By Justin Swanson | LB Indy
Candidate Barack Obama’s exhortations worked a compact crowd into a frenzy at New York City’s Washington Square Park in September 2007. He smiled and acknowledged his newfound supporters and stood most presidentially, offering those within earshot a reason to hope, to experience something eminently special. His words profoundly affected a young New York University sophomore studying social and cultural analysis, seeding a nascent raison d’être.
“That was something that stuck with me forever,” says Lisa Conn, a former Laguna Beach resident and 2006 Sage Hill graduate.
Conn, 24, found her way on to the Obama campaign this past election cycle, working as the regional field director in South Florida’s Broward County. The path she took to get there, however, was nearly as unforeseen as a fledgling senator winning the nation’s highest office.
Throughout her life Conn was raised with the belief that one’s duty is to help others’ lives, to affect something greater than the self. Community activism and benevolence are embedded in the family’s DNA. Her father Howard is a doctor. Her mother Rita is a therapist. She has three brothers, one studying to be a psychologist, one a protection attorney, and one a doctor of oriental medicine.
“I grew up knowing my responsibility was to make the world better,” she explains. “Politics became that avenue.”
Her original plan involved a career as an attorney. After graduating from NYU in 2010, she worked in the Brooklyn office of the Legal-Aid Society and applied to law schools. “I remember visiting Emory and everyone was talking about big cases. I just wanted to talk about the election, not law classes,” she says.
When she was most honest with herself, she recognized a political shift in her aspirations. “This is what I want to do,” she says.
Conn moved back to California and found work as a summer organizer at the Los Angeles branch of the Democratic National Committee’s Organizing for America. Soon she was promoted to regional field organizer. Conn’s job was to rally supporters in Nevada, considered a battleground state. Ultimately, Conn built one of the most productive teams in the country in terms of volunteers recruited, phone calls made, and the like.
Her work caught the attention of deputy field directors. Such national recognition afforded her the ability to choose where to work during the campaign’s home stretch. Conn chose Broward, in a state critical to the president’s re-election hopes. She moved there last January and soon earned another promotion to regional field director.
“I could tell right away she had a hunger and love for the work and that combination is rare,” said Kate Catherall, the deputy field director who interviewed Conn for the Florida campaign. “She knocked the interview out of the park.”
Conn describes her role in Florida as being an “ambassador for the President.” Her chief responsibility was encouraging voter registration, a feat of expanding and changing the face of the electorate in Broward.
“It wasn’t about winning in November,” Conn explains. “It was empowering people and communities, showing them they can advocate for their selves.”
Conn’s region was responsible for more votes than any other county in the state, Catherall says. “She helped bring a new voice to the game.”
“She built a well-organized and committed team and they exceeded all of their goals,” marvels Catherall.
Whatever her accomplishments, Conn says they reflect her values and what she experienced in her hometown.
“I am the person I am today because I grew up in Laguna Beach,” she explains. “I got to be around people with lots of different occupations and to see how creative they are. It taught me to think creatively, how to solve problems. On the campaign, you had to think creatively to get by.”
Recently relocating to Los Angeles, Conn’s next task is helping 11th District city council candidate Mike Bonin win in the March 3 primary and May election as his campaign manager.
As for her future, Conn could see herself starting a political consulting firm with a colleague or running for office. While she is uncertain about her future, she knows, “I want to help people.”