You Should Know… Elyssa Feder

Photo courtesy of Elyssa Feder

By Elisa Posner

Elyssa Feder trains people to be organizers. An organizer, Feder says, is someone who has a vision for their community and works with others to make that vision a reality.

Feder, 31, founded Rising Organizers in 2016 to teach people how to strategize their goals for communal change. Though she only posted about the first event on her private Facebook, 150 people attended.

Since then, she’s built Rising Organizers to encompass public and internal trainings and a fellowship program for young adults.

“Our mission is to make sure that everyone who wants to have access to the tools that help them create a better world for themselves and their communities, have access both to the skills that we teach, but also to the community that makes this work sustainable. It’s not just that we teach you the skills. We are deeply invested in bringing you into our community,” she said.

What does it mean to be an organizer?

I think that when people think of being an organizer, it could feel really intimidating. Which makes me sad, because we’re all organizers. We’re all trying to figure out ways of making our communities better and working with other people to do it. That’s a natural human instinct. I think to be an organizer is to have a vision for your community, to work with others in your community to build communal power, and pursue those goals for the betterment of those around you. But there are real barriers to people doing it. I’m glad that I get to help break those barriers down.

What do you train people to do?

What we do is help people identify what’s the issue that you care the most about, and how you can make the greatest impact on that issue with the resources you already have. It’s really hard for us to narrow in on a specific issue because we care about so much. And that’s a good thing — I want us to care about everything. What we do is walk folks through getting really specific on what they care about, what they want to do about it, and then giving them the skills to build the kinds of relationships and communal power to make the change on those issues.

What are the skills you help them work on?

The fellowship goes through “Organizing 101”: what it is, what’s power, what’s organizing and how to build relationships. We talk about how to tell your personal story, how to identify your goals. Take criminal justice reform — that’s a huge topic. There’s lots of different ways you could approach that one issue.

We talk about how to build your base, because you by yourself are not going to be able to get anything done. I wish you could. But that’s just not the way power works.

So there could be an organizer in any field. But you guys are specifically dedicated toward activism.

Good question. In organizing, we talk about power being extremely valuable. Power is extremely value neutral. If you are dealing with improving your dorm, improving a school policy, those things are hyperlocal. They’re on your campus, but they’re still organizing.

They’re not directed at the government, but they are [directed] at building power. I don’t think you could be an organizer without grappling with, and trying to build, power. Activism is a big word. Organizing deals power. And sometimes that’s activism in the more traditional sense – like trying to change immigration policy – and sometimes it’s something local, like conditions in your dorm. But both of those are about dealing with power.

How would you describe your Jewish identity?

I consider myself to be politically Jewish. That is my official denomination. My Jewish identity most clearly manifests itself when I’m thinking about politics and liberation of other people, and that is like how I live my Jewish life. I feel like I live my most Jewish life when I’m doing this work. What is Jewishness? It’s the connection to the people. The thing that connects us is the people.

What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?

Purim. I think it’s a very lady-centric holiday. Like I said, I’m interested in political Judaism. I think Purim has the strongest and most interesting liberation. Not the most extreme version, but it’s got some fun liberation philosophy inside of it.

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