medea benjaminThere are many things to be thankful for in 2012, starting with the fact that the world didn’t end on December 21 and that we don’t have to witness the inauguration of Mr. One-Percent Mitt Romney. The global economic crisis continued to hit hard, but people have been taking to the streets around the world, from students in Chile to indigenous activists in Canada to anti-austerity workers in Europe. And while the excitement of the Arab world uprisings has been tempered by divisions and losses, the struggles are far from over.

Here are some US and global issues that experienced newfound gains in 2012.

1.     While conservatives launched vicious attacks on women’s rights, it backfired—and fired up the pro-choice base! US voters elected the highest number of women to Congress ever, including the first openly lesbian senator (Tammy Baldwin), the first Asian-American senator (Mazie Hirono) and first senator to make the banks tremble, Elizabeth Warren! Voters also rejected 4 crazy candidates who called for limiting a woman’s right to choose—including the resounding defeat by Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill over Mr. Legitimate Rape Todd Akin. Don’t forget that when Susan G. Komen for the Cure announced it would no longer fund Planned Parenthood, it got so heartily trounced that it caved in than seventy-two hours later. And stay tuned for the 2013 global women rising – a billion of us demanding an end to violence against women on February 14!

2.     Immigrant rights groups, especially young Latinos, mobilized and took great risks to force a change in attitude—and a thaw in policy. They fasted and caravanned and marched and knocked on doors. They pushed the administration and in June, just before the election, President Obama announced a new immigration policy that allows some undocumented students to avoid deportation and receive work authorization when they apply for deferred action. While not nearly enough, especially in light of this administration’s record rate of deportations, a mobilized immigrant community with significant voting power stands poised to make more impactful changes in U.S. immigration policy next year.

3.     More money flooded the elections than ever before (some $5.8 billion!), but most of it went down a big, black hole—and unleashed a new movement for money out of politics. Billionaires wasted fortunes trying to sell lousy candidates and lousy ideas. Looking at the candidates supported by the biggest moneybags of all, Sheldon Adelson, NONE were elected to office. Right-wing “pundits” like Karl Rove proved themselves to be idiotic partisan hacks and the Tea Party has been tearing itself apart. But best of all, from Massachusetts to Oregon, Colorado to Illinois and Wisconsin, and Ohio to California, citizens throughout the country voted overwhelmingly for their legislators to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling and declare that only human beings – not corporations – are entitled to constitutional rights and that money is not speech and campaign spending can be regulated.

4.     The marijuana genie is now out of the bottle, with people across the country backing referendums seeking an end to the decades of destructive, counterproductive drug wars. Colorado and Washington voters legalized recreational pot, and medical marijuana will be legal in Massachusetts. Voters in California passed Prop 34, which restricts lifetime incarceration via the “three strikes” law to violent or serious third offenses, a change that will help limit the prison sentences of nonviolent drug offenders. Prominent leaders including Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy, former President Bill Clinton and President Obama have hinted that they will reconsider the harsh criminal drug policy that has cost so much money and so many lives while failing to curb drug abuse.

5.     This year marked momentous wins for gay rights. Massachusetts, Maine, and Washington legalized marriage equality, and Minnesota defeated a restrictive state constitutional amendment that would have upheld a ban. Now, one-tenth of states in the U.S. uphold marriage equality. Thanks to activist pressure, on May 9 President Obama became the first sitting president to endorse marriage equality for same-sex couples. Several prominent leaders in the Democratic Party followed his lead, and muted conservative responses only served to demonstrate how far public opinion has shifted on the issue.

6.     Climate activists have been kickin’ up a storm. Anti-coal activists have helped retire over 100 coal plants, victories that will save lives and clean our air and water, while wind energy hit a historic milestone of 50,000 megawatts. The global anti-fracking movement mounted effective campaigns that has led to local bans in the US and Canada, national moratoriums in France and Bulgaria, and tighter regulation in Australia and the UK. The grassroots campaign to stop the Keystone Pipeline has awakened a new generation of activists (don’t forget the upcoming February 17-18 President’s Day Climate Legacy/Keystone XL rally in Washington, D.C.). And on the national front, in August the Obama administration issued new miles-per-gallon rules on car manufacturers, mandating that Detroit nearly double fuel efficiency standards by 2025.

7.         Unions have been hard hit by the economic crisis and political attacks, but worker’s gains made in 2012 show potential muscle. The Chicago teachers’ strike in September, lasting for seven school days, led to an important victory for public education. Walmart workers staged the first-ever strikes against the biggest private sector employer in the United States and heralded a new model of organizing, with workers and community members coming together to support better conditions in the stores and warehouses even before the workers join a union. And in another example of worker/community organizing, student activism allied with union advocacy in San Jose, California led to a ballot initiative that will raise the minimum wage from $8 to $10 per hour for everyone working within the city limits.

