As we close this year, a year in which we were pummeled by the Iraq war, attacks on our civil rights, and Mother Nature’s fury of hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis, there is no shortage of reasons to feel bruised and beaten. But to start the New Year with a healthy determination to keep on fighting, we need to reflect on the good things that happened. And there are plenty.
One continent alone – South America – could provide more than ten examples of wonderful progressive victories, but I’ll just list some of the highlights.
1. Hugo Chavez has shown how an oil-rich nation can use the country’s wealth to provide education, healthcare and small business opportunities for its people – and we here in the US have discovered an oil company we can feel good about buying gas from: Venezuela’s CITGO.
2. Bolivians have, for the first time in their history, elected an indigenous president, Evo Morales. The former llama farmer and coca grower has fought against “free trade” and the privatization of his nation’s resources, and has brought new hope to indigenous people throughout the continent.
3. Anti-war activists – who once represented a much-maligned minority – now represent the majority of Americans who agree that the war in Iraq was a mistake and the troops should come home as soon as possible. And with Cindy Sheehan and Cong. Jack Murtha, we finally had spokespeople the mainstream media listened to!
4. In an historic blow to the Bush administration’s five-year attempt to destroy the Kyoto Protocol, the climate summit in Montreal ended with even stronger measures to combat global warming. At home, nearly 200 cities are taking their own Kyoto- type actions to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
5. The Senate ended the year with a spurt of defiance, refusing to permanently extend the expiring provisions of the Patriot Act, blocking the Republican maneuver to attach Arctic oil drilling to a defense spending bill, and passing John McCain’s anti-torture amendment.
6. Despite a concerted offensive to lift the president’s sagging public support, George Bush’s approval ratings are still below 50 percent, his economic agenda (from the privatization of social security to the repeal of the estate tax) has unraveled, key cronies from Lewis Libby to Tom DeLay have fallen from grace, and 2006 might just put impeachment back into the congressional lexicon.
7. Labor, community activists and women’s groups have mounted a spirited campaign against the behemoth of behemoths, Wal-Mart. And a California jury awarded $172 million to thousands of employees at Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., who were denied such basic rights as lunch breaks, with 40 similar lawsuits pending in other states.
8. With the wild swings in gas prices, SUV sales have plummeted (Ford Explorer down 52%, Chevrolet Suburban down 46%), the sale of hybrids has doubled, and the US House of Representatives actually held a forum on the “peak oil theory.”
9. In a great win for farm workers, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers forced the fast food giant Taco Bell to raise the price for picking tomatoes (nearly doubling many workers’ salaries), and now they’re ready to take on an even bigger bully: McDonald’s.
10. The global movement for peace and justice proved it was alive and kicking: witness Argentina during the Free Trade Agreement meetings, Hong Kong around the World Trade Organization ministerial, and the ongoing rallies against the war. The steady growth of the fair-trade movement also shows that we are not just protesting, but we’re also building a more sustainable economy.
Let’s make 2006 the year we broke the right-wing tide, refused to give pro-war, free-trade Democrats a free ride, and built a “people’s movement” with some muscle to it. We might just get some lessons from our southern neighbors. If Mexico City’s progressive mayor Manuel Lopez Obrador becomes Mexico’s next president, Latin America’s revolutionary fervor will be smack up against the Texas border. Que viva el poder popular en 2006!
Medea Benjamin is the co-founder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK: Women for Peace.