co-founder of the annual Organizing 2.0 conference, which will convene this coming Friday the 13th. Organizing 2.0 is the first conference aimed at organizing staff and communications staff at nonprofits who aren’t technologists, but who need to have tech skills with an emphasis on organizing.

Including Elana: “Shakespeare and Gutenberg are not the same person. I’m on the Shakespeare end of things. I can’t fix your broken computer.”

“The space Organizing 2.0 fills is in from an entirely different planet than the Personal Democracy Forum. PDF is big ideas, philosophy and application coming together, generally strong with technologists and civic tech people. [But] it’s not aimed for people who are in a position to say, “Ahhh! How do I make my Facebook page be better?”

“If you are a techie and are thinking of attending, I would encourage you to do so to get a sense of what the non-techie’s who are working in our space are dealing with. It’s a really good reality check what skills people have. What their needs are. There sometimes can be a disconnect from where civic tech is and what union, grassroots, and digital workers — who are not technical — are doing in this space.”

After years of balancing a day job, support from New Media Mentors means that Elana can now teach digital skills full time to other folks on the frontlines.

“As an organizer, you have conversations where people are. I’m not going to have an authentic conversation with someone about baseball, but I can definitely teach people the skills of engaging with people through pop culture as a tool. Think about who in your office has relationships in active fandoms. Who is involved in hockey? In Star Trek? Who live tweets Shondaland shows? Those people have platforms.”

Elana’s Graphic Policy Radio podcast recognizes this, frequently booking experts to discuss timely issues. This podcast with Spencer Ackerman is a favorite of hers; the Pulitzer prize-winning journalist discusses the Marvel/Netflix show “Daredevil” as someone who first learned to read from comic books, and as an expert on torture.

This past February — knowing in her bones that Black Panther was going to be a huge cultural moment — Elana and New Media Mentors put together the Black Panther FanActivistCon partnering with the folks from the Center for Story-based Strategy. This all-day online event was designed to bridge fan activism and teach digital strategies, “so that grassroots organizations could leverage more than a billion dollars worth of free press.”

How Did She Get Into This Work?

“My relatives on my mother’s side are Holocaust survivors, so there is a duty to fight for justice.”

Elana grew up in the D.C. suburbs to progressive parents who were lifelong federal employees. While Elana has been fighting for social justice since high school — she recalls being part of her school’s first gay-straight alliance which helped pass LGBTQ sex education in her county in the mid-nineties — she never thought of doing so professionally. “Until that is, I met someone who was an artist and a union organizer who used his creativity for the purpose of doing political work. I thought, “Wow. You basically make flyers and photos all day.”

By the early aughts, Elana had protest fatigue. “What is the point? You’d go to a protest, the cops beat everyone and no one would cover it. That’s how it was before Web 2.0 and blogging. As soon as we could tell our own stories, it was game-changing. Revelatory.”

“Social media means we don’t have to beg corporate media for coverage anymore. We can create a situation where the media had to cover us. By making it a trend and creating powerful images in cities, a media that didn’t want to cover Black Lives Matter has to cover police violence for clicks, or they’ll look like fools.”

What Project Is She Working On?

Organizing 2.0 is April 13 & 14.

“It’s focused on teaching skills. Not big speeches or panels. We want this to be our biggest turnout. And we want the conference to be sustainable. If we have more funding, we can do more trainings.”

This year more people are coming to learn how to share their personal testimonies. You may have heard of instructor Laura Packard, who was thrown out of a town hall after confronting Senator Dean Heller with her battle against Stage Four Hodgkins. Her experience was captured on camera and was subsequently seen more than a million times. Speculates Elana, “One of the reasons people are being more public: it’s so dire.”

During the year the work of Organizing 2.0 continues with online training, webinars, and one-on-one mentoring.

How Did She Come to Civic Hall?

Elana is a PDF alum, going way back. “Micah gave me one of my first big speaking gigs— a panel on Google AdWords for political education. We’ve been fans of each other since.”

During PDF, Charles Lenchner posted an ad-hoc session on online organizing and the working class. He and Elana were the only folks to show up, but they knew that there was a need. “There had to be a strategy for talking to working-class people using internet technology.” Ten years ago they launched Organizing 2.0 to teach digital skills to union locals.

What Is Her Ask of Civic Hall?

“Invest in trainings. Go to Org 2.0!” 

“If you know Civic Hall members who have relationships with community groups, they should be attending. Please invite them and spread the word over social media.”

While the conference is designed to be affordable to almost everyone at $250 for both days, if you can’t otherwise attend, you can pay for just meals: $35 for both days; $25 for one.

In addition to nuts and bolts training, Org 2.0 is a matchmaker in terms of people meeting one another and hiring. It’s a connecting space.

Also: Attend Netroots Nation this August!