This woman stood up to stop a deportation. This is human rights activism done right.

Elin Errson heard a man was being deported back to Afghanistan from Sweden. She wasn't going to let that happen.  

On July 23, Errson did the only thing she thought she could do: She bought a ticket for his flight and protested.

The 21-year-old Swede knew the pilot could not take off without all passengers seated. So she refused to sit down on the plane to halt the man's deportation, even if it meant facing fines or jail time. Errson live-streamed her protest.


Standing Up Against Deportation

Because an Afghan was supposed to be deported on a flight to Istanbul, activist Elin Ersson refused to sit down. What happens in the next minutes shakes everyone on board…

Posted by DW Stories on Tuesday, July 24, 2018

"I want him to get off the plane because he is not safe in Afghanistan," she said in her live-stream. "I am trying to change my country's rules. I don't like them. It is not right to send people to hell."

At first, other passengers and crew members were aggravated with her refusal to sit down. Some attempted to take her phone away, but she didn't let that deter her. She kept standing and kept live-streaming.

Other passengers joined her in protest after their initial hesitation. And soon enough, Errson and the asylum-seeker were removed from the plane, with passengers — and the world — applauding.

Errson's act of defiance illustrates just one of the many radical ways ordinary people can engage in human rights activism.

There's often this misconception that direct action with issues like immigration or international conflict requires a mass movement of people. But sometimes, you only need a handful of people — or even one person — to make a significant impact for good. Errson's plane protest is a great example.

In the past few years, we've seen more examples of smaller-scale direct actions against deportation proceedings. There's been an effective trend of activists blocking ICE buses filled with undocumented immigrants facing deportation.

In 2013, a group of activists chained themselves to the tires of a bus — but they didn't stop there. Some went to the courthouse and chained themselves to the entrance. Why? They wanted to prevent authorities from processing deportation orders and jail sentences for undocumented immigrants.

In June, another group of protesters fighting President Donald Trump's family separation policy attempted to block a bus full of migrant kids from crossing the border.

This summer, IfNotNow — a progressive Jewish American group — are asking Birthright Israel participants to speak up on during their tours and question the organization's erasure of Palestinians. One did so successfully. Some are even heading to airports to meet with Birthright Israel participants and give them educational materials about Israel's occupation of Palestine.

Now more than ever, it's imperative for people to take a stand.

Direct action might seem daunting. It's easier to go with the flow and ignore the harsh realities others face around us. Nobody wants to be uncomfortable, but sometimes discomfort is needed to bring about positive social change.

But Errson's words in her live-stream ring true: "What is more important, a life or your time?"

Sure, preventing a plane from taking off or blocking people from entering a courthouse can be an inconvenience for both activists and bystanders, but that shouldn't matter. In lot of these situations, like this one, it could be a matter of life or death for a vulnerable person.

It's up to each of us to decide which side we want to be on.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.