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At 27, DC-based activist rewrites laws and helps others do the same

MARINA DEL REY, CA - NOVEMBER 19: Honoree Amanda Nguyen speaks onstage during the Marie Claire Young Women's Honors presented by Clinique at Marina del Rey Marriott on November 19, 2016 in Marina del Rey, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for Young Women's Honors )

After she was raped in college, Amanda Nguyen realized just how flawed the country’s sexual assault laws were. But instead of falling victim to a broken system that placed much of the burden on the survivor, the then-Harvard student decided to change it.

In 2013, Nguyen founded the civil rights nonprofit Rise and drafted a Sexual Assault Survivor Bill of Rights. Three years later, the bill passed unanimously in both chambers of Congress and was signed into law by President Barack Obama.

“It’s my deep belief that the people who have the solutions to our country’s most pressing problems are the people who live that problem every day,” said Nguyen, 27. “And there’s a market gap between those people and the people who wield the pen to write these laws.”

At Rise, Amanda Nguyen gives the power to the people

WTOP's Rachel Nania

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However, that won’t be the case for long if Nguyen has anything to do with it. To date, Rise has worked with activists across the country to pass 23 laws that affect some 40 million people. Recently, Nguyen, who is based in D.C., took a page out of Silicon Valley and launched Rise Justice Labs, a civil rights accelerator that gives social entrepreneurs the resources and support they need to effect change.

“Just like in a tech accelerator where startup entrepreneurs are given resources to lower their barrier to entry and accelerate their startup — we do that, but for civil rights,” said Nguyen, who is currently working with survivors, alumni and allies of the Parkland shooting to pass bipartisan gun laws.

“We are trying our best not only to demystify the path of passing a law, but to inform the culture around doing so.”

The word “bipartisan” is key in Rise’s work, and applicants for Rise’s incubator program need to be able to work across the aisle, Nguyen said — “Because we’re not here for a cathartic performance. We’re here to write laws.”

Nguyen’s work has not gone without recognition. She has made Forbes’ “30 under 30” list and Foreign Policy’s list of leading global thinkers. California representatives Mimi Walters and Zoe Lofgren nominated Nguyen for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize (the Nobel Foundation reports there were 301 candidates for this year’s prize, but does not identify the nominees), and most recently, Nguyen was recognized with the Light of Freedom Award at the 18th annual Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards on April 24 in D.C.

In addition to training others on the law-writing process, Nguyen said her goal now is to find a way to help others overcome activism fatigue and bring joy back into making change, “so that people can show up to work, change the world, and feel good and great doing so.”

She added, “There’s never been a more vital moment for everyday people to understand that they hold the power.”

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