Who Am I?

Photo by Vaughn Wallace

My name’s Noah Levinson. I’m 28 years old and I often call myself the strategist from Scranton. I was born there — before The Office, after Joe Biden.

I attended college at the University of Pittsburgh because my dad did. While there I wrote a thesis on the artistic, communicative, and political implications of internet memes.

I moved to New York City and promised myself I’d never end up tweeting for brands — then I had my first serious depressive episode. It was impossible to find a job. It was impossible to take care of myself. I didn’t know what I wanted except a regular paycheck and the courage to shower regularly and get out of bed before sunset.

So I started tweeting for brands. It felt worthless sometimes (especially when clients obsessed over why this post got 5 likes while another got 7), but I learned media and communications foundations. I saw how money and language can influence the press, consumers, and the internet. My time there was practically grad school.

In 2013, my boss asked me to work with our Google and YouTube clients. After two years of high quality shitposts, YouTube asked us to lead a Get Out The Vote campaign because kids love politics (no sarcasm).

My co-workers wanted nothing to do with politics; they complained that it’s dark, gross, and corrupt. Opportunity: here was something that nobody else was interested in.

I overnighted a book of political posters, watched hundreds of campaign ads, and went all in. I was hooked. Politics is addicting because basically, you win or lose. Nothing else in life is like that, except games and war.

We called the campaign #VoteIRL. It would be YouTube’s Rock The Vote. IRL stands for “in real life.” Obama almost didn’t get it.

Yet in spite of all our millennial GOTV research, a handful of celebrity endorsements, and YouTubers asking questions at presidential debates, it wasn’t enough. Turnout was low.

Trump and the GOP won. I came into work pretending to be the person that believed everything would be ok. But would it?

Failure is a very black and white word; I appreciate shades of gray. But let me overgeneralize: our leaders failed us — President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and every proud Democratic Party leader.

I haven’t mentioned Bernie Sanders yet. When #VoteIRL’s existence ebbed and flowed due to — get this — internal politics, I asked Sanders’ staff if they had a digital strategy. They didn’t really know. Or more likely, they didn’t care to share it with some rando nobody volunteer. Regardless I made them a presentation, they liked it, and they kept asking for help.

Why Bernie? Senator Sanders spoke about politics in a way that made me stop hating myself. I didn’t need to guilt myself for having half a dozen relapses of depressive episodes and constantly being anxious about failure. The obsession to succeed, compete with each other, and struggle wasn’t entirely my fault. The system doesn’t set us up to succeed. It sets us up to suffer.

Bernie presented a platform that spoke to this idea, and in doing so inspired the next generation of leaders like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Bernie became a national leader in 2016, but where we are today is his fault too. He promoted a political revolution, but relied on traditional campaign tactics that don’t work (like spending over $80,000,000 on TV ads).

In 2017, I crafted campaign strategies for millennial candidates across the country (and recovered from my last major depressive episode … for now). I ended the year as campaign manager for an old friend from Pittsburgh and now brilliant state representative, Sara Innamorato.

The biggest reason I ended up as campaign manager was because we couldn’t find anyone else to do it. There is a drought of talented young people in politics. This is a serious problem and something I will write about.

But we won that vicious campaign. My biggest takeaways:

  1. We outworked our opponent. We worked harder than he did.
  2. I thought I was a bad campaign manager, and we still won.

After the campaign I tried helping more good candidates get elected, especially more progressive millennials like Sara. I recruited talented minds from my brand marketing past to get more involved in politics. I learned more about my hometown of Northeastern PA and helped organize there.

I ended 2018 by volunteering on Jess King’s congressional campaign in Lancaster, PA. A proud, progressive mom running in a district that Trump won by 26 points, she believed that America is for all of us. Her team came from local, progressive grassroots organizing. This was the future of campaigns.

We ran the better campaign. We should’ve won. We needed to win. But we lost by 18 points.

If we can’t win communities that have been traditionally ignored, I think it’s likely that Donald Trump will win in 2020. We can’t keep doing the same thing a little bit better each time. It’s not enough. We must do things differently.

That’s what I will write about: how we can do better by doing differently. I hope you have a good idea of who I am and that I’m a good enough writer that all this stinkin’ thinkin’ is interesting.

If you disagree with what I write, that’s ok. I live my life saying stupid things until somebody says I’m wrong. I need people like you in my life.

But if you agree with what I write, I need more than just your attention. We need your help. Because it’s up to us.

If you want to help, email me right now at NoahDLevinson@gmail.com because there’s no time to lose.

Since diving into political work, people have asked me to write about my experiences and share my thoughts. Every week or two, I’ll share a new piece with you. Please let me know your reactions in the comments, or privately message me, because I want to start productive conversations. If you want to learn more about my work, click here. Thank you for reading — I hope my writing doesn’t suck!