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home : commentary : thisissue October 23, 2017

Bystanders to Upstanders
Norma Smith Olson, left, and Kathy Magnuson

" "I want people to vote for those who care about human rights. I want people to act in ways that are appropriate, and always to act with justice in mind, not just for some, but justice for all."
- Ellen Kennedy, read more here.

by Norma Smith Olson and Kathy Magnuson


The word jumped out at us: Upstanders. Ellen Kennedy used the word when we interviewed her for the feature story in this issue about CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women treaty). An upstander is a person who takes action against injustice or intolerance. It's the opposite of being a bystander. It was the perfect theme for this group of stories in the June magazine.

Samantha Power, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a Pulitzer Prize winner for her book, "A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide," has been using the word "upstander" for about 15 years. In 2002, in her Baccalaureate address at Swarthmore College, she talked about the differences between standing out, back, by and up - saying the majority of us stand by.

When Power graduated from Yale University in 1992, Bosnia was "a problem from hell." It seemed impossible for her to think a group of people could go from centuries of killing each other to living together harmoniously. "A problem from hell" places little burden on outsiders to step in and problem-solve.

Power felt she lacked something very important: sight. She felt blinded to the injustice right before her eyes, as if she were looking through people, looking away, not wanting to face the implications of what she might see.

An internship at a Washington D.C. think tank that focused on finding resolutions to global conflicts caused Power to see differently. She was 22 years old. She headed to live in the former Yugoslavia to become a news correspondent, reporting on the war. After she returned to the U.S. she was dismayed by our country's stance as a bystander to worldwide genocide. In her research on American response, she also discovered what she termed "upstanders" - people who defied logic, took risks and spoke up for victims.

In this June issue, we share several stories about and essays by women who are upstanders. Ellen Kennedy is working on getting CEDAW ratified city by city in the state of Minnesota, in coalition with other states - since the United States government has failed to ratify the United Nations convention on discrimination against women. Dr. Edwige Mubonzi is a gynecologist-obstetrician from the Democratic Republic of Congo, now living in Minnesota and raising awareness of the brutal rapes of women and girls in her home country. Dana Mortenson is an upstander for global education in American schools. Christina Meyer, a senior at Holy Angels Academy, started a social justice organization in her high school. Cover artist Leslie Barlow works to get more portraits of women of color into galleries. Amy Lauricella and Rosalyn Park write essays about their work for women's human rights. Annie Vang writes about low-income families and childcare support.

We can all be upstanders, using our individual talents and voices. What is important to you? What action can you take, big or small, to be an upstander rather than a bystander?

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"You never know how what you do today will affect the world tomorrow. You have the power - with your sight and your voices - to cause ripples to flow. The impact of your actions will be measured later," Power said in her Swarthmore address.

What do you stand up for?

Coming up:

July's
theme Is "Solo" Are you single, on your own, a solopreneur? What's great or not about "going solo?" Tell us about it. Send up to 150 words to editor@womenspress.com
Deadline: June 10, 2016
July Advertising Sections:
• Buy Local Guide
• Health and Wellness Guide
• Women and Pets Guide
• GoSeeDo/Calendar Guide
Deadline: June 10, 2016

August's theme is "Out."Have you ever run out? Tell us about a time you ran out of time, money, energy, hope, possibilities, gas, excuses ..." Tell us about it. Send up to 150 words to editor@womenspress.com
Deadline: July 10, 2016
August Advertising Sections:
• Education and Lifelong Learning Guide
•Women Going Places Guide
• GoSeeDo/Calendar Guide
Deadline: July 10, 2016





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