Friday, January 1, 2016

The 5 Worst Things Last Year & The 5 Most Hopeful Things For 2016

It's time for reflection on an especially eventful, tumultuous year. From the perspective of the unseasonably warm northeast corner of the U.S., here goes:

The 5 Worst Things About 2015

1) Rampant, unaccountable police violence against people of color
You might argue that this has been going on for centuries in the U.S., and that it only seems like more of a crisis because citizen journalists with cell phone cameras have documented more police attacks. And you might be right. 

But information is a game changer, and this form of racialized injustice dominated the alternative news in 2015. For example, the video above -- which was not made by a citizen but by the city of Cleveland -- shows 12 year old Tamir Rice being gunned down for playing alone with a pellet gun in a public park. This week a grand jury declined to charge officer Timothy Loehmann for hastily shooting Tamir, or for failing to administer first aid once the child had been shot (Rice died of his injuries the following day). You can sign a petition from Rice's family demanding appointment of a special prosecutor here.

This individual tragedy was played out in various permutations again, and again, and again in 2015. Police killed an unarmed person of color or a native person, and authorities failed to respond with justice. Communities responded with #BlackLivesMatter activism and outrage, while corporate news coverage broadcast selective responses involving property damage without linking them to the police violence that caused them. Try this: ask a teenager you know about "the riots in Baltimore." Then, ask them what they know about Freddie Gray who died of a spinal injury sustained when he was handcuffed in police custody and tossed around in the back of a Baltimore police van. According to retired Philadelphia police chief Ray Lewis, this is a commonly practiced "sport" among police.

I'll leave Kareem Abdul-Jabar the last word here:

2) Rampant destruction of the planet's life support systems by corporate profiteers was unaffected by United Nations climate summit
The response to the tepid agreement generated at the Paris COP21  summit was a litmus test for which environmental organizations actually defend the planet and which ones work to uphold the status quo i.e. corporations using natural resources for profits and with little accountability. The talks were conveniently held in a city that could justify shutting down march permits and the rights of activists to assemble in the wake of spectacular violence by alleged Islamist radicals. But those who care most about the health of life on Earth came anyway.
Image: from "Official Response to COP21 Agreement"
Image: The Climate Ribbon Project

Meanwhile, Jeju Island's soft coral reef was finally entombed in concrete to make a deep water port for warships despite years of spirited resistance, and Samsung is suing the entire village of Gangjeong because they caused delays that cut into corporate profits. I could go on for days listing outrages against the environment in 2015 and alarming signs (70 degrees Farenheit in the Arctic this month anyone?) but Samsung's action provides a perfect segue to the next item on the list of bad for 2015.

3) The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) was readied for Fast Track passage by the U.S. Congress

Fast Track passage means no debate and no possibility of amendment, just a yes or no vote. The TPP would codify global corporate government and severely restrict the rights of anyone seen as interfering with a corporation's "right" to profit. It would also dramatically affect freedom of expression, especially online, and is being vigorously opposed by organizations like the Electronic Freedom Frontier on those grounds. 

Lame duck President Obama has been a big cheerleader for the TPP and can be expected to sign it into law, thus joining Bill Clinton's legacy of neoliberal gutting of U.S. jobs and environmental regulations via trade agreements NAFTA and CAFTA. More child slave labor, here we come.

4) Military spending domestically remained at the 50+% level while U.S. arms sales to other countries soared
It was no surprise that Congress and the President continued servicing their campaign donors by making taxpayers foot the bill for weapons ordered by the Pentagon. Also many of the weapons ordered by vicious U.S. allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia. These gifts are presented as "military aid" and do not come out of the Pentagon budget.

Aside from tax-funded gifts of weapons, the U.S. also surged ahead in 2015 in the area of simply selling weapons to other countries. Because security is always enhanced when more weapons are in circulation, right?

5) Islamophobia became a mainstream belief, and hate crimes increased accordingly
The rise of U.S.-sponsored ISIS (or Daesh, the Arabic acronym for this theatrically dramatic terrorist organization) and the highly publicized events in Paris and San Bernadino -- along with less highly publicized terror attacks by purported Islamists in Lebanon and Libya -- fueled a rise in domestic outbreaks of Islamophobia

Presidential candidates vied to see who could produce the most inflammatory hate speech. Polls showed up to one-third of respondents hating on Muslims, even to the extent of approving of the idea of bombing a fictional city with an Arabic-sounding name. Mosques were vandalized and threatened, and hijab-wearing women and girls sustained many, perhaps most, of reported attacks on Muslim individuals.
Source: Haaretz "Why I Wear a Hijab" by Saadia Faruqi, photo by Michal Fattal

