Amanda Nguyen | The 2019 MAKERS Conference
Amanda Nguyen, CEO & Founder, Rise Up, Inc., talks about launching a social justice accelerator to empower the young activists of tomorrow from the 2019 #MAKERSConference at Monarch Beach Resort.
- Please welcome Amanda Nguyen. [MUSIC PLAYING] AMANDA NGUYEN: Oh my god, y'all are going to make me cry. Jeez. I wanted to come out here and talk about political strategy and how to pass your own law, and I will. But I also want to take this moment to just thank you from the bottom of my heart. Because I still remember the moment that I walked out of the hospital. I remember being so alone and the rape kit was over. And I went to the front desk, and the woman in the front just handed me a taxi voucher to go back to the place where I was raped. And the sun was still rising, my examination had taken six hours long. Most people don't know that it's three to seven hours long. And that was it. I remember being like well, where do I go from here? And so today from wherever you are, whatever you're fighting for, you might feel scared and I know what it feels like to feel scared. After my examination I tried to learn what rights were available to me. And I grew up in America believing in our sacrosanct values, that survivors really did-- and everyone-- had equality under the law. That we as citizens have the right to petition our government. And so when I was met with a broken criminal justice system like so many rape survivors, I remember walking into my local area of crisis center. There weren't enough seats for us in the waiting room. And I thought to myself, if I am struggling and I have resources, what is everybody else doing that doesn't have my resources? And at that moment, I realized that had a choice. I could accept the injustice or rewrite the law and one of these things is a lot better than the other. And so I rewrote it. In 2016, the team I founded-- Rise-- organized relentlessly and we passed the Sexual Assault Survivors' Bill of Rights unanimously through the United States Congress. [APPLAUSE] It's the 21st bill in modern US history to pass an on the record roll call vote in both chambers, and the statistic for that is .016%. [APPLAUSE] But I want to talk to you about where we've been from that moment. Because after President Obama signed it, we heard from over a million people. People all around the United States and people all around the world who reached out and said, I'm a survivor too or I know someone who's a survivor and we need to work on these things. And so with that I took a leap of faith. Usually I talk about the rights, but I think that's been covered here. So today I'm really speaking to entrepreneurs and women and anyone really, however you identify, about taking a leap of faith. I have a dream and that dream is to be an astronaut. But over the past couple of years, I am an activist. And one thing that I noticed in my peers is that we often-- especially those who are young, trying to figure out their lives, graduating from college-- try to figure out boxes to check. One of the first questions that people ask at parties is what do you do? And I actually like really don't like that question. I've learned to say, how do you spend your time? Because a lot of people choose to spend their time and their passions in different ways. It might not be actually what they get paid doing. And one thing that I want folks to know is that you can be whatever it is that you want to be. And I want to be a civil rights astronaut. Which means I'm both a civil rights activist and an astronaut. There's this concept in space, it's called the overview effect. This happens to a lot of astronauts. And it's when they first see earth for the first time from the vantage point of being in space. It's a cognitive psychological shift that happens. And astronauts describe it as an overwhelming feeling of awe. This idea that everyone that's ever lived or died is on this pale blue dot. And what people-- astronauts-- want to tell people is that you can't see man-made borders from space. But what you can see are other issues-- environmental destruction. And it gives them an orbital perspective. Spaceship Earth is what they call it. And this idea that we are all one. That we all have a shared humanity and that we should really, really try to remember that we are global citizens. At the core of what I do is that justice should not depend on geography. And also that the most powerful tool we all have is our voice. I remember my Massachusetts law-- before it became law, it was the first bill-- it was my own civil rights on the line. I got a call from my policy advisor and she had said they're not bring up your bill. It's going to die. And I sat in the airport-- I was in D.C. At the time-- just crying-- because I was like well what's the point in actually showing up? Because I'm just going to watch my civil rights get slaughtered in the Massachusetts State House. And it was other survivors who called me and said just show up. Stand there and let them see your face as they walk out of that floor. And I was the last person that was on that plane. And the next day for 14 hours I talked to everyone that I could. I showed up and I said, my name is Amanda-- here are my civil rights. Please care about them. But we worked our way through. And by the end of those 14 hours, the speaker brought it up. And it passed unanimously through the-- through Massachusetts. [APPLAUSE] I want people to know that no one-- no one is invisible when we demand to be seen. And it's this concept that really has-- throughout my experience in activism played true and true again. I want folks to know even if you're a young-- especially if you're a young Asian-American girl-- that you have a voice. And that your voice deserves to be heard. On one of my trips to Congress after the bill had already passed, I remember walking out of the car and this one woman just ran up to me and she was like, you don't know who I am, but I want to tell you that I was raped too. And the fact that you're Asian-American and the fact that you are speaking about this means so much to me. Because there are so few people who look like me who are talking about these issues. And I'll never forget her. It's honestly so important to me when survivors share their stories. Because I get a lot of them. But every time a survivor shares with me it's like they're handing over a coal. And it's a weight that I carry, but it keeps my fire alive. And over time, all of them become diamonds in the sky. And so to any survivor who is listening out, there I want you to know that you are not alone. That you deserve to be believed and more importantly, you matter. Think over the past couple of months, we have seen that be questioned. But I want you to know that there are organizers working on the front lines of every single state in America and around the world. My organization Rise is fighting for these civil rights. And over the past 20 months, I'm so proud to say we've passed 20 laws, all unanimous. [APPLAUSE] And so with that, if anyone wants to organize, there's always a place for you at Rise. And lastly, no one-- no one-- is alone when we not only demand to be seen, but when we come together. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] [MUSIC PLAYING]