Regardless of whether you were repping MAGA, Stronger Together or stayed home on election day in 2016, 2017 has been a largely unwanted wake-up call sometimes akin to nails going down a chalkboard that just wouldn’t stop. It’s understandable if you feel like you've been riding a nonstop hell ride of natural disasters, political crises, gun violence, genocide, and utter chaos. While a lot of these things are just business as usual for our mixed up crazy world and have been happening for years, what's different is that bummer news from all corners is constantly beaming into your mobile device all the time. So keeping it positive can be tough as being glued to your smartphone for most people has unfortunately become de rigueur for being a functioning member of society. Tensions are high, fears are real and all signs are pointing to an uphill road ahead.
But we will not live in despair - because that would be lame, life is beautiful and no one needs another downer right now.
Truth be told 2017 has also been a year of inspiring social action taken by everyday people. It’s been a year when local leadership like mayors boldly addressed issues ranging from renewable energy to disavowing white supremacists to keeping their cities safe for immigrants. It’s been a year that more people are running for elected office and new political groups have sprung up all over. It’s been a year of people who don’t typically think of themselves as political are getting creative, becoming bona fide grassroots organizers and winning. It's been a year when activists have made strides in expanding the right to vote to more people. It’s been a year when accountability has been brought to corporations and bullshit is being called out for what it is. It’s been a year when sexual predators, misogynists, and creeps were finally told “no, you will not get away with it any longer.”
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Below is a snapshot of seven of our most favorite people-powered accomplishments of the year that came about because everyday citizens wanting change took action.
2018 is upon us, and if the past year taught us anything it’s that complacency is not a good look. Don’t expect others to look out for your interests. Get out there and do something.
1.White Supremacists and Little Nazi Men Were Shut Down
Following the election of Donald Trump, there has been a resurgence of public activity from hate groups across America. Although the president’s divisive rhetoric both during his campaign and since taking office has emboldened white supremacists and Nazis, ordinary people-- including white allies and people of color-- have stood up to hate and are defending the rights of minorities. In both Boston and Charlottesville, thousands of counter-protesters showed up to tell bigots that their message of discrimination was not welcome.
In response to prejudice rearing its ugly head, activists organized the March to Confront White Supremacy, a 10-day march that started in Charlottesville and ended in Washington D.C. with protesters demanding an end to racial injustice. Also, on the internet, Twitter suspended off far-right and white supremacist accounts that were using their platform to propagate hate speech. Racial justice advocates will have to be just as vigilant in 2018 to keep these discriminatory groups at bay in the year to come.
2. NFL Players Took a Knee After Colin Kaepernick Kept It Real
Colin Kaepernick started a movement in 2016 when he became the first player to subtly kneel during the national anthem to raise awareness about the injustices that people of color experience, particularly police brutality. As of December 2017, Kaepernick is still not signed to any NFL team, which many of his supporters saw as the league blackballing him for his protests and an attempt to stop other players from following his lead. However, Kaepernick’s legacy of protest was amplified by his absence on the field and he was honored by the ACLU and Sports Illustrated for his willingness to take a stand -- or rather take a knee -- for what he believed in regardless of the consequences.
Since Kaepernick’s initial demonstration, several NFL players, student athletes and athletes from around the world have kneeled during the anthem to make a statement about racial inequality. The continued demonstrations have drawn criticism from league owners and the president who referred to the kneelers as “sons of bitches.” Despite mounting pressure throughout the year, the kneelers haven’t backed down and now are working with league officials to come to a resolution.
3. The Women’s Movement Took Names
2017 has been an unequivocally shitty year for women’s rights with rollbacks on birth control coverage, repeated federal attacks on Planned Parenthood, the repeal of protections against sexual violence on campus, and the inauguration of a president who has admitted to committing acts of sexual assault. But it's also been the year that women have come out at the very front of the resistance movement, are effectively organizing, running for office and executing campaigns that are achieving equality and holding leaders both in media, politics and industry accountable.
Beginning in January, after the paltry turnout for President Trump’s inauguration, hundreds of thousands of women gathered at the nation’s capital for the Women’s March--the largest public demonstration in US history. Hundreds of satellite marches took place the same day across the country and around the world and a new movement was born.
Also, after the New York Times released their watershed article detailing the sexual assault allegations of Harvey Weinstein, women confronted abusers and showed solidarity with survivors through the hashtag #MeToo. The solidarity campaign was originated by activist Tarana Burke and amplified by actress Alyssa Milano. Dozens of prominent media moguls, elected officials and on-air personalities have been dislodged from power, and a new era of transparency and decency is upon us.
4. Danica Roem’s Political Victory for Decency in Government
Fed-up with Trump’s Presidency and wanting to make difference, several minorities — including women, people of color and members of the LGBTQ community — were inspired to run for office and won their races. On November 7, Danica Roem, a stepmom, metal rocker and transgender candidate, was elected to the Virginia state legislature. Roem defeated Bob Marshall, an incumbent for more than two decades and an anti-LGBT crusader. Along with Minnesota politician Andrea Jenkins, Roem made history as one of first openly trans-politicians in the country.
In 2018, several congressional seats will be up for re-election, so make sure you’re registered to vote in order to have an impact on your community.
5. A Pervert Candidate With Racist Leanings Lost on Election Day
While a lot has been written about what the Trump-era has meant for American democracy as a whole, it was the potential election of far-right conservative Roy Moore in Alabama to the United States Senate that tested the state and the country’s moral resolve.
