I had the privilege of starting out the year witnessing, firsthand, the unfolding of the Egyptian revolution in Tahrir Square. I saw people who had been muzzled their entire lives, especially women, suddenly discovering their collective voice. Singing, chanting, demanding, creating. And that became the hallmark of entire year–people the world over becoming empowered and emboldened simply by watching each other. Courage, we learned in 2011, is contagious!

1. The Arab Spring protests were so astounding that even Time magazine recognized “The Protester” as Person of the Year. Sparked by Tunisian vendor Mohamed Bouazizi‘sself-immolation to cry out against police corruption in December 2010, the protests swept across the Middle East and North Africa—including Egypt,Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, Algeria, Iraq, and Jordan. So far, uprisings have toppled Tunesian President Ben Ali, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Libyan leader  Muammar Gaddafi–with more shake-ups sure to come. And women have been on the front lines of these protests, highlighted recently by the incredibly brave, unprecedented demo of 10,000 Egyptian women protesting military abuse.

2. Wisconsin caught the Spring Fever, with Madison becoming home to some 100,000 protesters opposing Governor Walker’s threat to destroy collective bargaining and blame the state’s economic woes on public workers. Irate Wisconsinites took over the Capitol, turning it into a festival of democracy, while protests spread throughout the state. The workers managed to loosen the Republican stranglehold on Wisconsin state government and send a message to right-wing extremists across the country. This includes Ohio, where voters overwhelmingly rejected Governor Kasich’s SB 5, a measure designed to restrict collective bargaining rights for more than 360,000 public employees. A humbled Kasich held a press conference shortly after the vote, saying: “The people have spoken clearly. You don’t ignore the public.”

3. On September 17 Occupy Wall Street was born in the heart of Manhattan’s Financial District. Protesters railed against the banksters and corporate thieves responsible for the economic collapse. The movement against the greed of the richest 1% spread to over 1,400 cities in the United States and globally, with newly minted activists embracing–with gusto–people’s assemblies, consensus decision-making, the people’s mic, and upsparkles. Speaking in the name of the 99%, the occupiers changed the national debate from deficits to inequality and corporate abuse.  Even after facing heightened police brutality, tent city evictions, and extreme winter weather, protesters are undeterred and continue to create bold actions–from port shut-downs to moving money out of big banks.  As Occupy Wall Street said, “You can’t evict an idea whose time has come.” Stay tuned for lots more occupation news in 2012.

4. After 8 long years, U.S. troops were finally withdrawn from Iraq. Credit the Iraqis with forcing Obama to stick to an agreement signed under President Bush, and the peace movement here at home for 8 years of opposition to a war our government should never have started. The US invasion and occupation left the country devastated, and Obama’s administration is keeping many thousands of State Department staff, spies and military contractors in the world’s biggest “embassy” in Baghdad. But the withdrawal marks the end of a long, tragic war and for that we should give thanks. Now let’s hold the war criminals accountable!

5. The 2011 Nobel Peace Prize was presented to three terrific women: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia; Leymah Gbowee, the Liberian peace activist; and Yemeni pro-democracy campaigner Tawakkol Karman. A total of only 15 women have received the Nobel Peace Prize since it was first awarded in 1901.These three women were recognized for their non-violent struggle for women’s safety and for women’s rights to participate in peace-building work. Never before in history have three women been awarded the prize simultaneously. How inspiring!

6. The bloated Pentagon budget is no longer immune from budget cuts. The failure of the super-committee means the Pentagon budget could be cut by a total of $1 trillion over the next decade — which would amount to a 23 percent reduction in the defense budget. The hawks are trying to stop the cuts, but most people are more interested in rebuilding America than fattening the Pentagon. That’s why the U.S. Conference of Mayors, for the first time since the Vietnam war, passed a resolution calling for the end to the hostilities and instead investing at home to create jobs, rebuild infrastructure and develop sustainable energy. 2011 pried open the Pentagon’s lock box. Let’s make the cuts in 2012!

7. Elizabeth Warren is running for Senate and Rep. Barbara Lee continues to inspire. After the financial meltdown in 2008, Warren was appointed chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel to investigate the bank bailout and oversee TARP–and investigate she did. She dressed down the banks and set up a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to protect borrowers. Warren became so popular that tens of thousands of people urged her to run for the Senate in Massachusetts, which she is doing. And let’s give a shout out to Rep. Barbara Lee, who worked valiantly all year to push other issues with massive grassroots support: a bill to “only fund the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan” and a bill to repeal the 2001 Authorization of the Use of Force bill that continues to justify U.S. interventions anywhere in the world.

8. Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi  is running for Parliament! Released last year from nearly 15 years of house arrest, this year Suu Kyi held discussions with the Burmese junta. These talks led to a number of government concessions, including the release of many of Burma’s political prisoners and the legalization of trade unions. In November 2011, Suu Kyi’s party, the NLD, announced its intention to re-register as a political party in order run candidates in 48 by-elections. This puts Suu Kyi in the running and marks a major democratic opening after decades of abuse by the military regime.

9. Opposition to Keystone pipeline inspired thousands of new activists, together with a rockin’ coalition of environment groups across the U.S. and Canada. They brought the issue of the climate-killing pipeline right to President Obama’s door, with over 1,200 arrested in front of the White House. The administration heard them and ordered a new review of the project, but the Republican global warming deniers are trying to force Obama’s hand. Whatever way this struggle ends, it has educated millions about the tar sands threat and trained a new generation of environmentalists in more effective, direct action tactics that will surely result in future “wins” for the planet.

10. Following the tragic meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, the growing appetite for nuclear energy has been reversed. Women in Japan are spearheading protests to shut down Japan’s remaining plants and focus on green energy. Braving a cold winter, they have set up tents in front of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and pledged to continue their demonstration for 10 months and 10 days, traditionally considered in Japan as a full term that covers a pregnancy. “Our protests are aimed at achieving a rebirth in Japanese society,” said Chieko Shina, a grandmother from Fukushima. Meanwhile Germany, which has been getting almost one quarter of its electricity from nuclear power, has pledged to shut down all 17 nuclear power plants by 2022. Chancellor Angela Merkel said she hopes Germany’s transformation to more solar, wind and hydroelectric power will serve as a roadmap for other countries. Power (wind and solar, that is) to the people!

* * * * *

The common thread in the good news this year is the power of ordinary people to counter the abuse of privileged elites, whether corrupt politicians, banksters or greedy CEOs. People all over the globe are insisting that social inequality and environmental devastation are not inevitable features of our global landscape, but policy choices that can be–and must be–reversed. That certainly gives us a full plate for 2012!

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of the human rights group Global Exchange and the peace group CODEPINK.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”  ~James Baldwin

“Action is the antidote to despair.”  ~Joan Baez

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  ~Margaret Mead

Tens of thousands of us have stood up this year and changed the global analysis and understanding of inequality, wealth accumulation and corporate greed and power. Ten of thousands of us have said enough is enough and brought change to our communities, cities and countries.

We here at Global Exchange offer gratitude to all those who have stood up to resist injustice, envision alternatives and take action. Together we are part of monumental shift, and there is no turning back.

We thank:

  • The change makers in Egypt: Thank you to the courageous demonstrators in Egypt whose force grew into a movement that brought about the end of Mubarak’s regime and more recently the military offering its resignation We’re inspired by your bravery, determination, and sheer numbers.

 

 

  • Those who saw that Chevron was found guilty: Thank you to indigenous community members and human rights and environmental justice advocates who worked together to ensure Chevron was brought to justice in an Ecuadorian court. The battle may not be over, but it took courage and conviction to get this far. We hope that BP is also held accountable.
  • Unionists and allies in Wisconsin: Thank you to the protesters who occupied the State Capitol Building in Madison, Wisconsin in attempt to stop the bill that curbs the bargaining rights of most state workers (now signed by Governor Walker). With efforts now underway to reclaim democracy, we support your efforts, voice and action.

 

  • Climate Activist Tim deChristopher: Thanks for your simple act of civil disobedience to scupper a controversial auction of thousands of acres of land, to protect it from false leases that would have been snapped up by gas and oil companies for exploitation. We send solidarity to you, as you serve the 2 year sentence in jail.

 

  • Money Movers and Shakers: Thanks to…
    · 22 year old Molly Katchpole who single-handedly launched a successful Change.org petition against Bank of America;
    · Move Your Money and other likeminded organizations that helped US bank account holders break up with their bank and move their money from big corporate banks to local credit unions where people are account holders AND owners.

