10 Activists Who "Stand Up for Something"

The Oscars featured well-known celebrities, as per usual, but there were some faces present that not everybody recognized. During Common’s and Andra Day’s performance of “Stand Up for Something,” a song written by Lonnie Lynn and Diane Warren featured in the film “Marshall,” lights shone on 10 people, all dressed in black, behind the performers. I did a bit of digging on these individuals to figure out who they are and why they were on-stage. Turns out, they are all prominent activists for different causes and movements, a really neat way to highlight powerful individuals making the type of positive change encouraged by the song. Common and Day reached out to each activist individually to invite them to the ceremony. Common described them as the “people who really do the work… people who are true activists out in the world and on the front line. People whose lives, whether by circumstance, have become prime movers for change.” 

Alice Brown Otter is a 14-year-old who, when she was 12, ran from Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota to the Army Corp of Engineers office in Washington, D.C., a total of 1,519 miles, to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. She is involved with the Standing Rock and #NoDAPL movements.

Bana Alabed is an eight-year-old Syrian refugee who tweeted out her family’s story and later wrote a book, “Dear World: A Syrian Girl’s Story of War and Plea for Peace” documenting how her family lived through airstrikes and hunger in Aleppo before escaping to Turkey.

Bryan Stevenson, as director of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of “Just Mercy,” fights for the rights of individuals who were wrongly convicted of crimes or were unfairly sentenced. His organization opposes mass incarceration, extreme punishment, racial and economic injustice, and the lack of protection for vulnerable individuals in the US.

Cecile Richards was the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund for over a decade. She campaigns for women’s rights to accessible healthcare, access to childcare, and paid family leave.

Dolores Huerta, along with Cesar Chavez, founded the United Farm Workers of America in 1962. She established the Dolores Huerta Foundation in 2003 to drive voter registration and education, improve infrastructure in low-income communities, and promote equality for LGBT individuals. In 2012, Huerta received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Janet Mock is a New York Times bestselling author and the founder of #GirlsLikeUs, a project empowering trans women. She spoke at the Women’s March on Washington and is also the first trans woman of color TV writer and producer.

José Andrés, renowned chef and TV personality, created ThinkFoodGroup, and in combination with World Central Kitchen and #ChefsforPuertoRico, they made more than 3.3 million meals in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

Nicole Hockley’s son Dylan was murdered in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, after which she founded Sandy Hook Promise, a non-profit organization, in the pursuit of change and prevention of gun violence.

Patrisse Cullors is not only the co-founder of Black Lives Matter and a New York Times bestselling author, but also a Fulbright scholar, prominent public speaker, and an NAACP History Maker.

Tarana Burke has spent years highlighting the intersectionality of racial justice and sexual violence, and she founded the “Me Too” movement in 2006 to raise awareness of sexual abuse and assault in society, giving many people a newfound understanding of the pervasiveness of the issue.

Clearly, all of these individuals are inspiring, motivated activists who have fought for and continue to fight for positive social change. Their presence at the Oscars serves as a reminder that despite all of the negative events occurring in the world, be they sexual violence, racism, mass shootings, or one of many other problems, there are always those who fight to solve them. It’s up to us to decide whether or not we join them, whether or not we “Stand Up for Something.” Personally, I will– consider this an invitation for you to join as well.


You can watch the performance on the Billboard website here.


Image from Janet Mock's twitter.