The former judge’s views ranged from believing Muslims didn’t have the right to serve in public office to saying homosexual acts should be illegal. But Moore will perhaps best be known for the controversy during the campaign when multiple victims came forward to accuse him of sexual harassment while they were teenage-girls and he was in his 30s. The Republican National Committee, prominent politicians like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and even President Trump himself eventually threw their support behind Moore despite multiple credible charges of pedophilia.
Most voters chose principles over party, delivering a win to Moore’s Democratic opponent, Doug Jones. Jones ultimately owed his victory to black voters who turned up in droves. According to CNN’s polling data, 98 percent of black women and 93 percent of black men cast a ballot for Doug Jones. Only 30 percent of all white voters, male and female combined, voted for Jones. But, as of the time of publication, Moore has yet to concede to Jones, whose victory in the red south state shocked just about everybody involved and does not bode well for the GOP in 2018.
Voting is one of the most meaningful forms of civic engagement. VICE Impact has partnered with Democracy Works in their Turbo Vote campaign to get people to register and vote. Register now so you can participate in a fundamental American right.
6) US Senators Introduced Legislation to Make Weed Legal and College Free
2017 was the year that lawmakers introduced major legislation that may have a huge impact on both equitable higher education and the criminal justice system.
In October, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced the College for All Act which aims to make public colleges and universities tuition-free for families with annual incomes of less than $125,000-- which is about 86 percent of the US population. Sanders’s proposed legislation isn’t a radical idea. Most developed nations such as Germany, Finland and Denmark all have tuition-free higher education and much higher graduation rates. Across the country, Americans are burdened with $1.5 trillion in student loan debt which needs to change now if America is to be truly great.
In August, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Marijuana Justice Act which would legalize weed nationally if passed. Not only would pot get decriminalized, but people convicted of weed-related crimes would have their records expunged. It’s unlikely that the legislation will pass through Congress, but it is a major symbolic act in the fight for criminal justice reform--particularly for people of color who experience harsher sentencing for marijuana possession than their white counterparts.
Given the dynamics in Congress it's hard to imagine both bills getting much traction, but they will undoubtedly drive the public conversation that a better way is possible when it comes to the nation’s education and criminal justice systems.
7) Mayors Got Real About Renewable Energy
When, against all better judgment, President Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris climate agreement -- the global action plan that set a goal to mitigate the effects of climate change -- many felt helpless. How could individuals possibly stop the impacts of climate change to ensure that future generations wouldn’t have to live with increasingly unstable environmental risks? The answer, so far, is to look local.
The Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign, in a partnership with VICE Impact, put mayors and their cities on the frontlines of the fight against the devastating effects of climate change. The initiative showcased city-wide commitments to reach 100 percent renewable energy in the near future. As of December 2017, 50 U.S. cities and many more individual mayors have pledged to commit to 100 percent renewable energy, proving that local organizing can make a big difference on a global issue.
The effort has already helped achieve one of the biggest victories in the Trump era when it comes to climate change after the US Conference of Mayors affirmed commitment to the issue and passed a series of resolutions back in June.
You can do your part by getting your local officials to switch to 100 percent renewable energy for the Sierra Club's Ready for 100 campaign.
And on the international front.... there have been a number of significant people-driven campaigns that had a big impact on global policy and human rights. Here are a few honorable mentions of events that happened outside the U.S. that didn’t make it on our top seven list.
Macron Beat Le Pen
In both the election of Donald Trump in the US and the pro-Brexit vote in the UK, nationalist sentiments reigned supreme. Earlier this year, France’s presidential election had ultra-conservative populist leader Marine Le Pen poised to win and the world holding its breathe.
Le Pen’s opponent, a first-time candidate for elected office and a centrist backed by former President Obama, Emmanuel Macron campaigned on a platform of unity and social reform. At 39, the youngest president in France’s history, Macron’s victory was a historic moment. It also secured France’s commitment the European Union — which was much needed after the UK’s Brexit flight — and open borders for migrants.
Australia Votes Yes for Marriage Equality
After years of LGBTQ activist efforts, Australia finally legalized marriage equality in December. Earlier this year, Australian citizens were posed with a postal survey to choose whether or not they were in favor of marriage equality or opposed to it. The response to the survey was more than 60 percent pro-same-sex marriage. In November, Senator Dean Smith introduced the marriage equality bill into the Senate and, with support from both houses of Parliament, the legislation passed. Australia joins Finland and Germany as the two other major countries to have marriage equality wins in 2017.
EU Put People Before Social Media Platform Profits
The role of social media came under even greater scrutiny following the 2016 US presidential election due to the spread of both hate speech and fake news. Earlier this year, the European Union, the economic governing body that oversees most of Europe’s finances, approved a proposal that would force social networks to address hate speech on their platforms. Sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube (which is owned by Google) were affected by the EU’s policy. Now in Europe, online media outlets will be held accountable for the content that users post on the internet, which has huge IRL implications as well.
Catalonian People Fight for independence from Spain
There was national uprising in Spain after citizens from Catalonia, a region within the nation, voted to declare independence in October. For centuries, Catalonia has existed somewhat as a separate nation-state within the larger country. Catalonians have a separate language and local parliament that has functioned as a somewhat autonomous government.
The push for independence has created a political crisis that could potentially lead to more separatist movements across the continent. The Spanish government's grip on the region has been compared to fascist rule, and as Catalonia is one of the wealthiest parts of the country will be a hard thing to just let go. 2017 was a major turning point for both cultural and economic self-determination. In 2018, all eyes are on Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy who remains stalwart on his anti-secession stance.
Oh, and it was the year VICE launched VICE Impact. THANK YOU for tuning in, and we look forward to turning it up with you in 2018!