Have you ever wanted to make your country a better place?
Often, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or powerless in the face of our political systems. Even though many of us live in democratic countries, it seems like we have no voice to improve our lives and the lives of others. This especially feels true when it comes to passing bills.
Did you know that anyone can write and introduce a bill in the United States? It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? The reality is that even though anyone can petition Congress, it takes a great deal of strategy to reach the right people so that your bill has the potential to become law. Today, my guest knows all about passing bills and changing the lives of millions through writing bills and petitioning Congress.
I’m thrilled to have Amanda Nguyen on The School of Greatness! Amanda and her organization Rise have passed 32 laws to date, many of which have extended protection for the rights of rape victims. In this episode, you’re going to learn all about Amanda’s journey in passing her first bill, the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act, and how you also have the power to petition Congress to pass a bill. Let’s dive in!
Amanda Nguyen is the founder and CEO of Rise, a non-governmental civil rights organization. She was the power behind the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act, which passed unanimously through the United States Congress. She was in Forbes’ 2017 “30 Under 30” Law & Policy list and was an invited speaker at the 2017 Women’s March on Washington. In 2018, California representatives Mimi Walters and Zoe Lofgren nominated Nguyen for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.
Amanda has a background in astrophysics and national security. She interned at NASA and worked at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Amanda someday hopes to become an astronaut herself!
Amanda graduated from Harvard University with a Bachelor of Arts in 2013. While attending Harvard, she was raped, and while seeking justice for the incident, she found that our criminal justice system was completely broken when it came to addressing sexual assault. This prompted Amanda to start her organization Rise and help author the Sexual Assault Surviors’ Rights Act.
Amanda and I kicked off our interview by discussing how her experience of being sexually assaulted led to the formation of Rise.
“I started Rise because I needed civil rights. After I was raped at Harvard, I discovered a broken criminal justice system, like so many other survivors do. … And in my particular case in Massachusetts, before the laws I wrote passed there, rape kits, which are the evidence that’s collected after a rape, could be destroyed at six months, even if the statute of limitations for prosecuting rape is 15 years.” – Amanda Nguyen
Even though you can press charges against someone for rape long after the incident occurs, some states destroy rape kits after only six months. Imagine if the justice system destroyed evidence in a murder case after only six months! Rape destroys lives, yet it’s not treated with the same severity as other crimes.
After Amanda was raped, she went to a local rape crisis center in Boston and immediately realized how widespread sexual assault is:
“The waiting room was filled, and I didn’t realize how ubiquitous this issue was. I had cared about this issue before [but] had no idea how broken the system was and how many lives it impacted … until I walked into that room and became a survivor myself. … There are at least 25 million rape survivors in the United States. … That’s the entire population of Texas.” – Amanda Nguyen
Amanda immediately realized that rape impacted so many people. While in the clinic, she had difficulty accessing information about what to do after experiencing rape, and she knew that countless others were having the same difficulty.
She learned that the average rape trial takes two years, so she decided to press charges later before the statute of limitations ran out. She had received an offer to be a presidential appointee in President Obama’s administration, and she wouldn’t be able to work the job in Washington D.C. while also pursuing justice in Boston.
While in D.C., Amanda discovered that even though the statute of limitations for rape in Massachusetts is 15 years, rape kits are destroyed after only six months. She began investigating the laws dealing with sexual assault in Massachusetts and other states. She found that the laws protecting and seeking justice for rape survivors vary from state to state.
“When I started researching what rights I had, I discovered a patchwork of rights across the United States. So [while] some states destroy rape kits, other states didn’t, and I thought this was very unfair. We literally have etched above our highest court of the land, the Supreme Court, ‘Equality Under the Law,’ and that was not happening for rape survivors or sexual violence survivors. Literally two survivors in two different states had two different sets of rights. And I thought to myself, ‘Well, I have a choice here. I can accept the injustice or rewrite the law.'” – Amanda Nguyen
The rights of rape survivors largely depend on what state that they’re living in. Some states even require rape survivors to pay thousands of dollars for a rape kit! Imagine having to pay the police to collect evidence for a crime committed against you! Amanda observed that the ridiculous payment laws dissuade some survivors from even reporting rape.
“[Paying for rape kits] creates this social-economic barrier that disincentivizes survivors from coming forth, and many survivors don’t report their rape or sexual violence for many reasons. One of them being that they don’t trust the criminal justice system.” – Amanda Nguyen
Amanda realized that she had to do something to ensure that rape survivors receive the justice they deserve. Rather than letting herself be defeated by the broken justice system, she set out to change it and create laws to protect rape survivors.
When Amanda first started Rise to rewrite laws to protect rape survivors, no one took her organization seriously.
“We put together this basic set of rights and aimed to pass it in the United States Congress. And when we first started out, we were a group of 20 something-year-olds with no money, no connections, no power. And people thought we were a joke. And we just kept relentlessly organizing [and] putting our heads together.” – Amanda Nguyen
Amanda and the other members of Rise worked persistently to write the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act and get it introduced into Congress. The bill gave victims of rape more rights by ensuring the preservation of rape kits until the statute of limitations for the rape ended. The bill also guaranteed that rape survivors would be informed before their rape kit is destroyed, and victims would also be notified about the results of the rape kit tests.
Amanda explained that even though approaching Congress with a bill can be incredibly daunting, it’s our responsibility to change unjust laws in a democracy.
“What a lot of people I wish understood now in today’s political climate is that everyone not only has agency but that they [also] have a constitutional right to petition the government. That is in our constitution, which means that our democracy should be accessible. We [have] a government ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people.'” – Amanda Nguyen
Our government works for all Americans, so we all have the right to petition the government and initiate change!
