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STAND (UP) AND BE COUNTED means to state or show publicly that you support someone or something, reveal your convictions or opinions, esp. when something unpleasant or dangerous could happen to you as a result.

"Those who did have the courage to stand up and be counted were arrested." 

The very phrase conjures up the vision of someone bravely accepting a challenge by choosing to end their comfortable season of inaction and taking steps that will draw the notice of all within eyeshot.

"It’s time for people who care about freedom to stand up and be counted!"

Though there's a price to be paid for such bravery, its cost is perceived to be less than the cost of inaction and its consequences. Those who express their private opinions openly have concluded that it is time to stand up and be counted. 

"What's your opinion? Why don't you stand up and be counted?"

An Americanism of obscure origin; the OED gives this as the earliest attestation: 

"Another democratic paper, the Sacramento Bee, follows the example of the Chicago Chronicle and stands up to be counted for Roosevelt." Hartford Courant, 1904.

So the origin seems to be in the political sphere: to stand up in meetings and have your vote counted - and from there, the more figurative meaning probably emerged.

"If you want to see some changes made, stand up and be counted!"

Due to its high-energy and straight-in-the-face rebellious message the phrase is widely used in popular culture. 


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