1) Iran nuclear deal: Despite significant political opposition and millions of dollars spent to try quash the deal, the nuclear agreement with Iran was passed, and the possibility of another US military entanglement was narrowly avoided. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a powerful lobby, had its wings clipped, as did Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu (except that the deal unfortunately came with a payoff of even more US tax dollars going to the Israeli military).
2) Cuba thaw: It’s official: The US and Cuba now have embassies in each other’s territory for the first time in over half a century. The year has been marked by a United Nations meeting between Raul Castro and Barack Obama, more travelers to Cuba and more trade between both countries . But Congress still needs to lift the trade embargo, fully lift the travel ban and return the Guantanamo naval base to the Cubans.
3) Keystone pipeline: After years of stellar grassroots activism against the Keystone pipeline (and years of lobbying by the oil companies), President Obama finally took the side of the activists (and the planet) by shutting down the project. And while the Paris climate talks did not result in the dramatic commitments we need to stop global climate chaos, they did raise consciousness and move the global community in the right direction.
4) The Black Lives Matter movement gets results: This incredible uprising has forced issues of racial injustice into the national spotlight and created real reforms within communities across America. The Movement for Black Lives got its momentum in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, and spread throughout the nation. Cops have been convicted, police chiefs have been ousted, citizen review boards have been empowered, confederate flags have come down, buildings named after racists have been renamed and presidential candidates have been forced to talk about race. Kudos to the many young black activists leading the way.
5) Canada welcomes refugees: While Donald Trump threatens to ban Muslims from the US, newly elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau showed the rest of the world how a country can open its doors—and hearts—to Syrian refugees. Trudeau and other smiling officials welcomed the first batch of Syrian refugees with flowers, toys, clothing, goodwill and the heartfelt declaration, “You are home.” “We get to show the world how to open our hearts and welcome in people who are fleeing extraordinarily difficult situations … because we define a Canadian not by a skin color or a language or a religion or a background, but by a shared set of values, aspirations, hopes and dreams,” Trudeau proclaimed.
6) Jeremy Corbyn heads the British Labour Party: Running on an anti-war, anti-austerity and pro-refugee platform, longtime progressive parliamentarian Jeremy Corbyn earned a whopping 59% of his party’s votes. In an interview with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, Corbyn voiced his support for diplomacy and his aversion to airstrikes in the Middle East: “I want a world of peace. I’m not interested in bombs. I’m not interested in wars. I’m interested in peace.” Wouldn’t that be nice to hear from Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi?
7) Same-sex marriage was legalized in the US: In a landmark and long-awaited decision, the Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage a federal right. On June 26, the LGBTQ community and its allies rejoiced and took the streets to celebrate the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling. While there have been some minor setbacks since then (primarily due to bigots like Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis), there is no turning back now.
8) Ten years of BDS wins: The non-violent, non-sectarian, Palestinian-led movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel has seen a decade of victories. Key this year was the decision by the European Union that goods produced on land seized in the 1967 war must be labeled “Made in Settlements” (not “Made in Israel”), which will deprive Israel the corresponding tax benefits. The former Israeli intelligence chief, Shabtai Shavit, is convinced that BDS has become a “critical” challenge to Israel, while former Prime Minister Ehud Barak admits it is reaching a “tipping point.” In a desperate attempt to counter the momentum of BDS, Israeli Embassy officials in Washington, DC sent holiday gifts exclusively made in settlements to the White House this year.
9) Marijuana becomes mainstream: What a year of momentum to end America’s disastrous war on drugs and mass incarceration. Marijuana is now legal in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon and Washington, DC. California and others will hit the ballot box in 2016 to hopefully push us past the tipping point on marijuana legalization. Obama, the first president to visit a prison, spoke out forcefully against mass incarceration and for criminal justice reform, and he is helping formerly incarcerated people re-enter society by “banning the box” for those applying for federal jobs.
10) Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign: The energy that Bernie Sanders has mobilized, especially among young progressives, has been phenomenal. While the media is obsessed with Trump, droves of people have been flocking to hear Bernie talk about breaking up big banks, a financial transaction tax to make college education free, single-payer health care and other ideas to make our society more just. Wouldn’t it be great if this movement could continue after the race is over?
So while this holiday season the nation is obsessed with the latest Donald Trump insult and the special effects of Star Wars, may we bring in the new year truly striking back at the injustices of the empire. May the force be with the grassroots activists trying to build a more peaceful world.