So how does one go about introducing a bill to Congress?
“The bill needs to be introduced into a committee. Then that bill needs to be put onto the agenda to be voted out of that committee. If it passes the committee, then it goes to the floor of a chamber. Now Congress has both the House [of Representatives] and the Senate. Let’s say [hypothetically] that this is the Senate. It passes out of the Senate committee, [and then] goes to the floor of the Senate chamber. Then the head of the Senate needs to put it up for a vote. … If it is on the agenda and it gets a vote and it passes, then it does [pass] and repeats the process in the House [of Representatives].” – Amanda Nguyen
To get a bill passed, you need to have a representative introduce the bill to a committee, and then the committee has to approve it. Next, it goes to the floor of the Senate or House of Representatives, depending on which branch of Congress the bill is going through. Even if a committee approves a bill, it will often die even before being voted on in Congress because it wasn’t put on the agenda.
“Most civil rights bills are assigned to the judiciary committee. … What this means … is that the chairman or chairwoman [of the judiciary committee] has agenda-making authority. … That person is the sole person in the entire Congress who can set the agenda for bills to be voted on. So most bills die because they don’t make it on the agenda.” – Amanda Nguyen
The Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act received widespread support, but it still nearly died because it almost wasn’t put on the agenda. Representatives informed Amanda that the bill wouldn’t pass, but she and the other Rise members remained persistent and continued showing up to different offices to push their bill onto the agenda.
“When I got there, even our lead sponsors, the lead senators and representatives who work on this bill, said, ‘I’m so sorry. It’s not going to pass this time.’ And for the next 14 hours, the Rise team and I literally just walked into the decision-makers’ offices and said, ‘I’m here. Here’s why I care about this issue. Respectfully, please listen to our stories.’ We asked people to call into the speaker’s office. I witnessed those calls come in person. And at the end of those 14 hours, he brought it up for a vote, and it passed.” – Amanda Nguyen
The Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act became the 21st bill in modern history to pass unanimously. The bill is now protecting the rights of millions of rape survivors. Despite the fact that it seemed as if the bill would die, Amanda and her team didn’t stop working diligently to bring justice for sexual assault survivors.
What can you be doing to protect the rights of others and make the world a better place? You may not be ready to introduce a bill, but you can make the world better by the decisions you make today. Maybe you can impact someone by showing kindness, or you can help someone in need. Do what you can to improve the lives of others on your journey to greatness!
In recent years, politics and activism have become incredibly heated and emotional. Amanda noted that it’s important to appeal to politicians’ emotions so that they prioritize your bill.
“Politics is not about logic or facts. If it was, we’d have a very different climate. Now it’s all about emotion. And at the end of the day, when you’re talking to these people, it’s about convincing them to care and prioritize. Politicians … [are basically] drinking from a fire hydrant. They have so many people coming at them all the time talking about all the different issues. So how do you rise above that and make the case that they should do this too?” – Amanda Nguyen
Amanda explained that one key way to get politicians to care about passing your bill is by creating a spotlight on the bill. If the country is paying attention to a particular bi-partisan bill, politicians know that vocalizing support will increase their likelihood of re-election. To introduce her bill into states legislations, Amanda enlisted the help of actor Terry Crews so that America would pay attention and so they could amplify the importance of protecting rape survivors.
Something that’s made Rise so effective in passing bills is the fact that they’re willing to work with everyone to get the job done. They often receive criticism for not being radical enough. Amanda observed that being radical and emotional wouldn’t have worked in passing the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act.
“I did not have the political luxury of a cathartic performance. I had urgency. My rape kit had a literal timeline to be destroyed. … My justice would be literally thrown in the trash. … I needed to work with anyone and everyone within the legislative process in order to pass these laws. That profoundly shaped the way that I negotiated my rights. … Democracy inherently requires its citizens to hash things out. And so when survivors at Rise or any organizer enters a room of a Senator, they leave their political tribalism at the door.” – Amanda Nguyen
Amanda recognized that she had to leave politics aside and work with anyone she could in order to pass her bill. She noted that people are so divisive in politics these days that it’s becoming harder for people to work together.
“We are in such a partisan time, where when you turn on the TV, all we hear are reduced sound bites or retweets. People are just trying to get at each other. It’s theater. We don’t really hear steadfast policymaking, and our government can’t even keep itself open. And in the meantime, people suffer. … True lawmaking … that helps people demands that we sit down and we sit in these uncomfortable spaces. We climb over these empathy walls and really engage with the other side. And, that’s really hard to do, but that’s what we train our organizers to do.’ – Amanda Nguyen
Amanda and Rise work with everyone in Congress, regardless of their party, to get things done. Lots of activism these days involves making grand gestures without actually initiating change at a federal level. Amanda feels a great deal of passion about the bills that Rise works on, but she recognizes that it takes more than passion to make a bill become a law. You also need to be a good organizer and work with people in Congress to make changes.
What’s an issue that you care about deeply? In addition to feeling passionate about it, you can also get organized and begin working on creating change. Maybe you need to rally with other people who also care about the same issue! Rather than just getting mad about it or making grand theatrical gestures, you can start appealing to others to advance your cause. Amanda obviously felt very emotional about the cause that she was promoting, but she maintained professionalism in D.C. to push her bill, and ultimately, she was able to pass the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act through bi-partisan support.
You are capable of advancing whatever cause you care about if you’re willing to work hard and even work with people you disagree with!