Thankful that 2015 has now drawn to a close, I offer this list:

The 5 most hopeful things for 2016

1) Youth leaders emerging all over the place
From nationwide campus uprisings to demand accountability for racial injustice to the vigorous activism of young defenders of our planet as a life support system to the lead role taken by young people of color at this year's annual meeting of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, youth leadership is a hopeful sign.
"Bowdoin students stage sit-in outside president's office" Beth Brogan, Bangor Daily News 4/1/15
2) The Pentagon's carbon spew will finally be counted on the U.S. balance sheet
A bad decision in Kyoto had resulted in exemption for military carbon pollution being counted, despite the fact that the planet labors under this load whether humans count it or not. Hooray for the Pentagon, which consumes the greatest amount of fossil fuel of any organization on the planet, finally becoming part of the reckoning! Stay tuned for more news of #PentagonClimateCrime in the coming year.

3) More people became aware of how dangerous the TPP is and began pushing back

Due in part to the dogged efforts of activist journalists like Margaret Flowers on the website, mainstream labor groups like the Teamsters began to sit up and take notice of the threats posed by the TPP. As James P. Hoffa of the Teamsters wrote in the Huffington Post in October:
Beyond that, however, is the pressure the TPP will place on U.S. wages. The deal will turbo charge a salary race-to-the-bottom. Many hardworking Americans will see their jobs shipped to low-pay countries like Vietnam. Those Americans lucky enough to keep their jobs will be paid less. Promises that the TPP will help to raise labor standards in other countries will fall short; similar provisions in prior trade agreements didn't deliver. The only winner will be corporate America, which will bask in the glory of its additional billions in profits.
Lobbying pressure on Congress by groups like the Teamsters will be crucial to securing rejection of what the Obama administration hopes will be its crowning achievement. 

4) Shaker Aamer was released from the torture prison at Guantánamo Bay

Mr. Aamer spent 14 years imprisoned by the U.S. in their offshore prison on Cuban soil, despite being cleared for release back in 2007. According to political prisoner advocacy organization Reprieve which represented him, Mr. Aamer, a citizen of the UK," was volunteering for a charity in Afghanistan in 2001 when he was abducted and sold for a bounty to U.S. forces."

Seeing an innocent man reunited with his children, including the youngest whom he had never met, was a high point for me in 2015. This is despite the fact that Guantánamo remains open, and Congress added a rider to the gargantuan "defense" funding bill this year blocking efforts to close it.

5) There was an outpouring of love and support for Muslims in general and Syrian refugees in particular
Poster at a rally in Portland, Maine welcoming Syrian refugees.
Banner in London Source for image:

Scene at an airport in Germany as Syrian refugees began arriving.
Finally, here's a list of suggested actions to take in 2016 to truly make our world safer for everybody. From Manal Omar's article "As A Muslim, My Heart Freezes With Fear" on HuffPo:
Don't be a passive bystander to Islamophobia if you disagree with the fiery rhetoric. Take action. 
Sofia Al-Khan, an American Muslim born and raised outlined some tangible action steps friends of the Muslim community can take. Here are a few ones I embraced and invite you to consider. 
- If you see a Muslim or someone who might be identified as Muslim being harassed, stop, say something, intervene, and call for help. If you see people abusing authority, stand firm against profiling. 
- If you ride public transportation, sit next to the hijabi (head scarf) woman and greet them. The fear of being in public for women in particular is increasing every day. A small act of kindness can have a transformative impact. 
- Engage the Muslims in your life. Make sure you really feel comfortable standing for and with your Muslim friends, neighbors, coworkers. If you have a Muslim work colleague, check in. Tell them that the news is horrifying and you want them to know you're there for them. The concern and support I have received my colleagues is heart warming and reminds me of my place here in the US. 
- If you have neighbors who are Muslim, keep an eye out for them. If you're walking your kids home from the bus stop, invite their kids to walk with you. 
- Talk to your kids. They're picking up on the anti-Muslim message. Make sure they know how you feel and talk to them about what they can do when they see bullying or hear hate speech at school. 
- Help fill the public space with positive messaging over the hate. Write letters to the editors and be aware of your social media posts. 
- Call your state and local representatives, let them know that you are concerned about hate speech against your Muslim friends and neighbors in politics and the media. Ask your representatives to be aware of new laws on visas and other issues that would create second class citizens. 
- Out yourself as someone who rejects Islamophobia and discrimination of any kind. 
Fear is paralyzing. Terror is fear-inspiring. Let's stand up, stand tall, stand strong.

Best wishes for a love-filled year in 2016!

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