As we close this year on the low of a devastating conflict in Iraq and a President contemplating sending yet more troops to fight and die in an unwinnable war, let us not forget that it was a year of many positive gains for the progressive movement. Here are just ten.
1. First, of course, is the November elections, when voters gave Republicans an "electoral thumpin'". From California's Jerry McNerney to Ohio's Sherrod Brown to Minnesota's Keith Ellison--Democrats all over the country won elections by slamming Bush's war. The collapse of one-party rule in Washington reflected a spectacular repudiation of George Bush and handed Congress a mandate to get out of Iraq.
2. Latino communities throughout the United States took center stage in the spring of 2006, putting May Day back on the map as a day of grassroots mobilizing. From high school students to union members to community organizers, the spirit and energy of millions of immigrants demanding to be treated with dignity and respect took the nation by surprise. Immigrants not only carved out new political space, but in the age of e-activism, they breathed new life into the importance of "street heat."
3. After decades of dictating the rules of the global economy, World Trade Organization talks fell flat on their face in 2006. Activists the world over celebrated its collapse after years of work to sink this titanic tool of empire. The work to derail corporate-dominated trade policies is far from over, with bilateral free trade agreements taking the place of the WTO. But the WTO and its model of globalization have been exposed as a dismal failure and opposition continues to grow worldwide.
4 George Bush opened 2006 with a State of the Union Address bemoaning our "addiction to oil"; 86 prominent Evangelicals called global warming a moral issue; Al Gore educated millions with his film, An Inconvenient Truth; and Time magazine declared the Earth is at a tipping point with melting ice, drought, wind, disease, and fires raging out of control. Historians may one day look back on 2006 as the "tipping-point" year when human societies--including the United States as the major superpower and the major polluter--woke up to the precarious state of our world and decided it was time to find solutions.
5. As a clear indicator of the shift from debating global warming to doing something about it, this year California passed the nation's toughest legislation to curb greenhouse gases. The groundbreaking bill would require the state to cut back its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020--a reduction of approximately 25 percent. A smart politico, Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger saw the green writing on the wall and joined the state's Democrats in setting a new environmental standard for the rest of the nation to follow.
6. In a year when Enron executives were found guilty of cooking the books, Muhammad Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for proving that poor people can be more reliable money managers than rich ones. Yunus' "microcredit movement" that started out giving small loans to poor Bangladeshis, mostly women, mushroomed into a worldwide movement that has extended small loans to millions of the world's poor. By awarding Yunus the Peace Prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee not only recognized the credit-worthiness of the poor but acknowledged that poverty is a threat to peace. As Yunus said in his acceptance speech, "I believe that putting resources into improving the lives of the poor people is a better strategy [for combating terrorism] than spending it on guns."
7. While the fighting between Israel and Lebanon left over 1,000 dead, mostly Lebanese, a ceasefire was achieved after only 34 days. When the violence threatened to spiral out of control, the United Nations, the Arab League and individual governments stepped forward to insist on negotiations, to hammer out a ceasefire agreement and to provide international peacekeeping forces to serve as monitors. What could have been a prolonged conflict with devastating consequences for the entire region was halted. The lessons that SHOULD have been learned when the powerful Israeli military was unable to "win" the conflict through force are that military aggression will not solve the deep-seated problems in the region, and that negotiations and peace processes can work.
8. Speaking of dialogue, Jimmy Carter, with his new book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, took on the greatest taboo in US politics: the gross violation of Palestinian rights and the unqualified US government support for the Israeli government. Likening Israel's policies in the Palestinian territories to the racist white rule in South Africa, Carter has raised a firestorm of controversy. But finally, FINALLY, someone with the credentials of a statesman, a peacemaker and a friend of Israel is crying out against Israel's hellish treatment of Palestinians. The public is embracing his views: his book quickly became a bestseller and he has been greeted by enthusiastic crowds at appearances around the country. Hopefully, our elected officials will start listening as well.
9. In 2006 we managed to stop the next war from starting! With the US bogged down in Iraq and the public sick of war, it has been impossible for the Bush administration to launch an attack against another country like Iran or North Korea. The army doesn't have enough recruits to fight a new war and the politicians know it would be political suicide to reinstate the draft. Two major warmongers--Donald Rumsfeld and John Bolton--were forced out of power. And with Bush obligated to appoint a new ambassador to the United Nations, perhaps diplomacy will come back into fashion.
10. Across Latin America, elections have continued to bring a wave of progressive leadership to power. With the victories of Daniel Ortega and Rafael Correa, Nicaragua and Ecuador join Bolivia, Venezuela, Chile and Brazil as governments committed to improving the lives of the majority. As a sign of the radical changes in the region, Bolivia's Evo Morales marked May 1 by nationalizing the country's oil and gas resources. "After today," he declared, "the hydrocarbons will belong to all Bolivians. Never again will they be in the hands of transnational corporations. Today the country--la patria--stands up."
So here's a toast to nations standing up to greedy transnationals, to people standing up to leaders who abuse their power, to humanity standing up to save the planet we inhabit--and to bringing our troops home in 2007!
Follow Medea Benjamin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@medeabenjamin