8.     On the foreign policy front, opposition to drone warfare is on the rise. After years of silence about the use of lethal drones overseas, the public began to learn more and the level of anti-drone activism skyrocketed. Now there are protests all over the country, including army bases where drones are piloted and manufacturing plants, and US activists have hooked up with drone victims overseas. US attitudes, once overwhelmingly pro-drone, are beginning to change, becoming more aligned with the global opposition to drone warfare. And the increased global opposition is leading to a rethinking of US policies.

9.     The international movement for Palestinian human rights has gained unprecedented momentum. In November the United Nations endorsed an independent state of Palestine, showing sweeping international support of Palestinian demands for sovereignty over lands Israel has occupied since 1967. The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions call by Palestinian civil society gained international traction as well, with economic, cultural and academic victories. Several different Christian denominations and college campuses voted to divest from Israeli occupation, the Technical University of Denmark dropped scientific collaboration projects with an Israeli settlement, the South African ANC endorsed the BDS call, Stevie Wonder cancelled a performance at a “Friends of the IDF” fundraiser, and much more. The grassroots call for Israel to adhere to international law has never been louder.

10.       After nearly 15 years of house arrest, Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi was elected to Parliament! Suu Kyi’s party, the NLD (National League for Democracy), swept the April by-elections, winning 43 of the 44 seats it contested. After decades of abuse, the military-dominated government released hundreds of political prisoners, enacted laws on forming trade unions and freedom of assembly, eased official media censorship, and allowed the opposition to register and contest elections. President Obama’s November visit, the first by a sitting US president, was an acknowledgement of the reforms. There’s still need for pressure, as hundreds of political prisoners remain, ethnic conflict continues, and Burmese military still holds too much power. But 2012 was a good year for the Burmese people.

There will be no time to rest in 2013, since the wealthy are already pushing to protect their profits to the detriment of the environment, workers’ rights and our democracy. But just as the massacre in Sandy Hook has led to a reinvigorated fight for gun control, so 2013 will surely mark a renewed effort to build stronger coalitions to spread the wealth, reverse global warming and disentangle ourselves from foreign wars. And with the presidential elections behind us, the time is ripe for building a progressive movement that is not tied to any political party but can put pressure on the entire system. Let the organizing begin!!!

The following article by Global Exchange and Code Pink Co-founder Medea Benjamin also appeared on

As long as people keep organizing and mobilizing, there will be victories to celebrate.

This year was marked by turmoil at home and abroad, including a deepening financial crisis that continues to leave millions jobless and homeless, as well as ongoing and expanding wars. But despite the setbacks and disappointments, here is a list of victories to be thankful for, starting with three inspirational women.

1. On November 13, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest. In 1990 her party, the National League for Democracy, won the elections but the military junta refused to let them take power. Instead, Suu Kyi was kept under house arrest for almost 15 of the last 21 years. Her release brings great joy and hope to millions of people in Burma and supporters of democracy worldwide.

2. Dilma Rousseff was elected president of Brazil and takes power on January 1. Dubbed by the media “the most powerful woman in the world,” Rousseff was tortured and jailed for three years for opposing Brazil’s military dictatorship. She later became Chief of Staff for the popular outgoing president and former metalworker, Lula da Silva, whose policies of growth with equity have helped pull millions of Brazilians out of poverty. While some worry about Rousseff’s commitment to the environment (she was also Lula’s Energy Minister), the fact that a progressive woman from the Labor Party will rule a powerhouse like Brazil is cause for celebration.

3. Elizabeth Warren became “consumer czar.” After the financial meltdown in 2008, Warren was appointed Chairwoman of the five-member Congressional Oversight Panel created to investigate the banking bailout and oversee TARP. She won tremendous public support by sharply criticizing the banks and calling for greater transparency and accountability. Warren advocated for a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to protect borrowers from abuses in mortgages, credit cards and other consumer loans. On September 17 President Obama named her special adviser by to oversee the development of this new bureau.

4. The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Chinese literary critic and professor Liu Xiaobo. Liu, a critic of China’s one party state, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for drafting a petition calling for free speech and open elections. The Chinese government usually escapes rebuke for its oppressive practices because the country is such an economic superpower. However, according to Amnesty International, some 500,000 Chinese prisoners are in detention without charge or trial. Harassment, surveillance, house arrest, and imprisonment of human rights defenders are on the rise, as is Internet and media censorship, and repression continues for Falun Gong practitioners and minority groups, including Tibetans, Uighurs and Mongolians. The Nobel Prize for Liu Xiaobo has helped expose China’s dirty secrets.

5. Speaking of exposing secrets, WikiLeaks has sent shock waves around the world by exposing the inner machinations of U.S. foreign policy. After a decade of illegal wars, lack of accountability, government secrecy and embedded journalists, WikiLeaks has given the public a much-needed look at the way the U.S. government continues–under President Obama–to cajole, bribe and strong arm other nations into supporting U.S. policies. We look forward to more revelations in 2011 and we hope more people will step forward to defend WikiLeaks and suspected whistleblower Bradley Manning!

6. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed. The LGBT community has been fighting to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell since it was first introduced as a compromise measure by President Clinton in 1993. In an historic Senate vote on December 18 the policy was repealed and then signed by President Obama on December 22. While some find it hard to celebrate the ability of more people to now fight in U.S. wars, let’s remember that this victory will help the gay community win upcoming, more important struggles for marriage rights and equality in the workplace.

7. U.S. troop levels in Iraq declined dramatically.
While President Obama has presided over a disastrous surge of troops in Afghanistan, he does seem to be holding to his promise of ending the U.S. military presence in Iraq. The number of U.S. troops has declined from some 144,000 in January 2009 to roughly 50,000 today. The remaining troops are supposed to leave the country by the end of 2011, and many worry they will be replaced by private contractors. The U.S. invasion of Iraq, based on lies and resulting in the death and displacement of millions of Iraqis, is one of the most shameful episodes in our history. The sooner it ends, the better.

8. The health care bill passed. No, it was not a single payer bill and it didn’t even have a public option, disappointing many of its original supporters. But the bill does extend health coverage to over 30 million Americans who would have otherwise been uninsured; it stops private insurance companies from rejecting people for preexisting conditions; and it allows children to remain covered by their parents’ insurance until the age of 26. Taken as a whole, it represents a progressive shift in U.S. social policy, which is why it is being so viciously attacked by the right. And from the left, the fight for a single payer system, especially on the state level, is far from over!

9. The Senate ratified the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between the U.S. and Russia. The New START provides modest reductions in the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons, and includes monitoring and verification procedures. Unfortunately, to get Republican support the U.S. commitment to disarmament is countered by a new commitment to spend $180 billion over 10 years to “modernize” U.S. weapons and delivery systems. But not passing the treaty would have been disastrous. The new treaty will undoubtedly improve U.S.-Russia relations and will hopefully move us closer to the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons.

10. In a little noticed automobile obituary, the last Hummer rolled off the production line on May 24–a casualty of higher gas prices, the economic crunch and a shift in consumer preferences. The cool cars of today are no longer monstrous gas guzzlers but hybrid and electric cars. There are 28 hybrid models already on the market today. At least 12 plug-in electric cars are planned for 2011, kicking off a wave of new green vehicles.

And a few extras for good cheer:

11. At the White House Tribal Nations Conference on December 15, President Obama announced that the United States would support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The statement is significant because the United States was one of only four countries that voted against the declaration when the UN General Assembly adopted it in 2007, and the last of those four to have reversed its former opposition.

12. In a policy reversal after the BP oil disaster, the Obama administration announced that it will not allow offshore oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico or off the Atlantic coast for at least seven more years. Meanwhile, offshore wind power is taking off from Maine to Georgia.

13. Foreign private security contractors were banned by the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan, and Blackwater founder Eric Prince–hounded by lawsuits and bad press–felt compelled to sell the company and move out of the country.

14. Thanks to California’s Proposition 19, also known as the Regulate, Control & Tax Cannabis Act, the debate on failed Marijuana Prohibition has arrived!
Despite not passing, 4 million people voted to control and tax marijuana, with endorsements coming from new allies from the SEIU to the NAACP to law enforcement groups.

15. The government-supported student loan program was dramatically restructured, eliminating private banks and thereby ensuring that more money goes directly into the hands of low-income students.

I could keep the list going. It’s an important reminder, as we go into what will be a very difficult new year, that people on all continents continue to struggle for a more peaceful, just, sustainable world. And as long as people keep organizing and mobilizing, there will be victories to celebrate.

On November 13th 2010 Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s pro democracy leader and Nobel Peace laureate, was released from captivity for the first time in 7 1/2 years.  She has spent more than 15 years in detention, most of it under house arrest, and has come to symbolize the Burmese people’s struggle for freedom.

Six women laureates of the Nobel Women’s Initiative welcomed the release of their sister laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi with a written statement which originally appeared on the Nobel Women’s Initiative website. They’ve graciously allowed us to share it with you all here:

We women Nobel Peace Laureates welcome our sister Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to her freedom from detention.  For years she has been unjustly confined to her home and denied the opportunity to see her family and friends, to participate in politics and to live in freedom.  Despite the efforts of the military regime in Burma to deny the people of Burma the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi,  her strength, vision and faith continued to guide them in their ongoing struggle for rights and democracy.  Although she has not been able to meet with us and others around the world who are inspired by her courage, we have often recollected her words and her principles in the pursuit of building peace with justice and equality.  We hope that we will soon have the opportunity to meet with her in person and until that time send her our best regards.

Since her most recent release, Aung San Suu Kyi has publicly offered support to the over 2,000 political prisoners still in Burmese captivity. She’s met with political prisoners’ families and agreed to work with the country’s military regime to see that the prisoners are freed.

Visit Human Rights Watch to sign a petition calling for the release of Burma’s political prisoner.