Guys, I had such an amazing conversation with Amanda Nguyen. Her journey in establishing Rise and passing the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act is absolutely incredible. The bills she and Rise have helped pass are crucial for protecting rape survivors, and her work continues to be so important because rape continues to be such a widespread and devastating issue.
Her tireless hard work in helping rape survivors get justice means so much to me because I was raped as a child — and if you want to learn about my journey in healing from sexual trauma, listen to Episode 776. Amanda’s work has brought justice to so many people, and her work proves that we are fully capable of making the world a better place.
I loved Amanda’s definition of greatness:
“[Greatness is] to love who you are. That definition can change based on each individual and based on every generation. It’s up to every generation to define [greatness] for itself. So ultimately it’s to love who you are.” – Amanda Nguyen
If you felt inspired by Amanda’s story, make sure to share it on Instagram! Tag Amanda, @amandangocnguyen, and me, @lewishowes, and share with us your greatest takeaways!
Friends, join me on Episode 788 if you’re ready to learn all about how the justice system fails rape survivors, how to pass a bill, and the importance of being civil to advance your cause! Amanda will inspire you and completely change the way you think about politics!
Lewis: This is episode number 788 with the inspirational Amanda Nguyen. Welcome to the school of greatness my name is Lewis Howes, a former pro-athlete turned lifestyle entrepreneur and each week we bring you an inspiring person or message to help you discover how to unlock your inner greatness. Thanks for spending some time with me today now let the class begin.
Ross Perot said “The activist is not the man who says the river is dirty. The activist is the man who cleans up the river.” And Woodrow Wilson said “You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world.” Yes you are my friends welcome to this episode.
You are here to make an impact and it starts with you. It doesn’t start by you screaming and shouting at the world, it starts by you doing the work yourself within and making the impact by doing the work without as well.
Amanda Nguyen is here she is someone that came on my radar recently that I’ve been aspired to follow. She’s the founder and the CEO of rise, a non-governmental civil rights organization. She was the power behind the sexual assault survivor’s rights acts, one of 23 bills that passed unanimously through U.S congress. She was a kid who had graduated school and had something unfortunate happened to her personally and said she wanted to make a change, and didn’t know how to go about changing policies and government. How do you go about these changes? Should you call a congressman? Should you do marches with signs? What’s going to actually change the world? And she’s been doing that.
We discussed the difference between activism and organizing. We talked about how to get a bill a pass in your state and what really grabs political attention. If you want to make a change is it enough to post something on social media or what do you really want to do, she breaks it down step by step. How politics is all about emotion and not the logical and facts part of it. Yes, you need to have some facts but it’s an emotional experience.
The difference between work life integration versus work life balance. How to really build an organization in a movement at such a young age and so much more. I am very excited about this make sure to share with your friends’ lewishowes.com/788 and tag Amanda Nguyen over on Instagram as well and let her know what you think while you’re listening to this episode.
If you guys have not yet got your tickets to the summit of greatness we have got an incredible line up that I am going to be announcing here shortly. Almost half the tickets are sold out for the venue, Columbus, Ohio we’re expecting 2,500 people from around the world. Go to summitofgreatness.com the event is this September Columbus, Ohio people have already got their tickets from all over the world and I want to see you there as well. Again, check it out right now summitogreatness.com
And our next greatness mastermind is coming up in a couple of weeks. If you are a 7 figure earning entrepreneur or on your way quickly to reaching this 7 figure or 8 figure mark then go to greatnessmastermind.com if you want to earn more income and make a greater impact in the world. You know making money and building a business is one thing but if you’re not using your message to actually make an impact on your customers, an impact on the world then I personally feel like it is less fulfilling. So, if you want to be a part of a group of influencers who are building their brands and impact in the world then go to greatnessmastermind.com we’re accepting new applications.
I’m super excited about this one it’s a powerful lesson on what’s possible if you have an idea and you want to change the world with the one and only Amanda Nguyen.
Welcome everyone back to the school of greatness podcast we’ve got Amanda Nguyen in the house so good to see you.
Amanda: Lovely to be here.
Lewis: You’ve been really a change agent and helping move forward sexual assault survivors to have more rights and to pass these laws in the U.S specifically, and you’ve done some amazing work the last couple of years and you have an incredible story of why you got into this the first place, can you share why this is so important for you?
Amanda: So, my background is actually an astrophysics and national security, uber nerd.
Lewis: You want to be an astronaut right?
Amanda: Yes and I still do. My expertise is exoplanets.
Lewis: What does that mean?
Amanda: Exoplanets means extra solar planets. They’re planets outside of our solar system and my party trick is super nerdy, I tell people do you want to learn how an exoplanet? And then I go on about discovering exoplanets, but my nerdiness form my activism. So, I started rise because I need [?], after I was raped at Harvard I discovered a broken criminal justice system. So like so many other survivors do and in my particular case in Massachusetts before the laws I pass there rape kids which are [?] collected in rape. Rape kids can be destroyed in 6 months even if the [?] limitations or prosecuting rapist 15 years.
Lewis: So you could deal with rape and then go to a rape kid use on you to collect the evidence and then what you’re saying is after 6 months they could destroy the evidence?
Amanda: That’s right without even testing it.
Lewis: So the victim would never have the ability to prosecute? It’s just he said she said type.
Amanda: That’s exactly it. When I started researching what right I had I discovered a patch [?] rights across the United States. So, in some states while destroy rape kits other states didn’t and I thought this was very unfair. So, we literally etch about our highest court plan the Supreme Court, equality under the law and that was not happening for rape survivors or sexual violence survivors, literally 2 survivors in 2 different states had 2 sets of different rights, and I thought to myself “well, I have a choice here I can accept injustice or rewrite the law.’ And so I rewrote.
