Organizing the Tech Community: Q&A with National Organizing Director Lisa Conn

Posted by on October 14, 2014.

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With experience in community organizing and electoral politics, Lisa Conn joined the FWD.us family over a year ago as an energizing force driving our tech outreach efforts. She's now ushering in a new era of FWD.us organizing with the launch of a multi-faceted engagement and advocacy program.

Read on to learn more about the genesis of our new Chapter Program, and what motivates Lisa to work toward harnessing the power of tech in the national political discussion.

FWD.us: What is the philosophy behind the new FWD.us Chapter Program? What can people expect when investing their time?

Conn: We've spent the last year and a half fighting aggressively for immigration reform and engaging the tech community in the process. And we've seen great things. We passed a Senate bill. We won several congressional primaries. We launched three innovative digital tools. We engaged thousands of supporters across the country. We've assembled a brilliant team. For all this, I am deeply proud. But despite our efforts, Washington remains gridlocked. And we have failed to pass the critical legislation that our country needs. So what now? How do we learn from this? How do we do things differently? The answer lies in harnessing the disruptive energy of the tech community in a way that no one ever has before (including us).

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So how do we do this? We build a leadership class of civically-engaged people involved in the tech community, and a home for those leaders to use technology to revolutionize the way things are done. We take our organization's resources and political insight, and add the creativity and problem-solving abilities of the tech community.This idea is the heart of our chapter program.

Our monthly meet-up, FWDMonthly, is a mini-hackathon where we present our project teams with a challenge that explains the context surrounding a tough political problem. We then give our members space to test solutions to these political problems by innovating on advocacy, building tools, and producing ideas alongside a team of like-minded people. And whatever works, we amplify. 

In your opinion, why does the tech community need immigration reform now?

Because our country needs immigration reform now. Families are being torn apart. Companies are moving. People aren't able to achieve their dreams. Almost a year ago, I hired someone whose family came to the United States without documentation when he was two years old, leaving his grandparents and other relatives back in their home country. In our first interview, he told me that he fought for reform because he wanted to make sure his mother got to see her mother before she died. Well, his grandmother passed away this summer. And he and his mother couldn't say goodbye. It's enough. The time is now.

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How can an individual make the biggest impact right now?

Sign up to attend this month's FWDMonthly and bring three friends with you. Join a project team. Make your friends join, too. Push your project team to think differently and dream big. And keep coming back.

What is something you've learned about the tech community that most people don't know or would be surprised by?

Paul Graham wrote this great essay on his blog a few years back called "Cities and Ambition." In the last eighteen months, I've visited tech hubs of all sizes across the country. Silicon Valley and New York each have their own personality, as do Austin, Philly, Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, and Durham. And when I ask supporters and leaders how they would describe their city's "ambition," the differences across regions surprise me.

Ideally, where do you envision FWD.us to be in the future?

At the helm of important issues using technology, ingenuity, and passion to make our country - and our democracy - stronger.

What inspires you to come to work each day?

Our staff. They are brilliant and inspiring, and they laugh at my jokes.

Which three songs would make up your FWD.us soundtrack?

DJ Khaled "All We Do is Win" on repeat.

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