12/29/2014 03:34 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

10 Ways Human Rights and Democracy Won in 2014 (Yeah, You Heard That Right)

Let's be honest: It was a brutal year for human rights. But we still have victories worth celebrating.

Ferguson, Missouri. October, 2014. Photo by Sarah-Ji.

In 2014, we saw a lot of brutality. Unarmed black men and women were killed by police, women were raped on college campuses and in military barracks, foreign nationals were tortured, and young and mentally ill Americans were confined for extended periods in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons.

It was a violent year, but no worse than other years. What was different was the emergence of new movements of resistance--and with them new possibilities for change.

1. Black Lives Matter

It was no secret to black Americans that they were disproportionately targeted for police violence, arrests, and incarceration. Black men are 21 times as likely to be shot by police as white men, according to a report by ProPublica. And the Pew Center reports that black men are six times as likely to be imprisoned as white men.

It was the young black activists who took to the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, night after night who sparked a movement. And the African American women and men, and allies of all races, in cities and towns across the United States, who stood up, making the issue impossible to ignore.

This new civil rights movement, Black Lives Matter, has already resulted in an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, and calls for a truth and reconciliation commission. There is sure to be more in 2015.

2. White folks are re-evaluating privilege

Many believe that implicit bias contributes to police violence against African Americans and more punitive treatment by schools, courts, and prison officials. White folks across the country are doing some soul searching about the effects of bias against people of color, who will soon make up a majority of Americans. (Test your implicit biases here.) The controversial hashtag #CrimingWhileWhite showcased white people who confessed to breaking the law and getting away with it.

3. New alliances to protect the planet are succeeding, led by people of color

The willingness of white activists to support leadership by people of color is opening doors to some powerful new alliances. Native American tribes, building on their treaty rights, are blocking efforts to develop tar sands pipelines and new coal export facilities; non-Native allies are joining in. If built, the projects proposed for the Pacific Northwest would, together, bring to market fossil fuels with five times the carbon impact of the KXL pipeline. Most recently, after months of protests and lawsuits, residents of Vancouver, British Columbia, joined with the Tseil-Waututh and Squamish First Nations to block Kinder Morgan's plans to build a tar sands pipeline through Burnaby Mountain.

"Everything we get out of the land and water is sacred. Today, we are saying no to the destruction of Mother Earth."

"Everything we get out of the land and water is sacred," said Ruben George of the Tseil-waututh Nation during a September rally against the pipeline.

"Today, we are blocking all directions of the Alberta pipelines--across Canada and the United States, we are saying no to the destruction of Mother Earth."

4. The climate march inspired millions

The massive climate march in New York City in September was also led by communities of color, who mobilized young, diverse activists by the thousands--along with progressive unions and environmentalists--creating one of the largest, most energized climate marches yet. The momentum of this march carried through to Peru, where international climate talks narrowly skirted collapse. The resulting agreements may have fallen short of the commitments needed, but at least they have kept talks alive. Leadership continues in state and local governments among grassroots activists and enlightened businesses.

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