Lewis: How does someone rewrite a law?
Amanda: It’s actually quite pretty simple. You know you’re not far from the truth, what a lot of people I wish understood now in today’s political climate is that everyone not only has agency but that they have a constitutional right to petition the government. That is in our constitution which means that our democracy should be accessible after we are government of the people by the people and for the people. It is true that nowadays politics is nearly inaccessible and what I mean by that is that there are present models in politics of people paying a premium for lobbyist, for consultants, and maybe they’ll give you connections to politicians and then maybe they’ll [?] some results. But if you ask people ‘How do you actually pass law?” most people won’t be able to tell you that, even though it’s your right to, and why is that right? And so that is why I created a theory of organizing called ‘Hopenomics’ and it gamifies the process of passing a law and as a diplomacy theory to it.
So, over the past 21 months I am so proud we passed 21 laws all unanimously and it impacts at least 40 million people.
Lewis: So 21 laws will be the same law in 21 states?
Amanda: That’s correct. So, some of these laws [?] so it’s not in 21 states, one is a federal law another is an international law and the rest are state laws. They are called sexual assault survival bill of rights. And in this bill of rights I, actually Senator Grassley had asked to name the law after me and I said ‘No’ the reason why is because I remember walking into my local area rape crisis center and the waiting room was filled, and I didn’t realize how [?] this issue was. You know I had cared about this issue I had no idea how broken the system was and how many laws I was impacted and impacts till I walk into that room and became a survivor myself.
Lewis: Where was this room?
Amanda: In Boston.
Lewis: So you went in there’s actual facilities of rape survivors?
Amanda: Rape crisis center. So all across the United States there are local non-profits that work on direct services helping process rape survivors to have access to counseling, here’s the problem though not all states not all cities have them. I am very lucky that in Boston they had one, but I walked in it was filled, and I realize at that moment was a critical catalyst moment for me that one my story was not mine alone and that if I was having this much difficulty accessing simple information about what I am supposed to do after my rape and I was at Harvard and my professor at law school was my attorney, you know one of the best attorney’s in the nation on this, what is other people? That doesn’t have the access to resources that I have and that was a huge problem. When I was thinking about where to move from here after my rape I called different attorneys and they called me “Look rape cases on average take a couple of years.”
Lewis: it’s almost like you don’t forget about it but time has pass so much that I don’t want to rehash these emotions, it’s a very emotional experience.
Amanda: Exactly. So many people choose to do that and there’s no right or wrong answer, but what they presented to me at that time a senior at Harvard about to graduate and I had a career opportunity that I really wanted to pursue was a choice and that choice was your career or your justice, one or the other. And that is not a choice that anyone should be force to make.
Lewis: Why did you have to make a choice?
Amanda: So the job opportunity I was offered was to be a presidential appointee in Barrack Obama’s administration and I want to serve my country, I wanted to serve my country this way and he only had 2 years left, and if my rape trial is gonna take 2 years which means I have to come and appear in court in Massachusetts away from D.C that was gonna affect my chances and my job performance. But here’s the thing that’s why there are long stature of limitation of no limitations at all for the crime of rape because society has recognize this crime affects survivors and it’s trying to give survivors an opportunity to add a moment in their lives when they’re ready come back. And so I chose my career because Massachusetts has 15 years for me to come back. So, that’s when the 6 moths hit for my rape kit because I went to D.C and I found out that at 6 months it would be destroyed and that I would have to come back to Massachusetts and fight to hold on to my evidence.
So, here’s the double standard is that convicted rapist in Massachusetts have a right to hold on to the evidence for the duration of their conviction and then on top of that class A felony crimes like murderer never has the evidence destroyed. So, one of our biggest champions in Massachusetts was the former executive director of the innocence project, having evidence can exonerate the accused and then evidence in standard operating procedures helps law enforcement people to find the truth. So the survival bill of rights short hand is a collection of laws that had already passed around the United States that had legal precedence and that had worked better the criminal justice system for all party at play.
So the things that it includes are the right hold on to the evidence and not have it destroyed before the stature of limitations. So, it depends on every single state because every single state has their own rules but it’s supposed to match up to the stature of limitation. So another right is the right to not have to pay for your rape kit, so in some states survivors are still getting charge for it and cost up to 2,000 dollars, and they have creditors to call if they can’t afford to pay it
But if your car was stolen you would not have to pay for the police to come to your home like for the police to collect evidence. It creates this social economic barrier that [?] survivors are coming forth. And many survivors don’t report their rape and sexual violence for many reasons. One of them is that they don’t trust the criminal justice system, which is not unfounded.
Lewis: Or shame or guilt.
Amanda: That’s right.
Lewis: How many people are sexually assaulted every year in the U.S?
Amanda: So there are a ton of statistics on this but one we quote a lot is that there are at least 25 million rape survivors in the United States. And what that means is that is the entire population of Texas, and after the need to movement we now know that everyone in our lives, we know somebody who has been at least affected by this rape and sexual violence unfortunately affects all people of all walks of life. So another right in the bill of rights is the right to be notified about your rights, but because there’s such different resources that vary drastically not only state to state but county to county, in moments of trauma it’s very important for survivors to get access to information and quickly. And the right to have a copy of your police report. It sounds so basic but survivors are getting denied of it.
