Despite the dreadful recession, a broken political system, and other woes, Americans have many reasons to be thankful. Here is my top ten list:
10. Rick Perry isn't going to be President: My Texas friends had warned me about Perry. "He's even worse than Dubya!" they said. So when Perry entered the Republican race for President, I gritted my teeth, expecting that "Governor Haircut" would unite Tea Party loonies and Wall Street reactionaries. Instead he made one misstep after another, flamed out, and took down Michele Bachman, too.
9. We're leaving Iraq: Last month, President Obama announced that by the end of the year all US troops will have left Iraq. While we will continue to have "advisors" in Iraq, and a massive US embassy in Baghdad, the dreadful war that began in March 2003 has ended. Now, if we'd only withdraw all of our troops from Afghanistan, we'd have even more to be thankful for.
8. Republicans didn't dismantle Medicare and Social Security: Despite the most conservative House of Representatives in memory, and the GOP's dogmatic willingness to shut down the government, Democrats were able to protect Medicare and Social Security (and stifle the repeal of affordable healthcare). That's the good news; the bad news is that more than half of America's 14 million unemployed are no longer receiving benefits - and Republicans refuse to do anything about this catastrophe.
7. In the Middle East, millions successfully protested for Democracy: Although Arab Spring started in December 2010, it came to the attention of most Americans in February, when nonviolent protests in Egypt toppled the Mubarak government. Arab Spring continues and has provided impetus for Occupy Wall Street in the US.
6. Workers mobilized to protect collective bargaining: In February, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker proposed a state budget that severely restricted the collective bargaining rights of state workers. Voters in Wisconsin mobilized to protect workers' rights. The movement spread to other states. On November 8th, voters in Ohio defeated a measure to restrict collective bargaining.
5. Progressives changed the dialogue: When 2011 began, conservatives dominated political discourse. Washington politicians ignored the jobs crisis, a feckless war in Afghanistan, global climate change, and other daunting problems. Instead they focused on "fiscal austerity," the claim the US is going broke. This culminated in the debt-ceiling crisis that ended August 2nd with passage of byzantine compromise legislation. As a consequence, voters lost confidence in Washington, the Tea Party movement waned, and progressives were able to change the dialogue. Americans came to believe that the real problem with US politics is that corporations and the richest 1 percent have too much power.
4. Women defended their reproductive rights: Although elected on the promise they would create jobs and reduce the Federal deficit, Congressional Republicans instead launched a war on women, particularly reproductive health services. GOP conservatives steadfastly pursued a misogynistic campaign to defund healthcare for women; for example, by defunding Title X to deny family planning services to the poor. Women fought back and blocked most cuts. On November 8th, voters in Mississippi rejected a draconian personhood amendment.
3. Elizabeth Warren entered politics: Although she had been on the political fringes, as chair of the TARP oversight panel and advocate for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Elizabeth Warren kept her day job as a Harvard Law School professor. In September Warren entered the 2012 Massachusetts Senate race against incumbent Republican Scott Brown. This heartened progressives because Warren is an articulate spokesperson for populism and a passionate defender of the American social contract.
2. President Obama tabled the Keystone pipeline decision: 2011 hasn't been a good year for environmentalists. The House Republican majority has attacked the reality of global climate change, attempted to defund the EPA, and passed legislation that would roll back most health and safety standards. Then, in September, President Obama rescinded proposed EPA smog standards. That's why many environmentalists regarded the State Department approval of the Keystone Pipeline extension as the final straw. On November 7th thousands of anti-Keystone protesters surrounded the White House. Three days later the President announced he would defer the Keystone decision until after the 2012 elections.
1. Occupy Wall Street galvanized the left: On September 17th, protesters convened in Zuccotti Park in the heart of New York City's financial district. Although the ongoing protests have many facets, they're an expression of grassroots discontent with the economy in general, particularly the historic level of inequality - the OWS rallying cry is, "We are the 99 percent."
2010 was the year of the Tea Party - a synthetic movement manufactured by a few wealthy conservatives. 2011 has become the year of Occupy Wall Street, and other protests, that grew organically from the discontent of average Americans - the 99 percent. They've found their voice and that's a lot to be thankful for.