It would certainly be easy to do a piece about 10 horrible events from 2015 — from the ongoing war in Syria and the refugee crisis to the terrorist attacks in Beirut, Paris, and San Bernardino and the rise of Donald Trump and Islamophobia.
But that wouldn’t be a very inspiring way to bid farewell to this year and usher in a new one. So let’s look at 10 reasons to feel better about 2015.
- The Iran nuclear deal held up. Despite significant political opposition and millions of dollars spent to try to quash the deal, the nuclear agreement with Iran was passed and the possibility of another U.S. military entanglement was narrowly avoided. The powerful lobby AIPAC had its wings clipped, as did Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (except that the deal unfortunately came with a payoff of even more U.S. tax dollars going to the Israeli military).
- Relations are thawing with Cuba. It’s official! The U.S. 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 UN meeting between Cuban President Raul Castro and U.S. President 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.
- The Keystone pipeline ain’t happenin’. 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 talksdidn’t 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.
- The Black Lives Matter movement is getting results. This incredible uprising has forced issues of racial injustice into the national spotlight and created real reforms in communities across the country. 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.
- Canada’s welcoming refugees. While Donald Trump was threatening to ban Muslims from the United States, the 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 personally welcomed Canada’s first batch of Syrian refugees with flowers, toys, clothing, goodwill, and the heartfelt declaration, “You are home.” Trudeau proclaimed: “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.”
- Jeremy Corbyn now leads the UK Labor Party. Running on an anti-war, anti-austerity, and pro-refugee platform, longtime progressive parliamentarian Jeremy Corbyn earned a whopping 59 percent of his party’s votes. Inan 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?
- Same-sex marriage was legalized in the United States. 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 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.
- The BDS movement marked 10 years of 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 thedecision 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 of 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 DC sent holiday gifts exclusively made in settlements to the White House this year.
- Marijuana’s becoming mainstream. What a year of momentum to end our country’s disastrous war on drugs and mass incarceration. Marijuana is now legal in Colorado, Washington State, Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC. Californians and others will hit the ballot box in 2016 to hopefully push uspast the national tipping point on marijuana legalization. Elsewhere, President Obama — the first president to visit a prison — spoke out forcefully against mass incarceration and for criminal justice reform, and is helping formerly incarcerated people re-enter society by “banning the box” for those applying for federal jobs.
- Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign is energizing progressives. The energy that Bernie has mobilized, especially among young progressives, has been phenomenal. While the media is obsessed with Donald 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 healthcare, 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 Star Wars and Donald Trump, may we ring in the new year by truly striking back at the injustices of the empire. May the force be with the grassroots activists trying to build a more peaceful world.