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What Are Upstanders?

Throughout our lives, we will constantly have choices and opportunities to either become Upstanders or bystanders. If enough of us choose to be Upstanders, we can help change the course of history. That is the Enough Moment. Enough of us, with enough commitment, will lead the change.” 

– Actor/activist Don Cheadle and Enough Founding Director John Prendergast, The Enough Moment: Fighting to End Africa’s Worst Human Rights Crimes.

At the core of their book “The Enough Moment,” Don Cheadle and John Prendergast wrote about the central role upstanders play in bringing about positive change.  The word “upstander” was popularized by Samantha Power in her book, “The Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide.”  

Don and John wrote, “[I]f war criminals everywhere face an ocean of people with Braveheart-like commitment standing up in support of peace and human rights, the odds improve that the world will be a better and safer place for millions of people…. We as caring citizens need to catalyze and build an even bigger and stronger people’s movement for change.  We need to assemble an unusual coalition and force better policies through popular demand.  The political will for real change will come from the bottom up.  This is our chance.” (prologue and page 16)

Don and John elaborated (p. 17), “Africa is a continent full of promise, with identifiable solutions to these human rights crimes.  Genocide has, in some places, been successfully prevented or ended.  Child soldier recruitment has, in some places, been stopped, and the children affected have been rehabilitated.  Rape as a tool of war, in some places, has been neutralized.  Wars have been resolved.  Understanding that there are answers is empowering.  Demonstrating that the answers usually involve partnerships between Frontline Upstanders in the war zones and Citizen Upstanders around the world is crucial to showing that there is a connection between the activism of ordinary citizens and the ending of wars and massive human rights crimes…. Unless there is a political cost for inaction, we will get inaction…. We hope to see a world where the penalties for committing these atrocities are so severe and the diplomacy to prevent them so deft and automatic that their recurrence becomes a subject relegated to our museums and history books.”

The Enough Project focuses on three key categories of Upstanders:

  • Frontline Upstanders, comprised of civil society activists in war-impacted countries;
  • Citizen Upstanders, comprised of activists around the world in support of and solidarity with the Frontline Upstanders and the policies that can help promote peace and human rights;
  • Celebrity Upstanders, involving well-known people willing to use the fame they have to shine a spotlight on the issues being raised by Frontline and Citizen Upstanders.