Activists discuss how joy and cooperation are key to achieving equal rights

For civil rights activists like Amanda Nguyen and Kelley Robinson, the road to a more equal future can be long and difficult. Two things crucial for getting there, they said in conversation with CNN anchor Abby Philip at the TIME100 Summit, are joy and math.

“I think joy is the most radical form of rebellion,” said Nguyen, who was a key force in 2016 (and is also an astronaut). “I think in a world where so many people are fighting for the mere act of existence—whatever it is that they are trying to be—to have that joy in what you do and in the end state, that to me is my personal type of activism.”

Robinson is the President of Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group for LGBTQ+ people, and she previously spent 13 years working with the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She agreed that joy is necessary, and added it takes creativity to build a coalition by meeting other people in places where they find joy.

“The other part of it is math,” Robinson said. “How do you get to 50 plus 1. How do you get the majority of people to understand that the position you’re on is actually the one that’s going to carry our nation forward.”

Both also discussed their experiences balancing actionable, short-term goals, like getting a piece of legislation passed, with a greater, expansive vision of what a better future could look like. Robinson said that leaders of activist organizations can sometimes romanticize the big, inspiring goals, but people can burn out that way without smaller wins.

“Think about what it looks like to actually sustain a movement,” she said, adding that the Montgomery Bus Boycott was 381 days long. “We have to talk about the sides of it that aren’t actually romantic more often.” Nguyen agreed and pointed to her past work with discrete periods of time, such as campaign seasons or legislative sessions.

Robinson pointed to how far the U.S. has come in her lifetime, noting that Joe Biden, a person who once voted to limit marriage rights with the Defense of Marriage Act as Senator, later signed the Respect for Marriage Act as President, codifying same-sex marriage into law.

Amidst the current politically-motivated assault on rights of transgender people and minors, Robinson said she has been traveling the country to speak with trans youth and thinks overcoming the current challenges could be an opening for a better future.

“That gives me hope,” she said. “Because there is something that’s coming on the other side of the crisis.”

The TIME100 Summit convenes leaders from the global TIME100 community to spotlight solutions and encourage action toward a better world. This year’s summit features a variety of speakers across a diverse range of sectors, including politics, business, health and science, culture, and more.

Speakers for the 2024 TIME100 Summit include actor Elliot Page, designer Tory Burch, Olympic medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad, WNBA champion A’ja Wilson, author Margaret Atwood, NYSE president Lynn Martin, comedian Alex Edelman, professor Yoshua Bengio, 68th Secretary of State John Kerry, actor Jane Fonda, and many more.

The TIME100 Summit was presented by, Citi, Merck, Northern Data Group, Glenfiddich Single Malt Scotch Whisky, and Verizon.