We put together these basic set of rights and aim to pass it in the United States congress, and when we first started out we were a group of 20 something year olds with no money, no connections, no power, and people thought we were a joke and we just kept relentlessly organizing putting our heads together.
Lewis: Use gofundme? Is that what you used?
Amanda: On the original days I think we raised like 20 thousand, now we’re at 2 million.
Lewis: So what’s the 2 million use for right now?
Amanda: So we ended passing the bill in congress, but not only did we pass in a gridlock congress where nothing pass, we passed it unanimously and in 7 months. So, we hold the record in the past decade for the most efficient legislative reform in U.S history.
Lewis: Because both parties were on board.
Amanda: We became the 21st bill in modern U.S history passed unanimously on a record vote in congress and on the record vote means that senators had to come in person and cast their vote.
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So how do you pass a bill?
Amanda: I’m so glad you ask. Fundamentally I want people to know that the most powerful tool we all have is our voice and that these institutions, these hallowed institutions of congress may seem scary but it is our constitutional right to go and talk to these politicians because they serve the people, they’re supposed to serve us.
Lewis: You can just show up and take a meeting essentially whenever you want?
Amanda: That’s correct. So, obviously it’s helpful to have appointment but technically, constitutionally you are supposed to be able access your representative or your senator both not only in their D.C office but in their home office as well. But here’s how to hack congress. So this is the part that most people don’t understand, it’s my pet peeve when people say call your member of congress.
Lewis: They’re not picking up.
Amanda: That’s right. So, in order to [?] the system you need to understand the rules of the system. When a bill is introduced it gets assign to a committee, most of the right bills are assign to the judiciary committee. So, right now in congress senator Lindsey Graham is the chairman of the judiciary, what this means is that the chairman or chairwoman has agenda making authority. Agenda making authority is just like it sounds. That person is the sole person in the entire congress who set the agenda for the bills to be voted on. So most bills die because they don’t make it on the agenda.
Lewis: So you can call the senator it doesn’t matter.
Amanda: Unless they are the chair of that committee and they’re going to set the agenda.
Lewis: How does a bill get introduce?
Amanda: So member of congress has to introduce it but just like you said the way that we were able to pass our laws so efficiently is because we did that work. So look members of congress are very busy put it that way, if you have a good idea and you’re able to convince them 2 things one is it’s the moral right thing to do and 2 it’s the political strategic thing for them to do.
Lewis: It makes them look good.
Amanda: So one of the things I’m very [?] of is [?]. A lot of people wake up and there are so many trash cans everywhere and people are like.
Lewis: People like share it on social media and donations and vote for this and march for this. So many things you can care about in a day when you have your own issues and your own problems too.
Amanda: And what most people want to see is a return on investment of their energy, what I mean by that is ‘okay if I’m gonna march what is that gonna result in?’
Lewis: Is there gonna be a result or is it a wasted day.
Amanda: Activism and social movements are more than just a fashion trend. So for us that’s why I gamify the process of passing along but more specifically I think there’s difference between activism and organizing. So activism to me is straight voltage and organizing is directed energy. We need both but in order for social movements to sustain activism is necessary, anger can fuel movements but it cannot sustain movements hope does that.
Lewis: Can anger pass a law?
Amanda: I think it can pass a law. I think it certainly can but it cannot sustain for decades. Anger is inherently to me a surface emotion, for me anger comes from somewhere whatever it is that’s underlying that emotion is fueling that anger and is not a lasting emotion. So what happens after you flame out or how can you sustain that you are trying to make? And that’s where hope comes in. To me there’s a difference between a hope and a dream.
Dreams are things that you think about and nice to have but in order to have hope you have to have plan to get there, and here’s where it comes back to gamification. Games have a couple of different aspects to them, good games have a very clear objective a finish line.
Lewis: A next level.
Amanda: They have skills building so you’re never getting more than you can handle, they have constant feedback loops. So, I took those aspects and apply it to law making so when an organizer, we call them ariser go against the game they are never given more than they can handle.
Lewis: An easy first step.
Amanda: The first step is that they write what it is that brought them to the table, why are they there? And along the way a couple of levels down they transform that into talking to a member of congress and then they transform that to testifying in front of the senate. So these levels make it bite sizeable and accessible, people especially again in this time of frustration and time of winning faith in democracy just want to know that they have agency and what we are providing with hopenomics and arise is a road map to that. There’s never been a better or more vital moment in our history for everyday people to understand that they hold the power and that’s what hopenomics is all about.
Lewis: Incredible. Can I make a change through passing a law? How long would it take and what are the steps?
Amanda: Well take it from someone who’s done it 21 times you can absolutely do that. So going back to agenda making authority where you can get wonky for a second, so there are a couple of stages to passing a law. First the bill needs to be introduce to a committee then that bill needs to be put on to an agenda to be voted out of that, if it passes the committee then it goes to floor of a chamber. Now, congress has both the house and senate. Let’s say that this is the senate so it passes out of the senate committee goes to the floor of the senate chamber then the head of the senate needs to put it up for a vote, agenda making authority super important here. The committee needs to put it on the agenda to be voted on then it goes to a floor of a chamber and senate floor and then it repeat its process on the house side. Now interval in this the catalyst points, if you look at the process there are only 4 people in the entire United States congress who are decision makers. Those people are those who set the authority for agenda.
Lewis: So you need to meet one of those people to get on the agenda.
Amanda: There are 535 members of the congress and that’s why I say it’s really important to understand the rules in order to hack the system. You don’t need to go to all these other people, go to the people who makes the decision.
