By Medea Benjamin
Remembering some of the gains in the difficult year of 2019 can help inspire us for the critical struggles ahead.
In the coming year, those of us in the US will face one of the most important elections of our lifetimes. (Photo: Creative Commons)
Impeachment, Trump, impeachment, Trump. It’s hard to think of this year without obsessing about the occupant of the White House. But yes, there were lots of other events going on in the world this year. Some of them were tragic, like the coup in Bolivia, but some are hopeful and move us in a positive direction. Here are ten. Please add more.
- In January, the most diverse class of lawmakers in U.S. history was sworn into Congress, including a record number of women in the House: 102. Four of the freshman known affectionately as “the squad”—Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley—have shown what a few brave women can do to shake up the DC establishment. They denounced the inhumane treatment of migrants on our southern border; pushed for a Green New Deal and Medicare for All; confronted big pharma; started paying congressional interns; refused to take the “mandatory” AIPAC trip to Israel. They changed the Congressional ecosystem and thanks to them, a lot more young progressives are now running for Congress.
- The Democratic primaries have forced the country to talk about progressive policies like never before. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have pushed Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and policies to address this nation’s horrific inequalities. Tulsi Gabbard has focused on the need to end the endless wars. And compared with 2016, all of the candidates have been more open to directly confronting the military-industrial complex, with vague but critical calls for reducing the overblown Pentagon budget. The debates and campaign rallies have been opportunities to air discussions on real solutions to our nation’s ills, solutions that are not popular with big-dollar donors but are wildly popular with the public.
- 2019 was a year of awe-inspiring environmental youth activism. The sensational 16-year-old Greta Thunberg from Sweden captured world attention at the UN climate summit with her call for young people to hold adults accountable for the disaster they’ve created. Greta’s school strike (she sat in front of the Swedish Parliament instead of going to school) inspired students walkouts throughout the world. She also inspired some famous elders: Thanks to Greta, Jane Fonda brought the Fire Drill Fridays to Washington D.C., doing civil disobedience at Congress every Friday and bringing more national attention to the climate crisis.
- While the environmental gains this year are not nearly on the level needed, there are countries taking serious actions. The New Zealand parliament passed landmark legislation to achieve zero net carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. The legislation establishes New Zealand as one of the few countries in the world with a legislated commitment to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement. In contrast to Australia, where climate and energy policy has provoked toxic debate and scare campaigns from the far right, the New Zealand bill passed with bipartisan support. The government also established a $100 million Green Investment Fund, which will invest public funds in projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions; plant one billion new trees by 2028; and stop exploration for new oil and gas reserves.
- In more environmental news, the European Union banned single-use plastic, including plastic cups, plates, forks, and straws. The ban will take effect by 2021. The change could help avoid nearly $25 billion-worth of environmental pollution by 2030. While the U.S. lags behind at the federal level, jurisdictions across the United States have instituted bans and fees on various types of plastics, like bags, carryout containers, polystyrene (Styrofoam), and straws. Eight states, including California and New York, have passed statewide bans on single-use plastic bags, while Maine has a ban on single-use polystyrene containers.
- While Donald Trump crows about how great the domestic economy is, more and more workers are demanding a fairer share of the pie.Tens of thousands of workers across the country, from General Motors employees to teachers in Chicago,went on strike to win better wages and benefits. G.M. agreed to a path for temps to become permanent workers, and to alterits tiered wage scale. Airline mechanics, including at Southwest Airlines,won raises. The move toward a $15 minimum wage is gaining steam, with 21 states raising minimum wages in 2019 and more increases on the way in 2020.
- For Latin America, 2019 was a year of people’s power. There were advances and setbacks, but it’s clear that there is a return of the Pink Tide (the name given to the wave of progressive governments in the late 1990s and 2000s). In this past year, social movements and organized people rose up against neoliberalism in Chile and Ecuador, they defeated a coup in Venezuela, they’re resisting a coup in Bolivia, they rose up against a narco-dictator in Honduras, they rose up against state violence and austerity in Colombia, they took back power in Argentina, they’re transforming Mexico, and, last but not least, in Brazil they organized a successful and massive international campaign to free former president Lula da Silva.
- In the Middle East, people also rose up in a massive repudiation of neoliberal policies and corrupt governments that benefit the wealthy and multinational corporations at the expense of working people. In what has been dubbed the Autumn of Discontent, there were uprisings from Iraq to Lebanon, from Iran to Egypt. The repression against activists has been savage, with hundreds killed. In Lebanon, the protests led to the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri but their goals are broader: They are demanding an end to corruption and mismanagement that results in blackouts and piles of garbage in the streets, as well as the crony sectarianism that enables it.
- In Sudan, where the nation suffered for years under the murderous dictatorship of Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who had been in power since 1989, people poured into the streets by the hundreds of thousands. After months of courageous protests in which scores of Sudanese were shot, Abdalla Hamdok took office as prime minister in a power-sharing deal between the armed forces and the pro-democracy movement. the movement won a commitment for a three-year transition leading to elections, and Bashir was sent to prison for corruption. People are still in the streets demanding justice for the people killed in protests. “The victims have the right to truth, justice and reparations under international law,” say the protesters.
- While Trump didn’t fulfill his promise to end our endless wars, and he actually sent 14,000 MORE troops to the Middle East, at least he didn’t start any new wars! Why? The American people have had enough. That hasn’t always been the case. After the 9/11 attacks, for example, most Americans supported both the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan and in Iraq. But no longer. They want to get out of the wars we are in and don’t want to engage in new ones. When the U.S. accused Iran of a spectacular attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities, the hawks in the Trump administration wanted to respond with a military attack. But polls showed a miniscule 13 percent in favor. This has been a restraining factor for Trump and his warhawks. And let’s remember, this year also marked the downfall of the biggest warhawk of all, Trump’s former National Security Advisor John Bolton.
In the coming year, those of us in the US will face one of the most important elections of our lifetimes. Four more years of Donald Trump will be devastating for our nation and our world. No matter what happens with the impeachment process in the Senate, we must mobilize to defeat Trump and build a more effective progressive movement. Remembering some of the gains in the difficult year of 2019 can help inspire us for the critical struggles ahead.
Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK: Women for Peace, is the author of the new book, Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Her previous books include: Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection; Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control; Don’t Be Afraid Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks from the Heart, and (with Jodie Evans) Stop the Next War Now (Inner Ocean Action Guide). Follow her on Twitter: @medeabenjamin
This article was published on December 30, 2019, at Common Dreams.