Amid these difficulties, compelling problems have also received overdue attention this year. People have risen up – not only for themselves but also for others. We might even call 2017 the year of the Phoenix given the many positive stories that have emerged all over the world about individuals overcoming adversity and becoming stronger and more resilient.
My hope for 2018 is that we will continue to move outside our comfort zones, challenge our personal beliefs, and appreciate that we cannot rise without each other. I’d like to see us go deeper – as many social movements do – beyond the superficial, past the individual crimes, independent of salaciousness and drama, to feel, recognize, and act on the pain of people and animals who have been victimized or left behind.
This year has been full of instructional and surprisingly optimistic examples of how we might move forward. Here are a few:
The Women’s March: On January 21st, the day after the presidential inauguration, women launched a worldwide protest to advocate for legislative and policy changes regarding women’s rights and a host of other issues including healthcare and immigration reform, racial equality, environmental protection, and LGBTQ rights. It was likely the largest single-day protest in U.S. history, sparking long-term action and coordination at the federal, state, and local levels to support women running for office and policies that advance women’s rights.
A Day Without Immigrants followed the Women’s March on February 16th. Facing the risk of being fired, people across the U.S. stayed away from work. In protest of the administration’s immigration policies, employers and employees surrendered wages and profits. Since then, immigrants and supporters have continued to mobilize to oppose anti-immigrant policies such as an end to DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), a border wall, the travel and immigration ban, and illegal detainment.
The Black Lives Matter movement also began shifting from a strategy focused on protests to policy. Originally formed in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, the movement has taken on a range of issues including violence inflicted on the African-American community, marginalization of individuals within the LGBTQ community, conflict resolution, and individual and collective healing from historical and generational trauma. Though still focused on grassroots activism, Black Lives Matter has grown to an international movement.
The Human Rights Campaign: In 2017, more than 100 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced across the country. These bills allow for discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. The Human Rights Campaign is a localized force of three million members and supporters who envision a world in which LGBTQ people are guaranteed of their basic equal rights, including their right to be open, honest, and safe at home, at work, and in their communities. The campaign operates on the motto that “love will conquer hate.”
International Animal Rights Day, held on December 10th, marked the annual commemoration of the plight of animals. Supporters across the world held candlelit vigils and other events to draw attention to the billions of animals subjected to cruelty across the world. Supporters continue to intensify calls for the recognition of the rights of all sentient beings to life, liberty, and love.
Over the past year, many other social movements have continued to make similar strides by dismantling ableism, protecting and empowering indigenous populations, addressing sexual harassment and assault, and advancing the protection and rights of children. All of these efforts tackle disrespect, oppression, injustice, and cruelty.
As we move forward into 2018, I hope we will continue to tear down hierarchies built on a history of violence and instead honor the intrinsic value of each person and animal. That we will truly see each individual – particularly the most vulnerable – and imagine the fear, shame, hurt, or hopelessness they might experience. And that we will respond with empathy – with greater attention to the ways we treat each other, the words we say, and the words we don’t say.
We will be tested, especially as we extend our realm of concern to more and more species and individuals. Sometimes we will succeed; other times we will fail. But we may find that we like this version of ourselves better. The version that sees goodness where it exists as well as the indecency we too easily ignore. The version that doesn’t bury rage about injustice but strategically channels it to effect nonviolent change.
Along the way, we will need hope and strength. I’ve found both in unexpected places – in survivors who risk life, limb, and liberty to speak out, in kids who see through the mask of institutional denial and insist on moral consistency, in nonhuman animals who search for joy no matter their circumstances, and in all who continue to reach up even as a reign of boots tries to keep them down. If they can do it, we all can.