 

  • Stop Keystone XL Activists: Thanks to the 1253 of you who were arrested in late summer at the White House, the 350 of you who were arrested in late September in Ottawa, the dozens of action teams who followed President Obama this fall, the12,000 of you who surrounded the White House in November, and the massive organizing effort of the Tar Sands Action crew. By making approval of the Keystone XL pipeline impossible to President Obama, we delayed a decision on this pipeline which would have opened up the tar sands in Alberta to an addition 900 000 barrels of oil extraction a day. We know we will stop this.
  • Javier Sicilia and the new peace movement in Mexico: Thank you for building a movement to free Mexico from the spiraling violence of the ‘war on drugs.’ We are grateful for your immense courage, dignity and integrity in the face of unspeakable horrors.

 

 

  • Gaza Freedom Flotilla: Thanks to activists aboard the Audacity of Hope and other boats in the Freedom Flotilla for your non-violent efforts this spring to bring needed humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza while striving to lift the illegal siege of Gaza and achieve freedom for the Palestinian people. 

 

  • Occupiers of Wall Street and Beyond: Thanks to the 99% who are standing up and taking action to say Enough is Enough. On Nov. 15th Berkeley professor Robert Reich shared with the Occupy Cal crowd these words:

Moral outrage is the beginning. The days of apathy are over, folks. And once it has begun it cannot be stopped and it will not be stopped.

Surely he is correct.

Who are you thankful for? What is the next victory and who will make it happen?

This article is cross-posted on The Huffington Post:

Here in Madison, Wisconsin, where protesters have occupied the State Capitol Building to stop the pending bill that would eliminate workers’ right to collective bargaining, echoes of Cairo are everywhere.

Local protesters were elated by the photo of an Egyptian engineer named Muhammad Saladin Nusair holding a sign in Tahrir Square saying “Egypt Supports Wisconsin Workers—One World, One Pain.” The signs by protesters in Madison include “Welcome to Wiscairo”, “From Egypt to Wisconsin: We Rise Up”, and “Government Walker: Our Mubarak.” The banner I brought directly from Tahrir Square saying “Solidarity with Egyptian Workers” has been hanging from the balcony of the Capitol alongside solidarity messages from around the country.

My travels from Cairo to Madison seem like one seamless web. After camping out with the students and workers in the Capitol Building, I gave an early morning seminar on what it was like to be an eyewitness to the Egyptian revolution, and the struggles that are taking place right now in places like Libya, Bahrain and Yemen. Folks told me all day how inspiring it was to hear about the uprisings in the Arab world.

Some took the lessons from Cairo literally. Looking around at the capitol building that was starting to show the wear and tear from housing thousands of protesters, I had mentioned that in Cairo the activists were constantly scrubbing the square, determined to show how much they loved the space they had liberated. A few hours later, in Madison’s rotunda, people were on their hands and knees scrubbing the marble floor. “We’re quick learners,” one of the high school students told me, smiling as she picked at the remains of oreo cookies sticking to the floor.

I heard echoes of Cairo in the Capitol hearing room where a nonstop line of people had gathered all week to give testimonies. The Democratic Assemblymembers have been giving folks a chance to voice their concerns about the governor’s pending bill. In this endless stream of heartfelt testimonies, people talk about the impact this bill will have on their own families—their take-home pay, their healthcare, their pensions. They talk about the governor manufacturing the budget crisis to break the unions. They talk about the history of workers’ struggles to earn living wages and have decent benefits. And time and again, I heard people say “I saw how the Egyptian people were able to rise up and overthrow a 30-year dictatorship, and that inspired me to rise up and fight this bill.”

Solidarity is, indeed, a beautiful thing. It is a way we show our oneness with all of humanity; it is a way to reaffirm our own humanity. CODEPINK sent flowers to the people in Tahrir Square—a gesture that was received with kisses, hugs and tears from the Egyptians. The campers in Madison erupted in cheer when they heard that an Egyptian had called the local pizza place, Ians Pizza, and placed a huge order to feed the protesters. “Pizza never tasted so good,” a Wisconsin fireman commented when he was told that the garlic pizza he was eating had come from supporters in Cairo.

Photo Credit: theworldsgotproblems.com

Egyptian engineer Muhammad Saladin Nusair, the one whose photo supporting Wisconsin workers went viral, now has thousands of new American Facebook friends. He wrote in his blog that many of his new friends were surprised by his gesture of solidarity, but he was taught that “we live in ONE world and under the same sky.”

“If a human being doesn’t feel the pain of his fellow human beings, then everything we’ve created and established since the very beginning of existence is in great danger,” Muhammad wrote. “We shouldn’t let borders and differences separate us. We were made different to complete each other, to integrate and live together. One world, one pain, one humanity, one hope.”

From the trenches of Madison’s State Capitol Building, hope—and solidarity–are alive and well.