In today’s world we have platforms that have democratize our voices but also you can google literally the emails of everyone because they work for you. So, I’ll talk about showing up, in Massachusetts I was told the day before Massachusetts legislative cycle was gonna end, that the speaker was not gonna bring up my bill and that it was gonna die. I was already at the airport like about to board this plane to go from D.C to Boston and I went to the bathroom and cried.
For the next day when I got there even our lead sponsors the lead senators and the representatives who worked on this bill said “I’m sorry it’s not gonna pass this time.” And for the next 14 hours the rise team and I literally just walk into the decision makers offices and said “I’m here, here’s why I care about this issue and respectfully please listen to our stories. I witness those calls come in and at the end of the 14 hours he brought it up for a vote and it pass unanimously.
Lewis: Why would they not pass something like this?
Amanda: Politics is not about logics or facts. It’s all about emotion and at the end of the day when you’re talking to these people is about convincing them to care and prioritize, politicians get like it’s like drinking from a fire hydrant. They have so many people coming at them all the time taking about different issues, so how do you rise above that and make the case that they should do this too. To be very honest with you this is a very sad reality but it’s true the way that we have done this is by empathy building, but also specifically bringing in celebrities.
Lewis: So they’ll listen to a celebrity?
Amanda: That’s right it’s press or celebrity.
Amanda: Yeah. So, I had already pass the federal law the sexual assaults survival bill of rights to the U.S congress when I ask Terry to come and testify with me in the U.S senate. And the reason why I asked him to that anyways is because even if the federal law pass because of states’ rights and federalism, most rape cases are [?] in state courts. So the federal law impacts 25 million people however we still need to pass these rights state by state. And state legislation is not as flashy or as people don’t look as much as federal laws. So the U.S senate held a hearing to help us amplify, if I just testify it would not have had the type of world trending impact that Terry Crews came and testified on.
Lewis: So one person being up there made a huge difference?
Amanda: Immense difference and I am very grateful to have him and he serves as an example of someone being able to tell their story and use it for good.
Lewis: Yeah and then it was like commercial and had it and everything else and can spread in a little more. So you went on to raise 20 million dollars now?
Amanda: Oh no 2 million but that is our goal.
Lewis: How’d you been able to do that? Raised that much money.
Amanda: That is absolutely a mental game. I grew up with an immigrant family my parents were both refugees in Vietnam, I remember I had a meeting with a high net worth individual and it wasn’t even that person it was like that person’s gatekeeper and I had calculated. I’ll never forget his response he said to me “I’m offended by your request 16,000 dollars is chunk change to me.” And I was just like ‘I’d not have 16,000 dollars in my life’ and it was at that moment that I realize like my horizon just expanded to understand how much capital is there out there and that if you want something and if you believe in these rights then you need to ask for it.
0Lewis: What’s the biggest fear you have personally?
Amanda: I think the hardest thing, there’s like 2 types of professional one and the personal one.
Amanda: I think the hardest thing anyone can do is learn to love themselves fully and authentically.
Lewis: Have you done that yet?
Amanda: Yeah I really do love myself. But it’s a struggle especially for individuals who are a part of marginalize community and have identities. Marginalize identities are compounded, society tells you to be a certain but of course it’s hard to love yourself, that is the greatest challenge that we do when we wake up every single day which is how do we live our God given potential and be happy with who we are and thrive and contribute our own lives and whatever vision it is we are trying to create.
Lewis: How do you practice self-love?
Amanda: It’s every day. I don’t believe in work life balance I believe in work life integration. So what I mean by that is I deliberately create choices in my career and in my personal life that spark joy. But in activism especially for organizers and activist to work on issues that come from their own personal trauma there is incredible danger of performative trauma. What I mean by that is a lot of, even let’s say sexual violence survivors they go speak on an issue are expected to talk about the most gruesome details of their rape.
When I created rise it was deliberately named rise to recognize that you’re coming from a place but going up and I structured and architected this social movement to have an outlet. So it is a journey, people are moving somewhere, and for my personal experience I found my own form of justice by being able to pen [?] existence and help other people to do that too, and that’s the next phase of rise actually. So over the past 8 months we launch an accelerator for social movements. So in cities across America tech entrepreneur can apply to umbrella organizations and when an entrepreneur has a good idea based on the merit of their idea they can get seed funding or mentorship that doesn’t exist for [?] until now. Over the past 21 laws we’ve amass an honest broker reputation between all political parties and we are using those resources and acknowledge and the road map to train the next generation of change bakers. So if actors and organizers have idea about how to change a law specifically and are relentlessly committed doing so we will cover their opportunity cost to start up their social movement.
Amanda: So we pay those people seed funding and give them mentors coaches. Our mission is to help everyday people to pass their first law.
Lewis: What’s the law that needs to be pass?
Amanda: There’s so many but the first incubation that we’ve done are with the survivors and friends of the parkland shooting. So 8 months ago their founder Robert came to me and describe the meeting he had with a senator where that senator said “I want to work on these issues but I don’t think I can because I’ll lose my seat primarily.” And instead of being mad Robert, who lost his sister in the shooting, Robert turned to me and said “I don’t care I just want to make it safe for this guy so I don’t lose my other sister to gun violence.” And that is what it takes and understanding of the system and grit and compromise. So, Robert and a group of incredible and young people started this organization called ‘Zero USA’ for zero gun deaths in America. They have been full time at rise for the past 8 months and have gone through the hopenomics training and they’re currently in 15 states now. Robert met with President Trump in the oval office and met with democratic house leadership and last month he testified on the Colorado state house on a bill that they support.
