This Freelance Creative Director Brought the NRA ‘Face2Face’ With 24 Gun Violence Victims

Susan Levine partnered with The Female Quotient, Gun Safety Alliance and Giffords

All photos courtesy of Face2Face

When attendees of the NRA’s annual convention came to Dallas, they came face to face with 24 victims of gun violence.

Inspired by student activists at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Dallas-based freelance creative director Susan Levine took action, using the convention as an ideal opportunity to “pull off something a bit disruptive, in a peaceful way.”

“Everything is so politically-charged right now that this year it just felt that the convention was going to be a lot different than any other year. … There’s so much arguing and political mud-slinging and greed going on. My intent was to appeal to a side that everyone could relate to, an emotional side,” Levine said.

With volunteer producer Ann Vorlicky and a team of partners, Levine launched “Face2Face,” a guerrilla out of home campaign that shares the images and stories of gun violence victims, including what weapon took their life.

Levine pointed out that “Face2Face” included victims of “all different kinds of gun violence,” not just mass shootings, a move she said was appreciated by the group Next Generation Action Network.

She began projecting the images in the area around the convention Friday night until 11 p.m. Mobile billboards roamed the area and downtown Dallas on Saturday to coincide with high foot traffic.

Levine explained she originally came up with the idea behind “Face2Face” after the March For Our Lives event in Washington, D.C. on March 24.

Preparing for the campaign

With a little more than a month to go until the NRA convention, the lack of time presented a series of logistical challenges.

After reading an Adweek story about a 4A’s panel event hosted by The Female Quotient featuring Marjory Stoneman Douglas students asking the ad industry for help spreading their message, she reached out to Gun Safety Alliance and The Female Quotient CEO Shelley Zalis.

“By the end of that day, I had a commitment from Shelley that this was going to happen,” Levine said.

“Face2Face ensures we’re amplifying and activating the change we want to see in the world today in order to create a safer place for us all,” Zalis said in a statement.

“The Gun Safety Alliance wanted to be part of this important effort in reminding everyone that there is a precious life behind every gun death statistic,” a group representative said in a statement.

Gun Safety Alliance helped raise private donations for the campaign the following week and Levine received interest from national gun control organization Giffords.

“It’s critical that NRA leaders and the politicians they’ve bought and paid for face the tragic loss associated with their refusal to protect Americans from gun violence,” Giffords executive director Peter Ambler said in a statement. “If being face to face with the victims of gun violence doesn’t motivate the politicians to protect our kids and communities, there’s a remedy prescribed in the Constitution of the United States—our ability to vote them out.”

Giffords supplied the remaining funding Levine needed and helped facilitate PR and administrative tasks, allowing her to focus on execution.

“Between that and getting volunteers to help with the survivor outreach, we were, shockingly, on our way,” Levine said.

Through the efforts of the Dallas chapter of Moms Demand Action, and Amanda Johnson, who lost a sister to gun violence, Levine got in touch with Sandy Phillips, who co-founded Survivors Empowered after her daughter was killed at the Aurora Colorado Theater Mass Shooting in 2012. She tapped into the group’s survivors network to help obtain the required permissions.

“This was all within five days,” she added.

The campaign elements went to press a week before the convention.

Levine said that many of the survivors they reached out to, some of whom came to Dallas, were “thankful” that “their loved one that they had lost was given an opportunity to help make a difference.”

Reaction at the NRA convention

Levine said many NRA convention attendees reacted by chanting “Second Amendment” while others claimed the billboards were “one sided,” ignoring people who “survived because of guns.”

Some individuals from an open-carry group at the event had a more profane reaction, while the drivers of the trucks carrying the billboards bore the brunt of the worst reactions, Levine said.

Among those not wearing NRA convention lanyards, responses mostly varied from surprised to overwhelmed, to signs of support ranging from thumbs up to hugging crew members.

Levine recalled that eventually the police let the trucks stay at a standstill for about an hour. “People just started walking over to them,” she said, comparing it to a gallery, with onlookers taking in one billboard after another.

“One woman started walking around and crying” and then appeared to livestream herself reading all the names as she walked. Levine said it was the most emotional response she witnessed.

The most enthusiastic support came from members of other groups there to demonstrate against the NRA, including Moms Demand Action, NoRA, Rally4Reform and ChangeTheRef, a group founded by Manuel and Patricia Oliver after their son Joaquin was killed in the Parkland shooting. It recently launched a “Posts Into Letters” initiative with FCB Health’s Area 23 that transforms social media posts into letters to members of Congress in Joaquin’s handwriting.

Rally4Reform projected “Face2Face” images, which included Joaquin, before Manuel painted a “Walls of Demand” mural.

“He just stood there and watched every single victim … a few times before he began,” Levine said.

NoRA held a survivor’s celebration benefiting The Newtown Foundation hosted by Alyssa Milano, who also gave “Face2Face” a boost on social media.

“It seems that everyone is in a very like-minded place with similar goals,” Levine said, stressing that she and others are asking for modest changes or “common sense gun legislation,” such as more extensive background checks and legislation banning bump stocks.

While she doesn’t have concrete plans for the next “Face2Face” activation, Levine said she’d like to follow-up on the effort, particularly with the approach of the midterm elections in November.

“I was told by many … advocates,” Levine said, “that I must continue the work that I’m doing. I take that as a compliment and it is very touching.”

@ErikDOster Erik Oster is an agencies reporter for Adweek.