Lewis: That’s really cool. How does someone detached the emotional anger from the pain they feel, the injustice that’s happened to them or they see from someone else that they care about? How do they build a movement so that an idea gets pass without this emotional charge?
Amanda: That is perhaps one of the toughest skills we teach at rise.
Lewis: Because I see these activists online just screaming.
Amanda: Absolutely. So, the biggest critique that we get is that we are not radical enough and I own that criticism. For me I did not.
Lewis: Passing laws without being radical.
Amanda: So I did not have a political luxury of a cathartic performance, I had urgency. My rape kit a literal timeline to be destroyed and what that means is that every 6 months it was counting down to this game where my justice would be literally thrown in the trash and I needed to work with anyone and everyone within the luxury process in order to pass these laws that profoundly shape the way that I negotiated my rights.
So, here’s where the national security decide the diplomacy side of hopenomics comes in, just in any relationship even our personal relationships the closer that relationship is the more it can be distorted. Maybe you’re having an argument with your girlfriend and you yell over something so small, would you have done that with a stranger? In international relations, in national security let’s say we are negotiating with a dictator or nuclear disbarment, maybe that dictator has a lot of other issues that they need to get better on, but for that moment when you’re at the table you’re only working on nuclear disbarment and you’re trying to move that ball forward on that one issue, being able to keep your eye on the ball and focus on that, and not only detach yourself but you’re not forgetting all the other things that you’re doing but you are putting that at the door when you walk in because you have a very specific goal and trying to make that change. That set of skills is really important when it comes to domestic policy and it’s often forgotten. So, just like in personal relationships when things are distorted citizens of a country may have a sort of different relationship with the type of skills and tools and tactics they use in demanding their rights from the senators.
Democracy inherently requires its citizens to hash things out and so when survivors at rise or any organizer enters a room of a senator they leave political tribalism at the door.
Lewis: What does that mean?
Amanda: We are in such a partisan time where you turn on the TV all we hear are reduce [?] for retweets, people are just trying to get at each other. We don’t really hear steadfast policy making and our government can’t even keep open and in the meantime people suffer. And so political tribalism is saying ‘I am right.’ That can get money for a political fundraisers because you are literally rooting for your team, but legislation true law making and one that helps people demands that we sit down and we sit in this uncomfortable spaces, we climb over this empathy walls and really engage with the other side. That’s really hard to do, that’s what we train or organizers to do.
Lewis: Amazing so what’s next?
Amanda: Every day I wake up and the 2 burning questions I have are ‘what is my place in the universe?’ and ‘what am I gonna do about it?’ I think both civil rights and astrophysics answers that questions, but in terms of the civil rights work blueprint that we’re creating together at rise is meant to help other people be able to pen their own civil rights into existence. Success to me looks like I’m needed anymore, because first of all I wanted to go to space, so I did this out of necessity and the choices that I have made in creating the social movement was not in building a career out of it or not in putting my identity around it but what is the fast exit for me and most efficient way for me to get rights, and then also to empower other people to get rights. How can I create modes of thinking that are accessible to bring democracy back into the hands of the people and then go to space? So, every day I wake up I still believe that I have agency to change the world around me and I am so grateful for that, not only for my own agency but the agency to have other people have that empowerment.
Lewis: That’s amazing, and how can other people get involve or follow the movement?
Amanda: Everyone can go to risenow.us and apply. So, if you have an idea that you want to enact to change the world specifically a way, a law that you want to write you can go and find the application.
There’s a way to pass laws in efficient manner that brings back whole civility to be honest.
Amanda: That’s at the core of what we do. It’s recognizing and sometimes it’s very hard to the humanity in everyone. One of the ways that we were able to [?] build is by bringing unlikely, unsavory allies to the table and saying ‘look this is what we want to do and we want to hear you out too.’ Most people again it’s on an emotional level don’t want to be left out. The issue of sexual violence as a lot of other contentious issues doesn’t boil down to facts.
Lewis: What happens with those who are convicted of rape?
Amanda: That really varies from state to state. That’s a whole other arena of reform waiting to happen. So, again we are certainly entering into an era where people are being, people are having dialogue on this what constitute consent and what are the ramification for non-consensual.
Lewis: When do they teach you this? When are you thought the rules the laws? Because there’s a moral rule and then there’s like an actual law.
Amanda: Exactly. I think that’s an incredibly important conversation we have right now. The laws that I’ve written don’t even go there. It is literally the first step in the broken criminal justice system at the very start. So there’s so much work that needs to be done and one of them starts by recognizing that when we come to the table everyone needs to have an understanding and people don’t have an understanding now because we haven’t had this conversation before. So one of the campaigns that we’re doing at work at rise is the universal survival bill of rights, where we are asking governments to recognize the humanity in all survivors. The United Nation general assembly has never pass a resolution that solely focus on survivors on sexual violence. In order for there to be true peace survivors needs to have access to justice. So our universal survival bill of rights seeks to have governments recognize the full dignity of survivors and have the priority of having criminal justice system to be able to be of service for survivors.
Lewis: So it’s kind of two different issues, how do we teach this in the world so that we have better humanity? So did I read that you were nominated for Nobel peace prize? When will you know if you get it?
Amanda: So I will know October of this year. So, it’s actually a secret how many people are nominated or rather who gets nominated. My nominator specifically issued a public letter to let the world know that nominated me specifically because they wanted to uplift the work on the international level that we are doing. I’m so grateful to my nominators. It is literally the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.
It was so wholesome and the prize is for good for humanity.
Lewis: Lifting people up.
Amanda: It was history and to be able to witness Nadia and Dennis who won last year was such an immense honor. The room holds about maybe 200 to 300 people and the royal family comes.
Lewis: Some of the past winners come probably.
Amanda: Actually they don’t and nominees don’t get to go either. So it was really special that the committee extended this invitation and it was because I work in the field. So it depends every year based on the committee on how much, who they want to award. So this past year there were 2 people that were awarded. The pride the immense pride deservedly so these 2 communities that when they spoke these flags were flying and people are crying. I wish it was a biggest thing in America because it was based on a belief on our common humanity. It was so delightful it just makes you remember ‘maybe everything is gonna be okay.’ It also shows the ripple effects of what we’re able to do together.
Lewis: Yeah one person can use ripple just by starting an idea, a movement and planting a seed.
Amanda: And speaking of you know.
Lewis: What makes you feel the most love?
Amanda: I’m so lucky to feel that love but it hasn’t always been that way. So when I first started advocating for my rights the first time was in the Massachusetts state house 6 hours of me telling politicians to just straight up did not care. I remember one of them being like ‘my constituents just didn’t know me for this but I’m sympathetic.’ I watched these politicians debate my feasibility of my own human rights face, and I went home and I just cried. I’m a pathological optimist it is sort required to be an astronaut. And so the next day I got up and did the same thing this time to the United States senate and I got into my lunch break because I was working and I got into this uber ride where the driver was kind of stoic kind of guy, he didn’t really talk to me. But as we were going to the senate he saw that I was going there and he ask me “why?’ and so I told him and this once [?] man just started tearing at and he said “my daughter is a rape survivor and what you went through she went through too.” And we stop the car and said ‘can I shake your hand?
So, one of the greatest things that I tell people is that when you’re doing this work in isolation even though you may lonely the change that you’re creating that vision impacts more directly to people that you’re trying to help, it impacts our love ones as well.
Lewis: That’s amazing.
Amanda: There’s so much love out there.
Lewis: You feel it too right?
Lewis: This is a question I ask at the end it’s called the 3 truths. So, I want you to imagine in far time away that it’s your last day on earth and you can live as long as you want to live. But it’s the last day and you’ve got to, it’s been a beautiful life you’ve achieved everything you want. You’ve passed every bill that you can possibly think of, you’ve move humanity forward, you’ve got the family of your dreams, but you got to turn the lights off and you have to take everything with you. You get to leave behind 3 things you know to be true about everything you’ve learn in life, these will be the 3 lessons or I’d like to call the 3 truths. What would you say are your 3 truths?
Amanda: My first one is that no one is invisible when we demand to be seen. My second one is no one is powerless when we come together. The third one requires a little bit of explaining. So, when astronauts go to space for the first time many of them experience this thing called ‘the overfew effect.’ It’s a psychological cognitive shift that happens and it’s in every living being that ever live and die on a blue dot.
Amanda: And what it does is it fires in awe like the full definition of awe and also amazingness. People who go to space and come back say that we are all in the space of earth together. Why are we fighting over such trivial things? You can’t see man-made borders in space what you can see is that we are all one humanity and so the last thing that I would hope to leave behind is this idea that we are one and that our brother and sister across the world are all in this together.
Lewis: I love that. I want to acknowledge you Amanda for your courage to take action because it’s not an easy thing to do, you know when you are going through an emotionally challenging probably the hardest time emotionally for yourself and to say I want to stand up for myself and try to make change and do this just after graduating college. So, I acknowledge you for sticking it out and getting back and getting results. Some people have money but can’t change and you’re showing us that we can if we are just willing to speak it out. I acknowledge you for everything that you’ve done and for helping people that want to change.
Where can we follow you personally?
Amanda: Instagram is where I update most of my life and so you can find me my full name is Amanda Ngoc Nguyen. And then on twitter @Nguyen_Amanda.
Lewis: And the website is rise?
Lewis: This is the last question what’s your definition of greatness?
Amanda: It’s to love who you are because that definition can change based on each individual and every generation. It’s up to every generation to define for itself. So ultimately to love who you are.
Lewis: There you have it my friends I hope you enjoyed this episode with Amanda Nguyen. I love everything she talked about in terms of building a movement and building a team around you to help support this movement that you have. If enjoyed this share this with a friend lewishowes.com/788. A big thank you to Amanda make sure to tag her over on Instagram and let her know you enjoyed this and listened into it as well.
Again a big thank you to ascent protein. Now you guys know I’m a big fan of working out of health, nutrition, fitness. It’s something I do I supplement my workouts with proteins and other supplements to make sure that I can recover and get bigger faster and stronger with the USA national handball team. And ascent protein some of the top athletes in the world uses them, and it’s because they make the protein themselves guys they know what is in the ingredients. It’s the smoothest and cleanest protein I’ve tried and goes down so clean, and you can get 20% off all ascent when you go to ascentprotein.com/lewis.
Also if you haven’t got any tickets to the summit of greatness yet make sure to get your tickets right now summit of greatness it’s going to be a game changer go to summitofgreatness.com. I love you guys so very much. You have the power to make your voice be heard and it’s not through shouting and screaming, it’s not through anything that’s gonna piss people off necessarily. You might make some noise but will you be heard? You’ll be heard when you build an emotional connection to a story and move people emotionally.
And as Woodrow Wilson said “You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world.”
Ask yourself ‘what am I doing today to enrich the lives around me.’ You have the power to make the change in every moment of your life. Thank you all so very much and you know what time it is, it’s time to go out there and do something great.
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