It’s hard to believe 2014 is on its way out the door.
It was an action-packed year across the world, with protests on multiple continents and international agreement that our earth is experiencing dangerous effects because of climate change. There were high points worth celebrating, such as when the Supreme Court declined to hear cases from states that wanted to uphold same-sex marriage bans, or when tech giants like Google and eBay dropped ALEC for spreading misinformation about climate change; and there were also some low points that demand our attention in 2015, like the Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision that allows some corporations to infringe upon female employees’ personal and private healthcare decisions.
Many of the not-so-progressive occurrences from this year are due to corporations that profit from collective harm to the environment and the exploitation of low-income Americans.
But much of the groundbreaking, positive news from this year is thanks to lawmakers who extended rights to hundreds of thousands of people in the form of immigration reform and marriage benefits. We can also give props to Twitter for bringing hashtag activism to the forefront of social justice issues this year.
Regardless of how you spin it, this year brought many changes and developments to our world. It’s worth a look-back on the events that composed 2014 to see what’s in store for us in the new year.
In our growing age of iPhones, Androids and apps where Kim Kardashian wants to be your best friend, technology has launched the realm of social justice into the virtual world. This year’s trend of improving social justice found its home on Twitter with hashtag activism. Recall seeing #BringBackOurGirls, #Pointergate and #YesAllWomen throughout the year? That was hashtag activism at work. An increasingly popular habit of the millennial generation, this year activists took to the Internet to gather momentum for issues important to them. The hashtags are the first step to awareness of an issue, as users can click on a hashtag they want to know more about to read what others are saying about the topic. Hashtag activism means that what would traditionally be a local or state issue can quickly turn into a national or even international conversation. With protests across the country this year, hashtag activism brought together people who may have otherwise never even knew about each others’ existence.
At the start of 2015, 29 states and Washington D.C. will have minimum wages above the federal minimum wage ($7.25). States including Connecticut, Massachusetts, West Virginia and Minnesota passed minimum wage increases this year, and nine states, including Florida, Oregon and Colorado, will see an increase in their minimum wage based on increased indexes in state laws. Seattle also established itself as an example of progressive policy at work when its city council approved setting the city’s minimum wage at $15. More money is going to go into the pockets of hard-working employees because of legislation enacted this year (which also means more money into local economies), and that’s something that everyone can celebrate.
In the beginning of the year, Ray Rice, a running back for the Baltimore Ravens, was caught on tape physically assaulting his fiancee. A few months later, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Sterling, was caught on audio by TMZ making racist comments and scolding his girlfriend for associating herself with black people. And throughout the year, Native Americans and activists protested at football games where the Washington NFL team played because of the team’s offensive name and mascot, which refers to a time when Native Americans were scalped for bounties. The amount of concerning events in the professional world of sports this year was also met with scrutiny regarding the NFL’s long-lasting physical effects on players, including brain damage and permanent body pain, following retirement from the league. These events sparked national conversations about domestic violence and racism that will have to continue in 2015 and beyond as we strive to prevent such things from happening in the future.
Multiple weather-related disasters happened this year, including the polar vortex at the beginning of 2014, droughts in California, heat waves in Australia and multiple feet of snow in New York. But the good news is that there is now nearly global agreement that climate change is a real thing that’s happening. In November, the U.S. and China agreed to work together to cut greenhouse-gas emissions, which is a major move considering the amount of emissions the two countries release. The United Nations also held Climate Summit 2014 in September, where a few days before more than 400,000 people turned out for the People’s Climate March in New York City to raise awareness about the detrimental impacts of climate change. A general consensus that climate change is real may not seem like much of an achievement, but it’s necessary before action will be taken to correct the damage done to our planet.
One of the revolutionary aspects of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act was the mandate that required corporations to provide insurance coverage of contraception for employees. About halfway through 2014, however, the Supreme Court decided that some corporations can refuse to cover birth control if it violates the owners’ religious beliefs. It is now possible for a woman to get a job at a for-profit corporation and be denied birth control coverage by her boss.
Two years ago when President Obama outlined his immigration plan, he said: “I will never give up. We’re going to keep on working with members of Congress to make permanent reform a reality.” The fact that nothing was done in Congress to streamline an efficient path to the legalization process for undocumented immigrants during those two years propelled the President to use his executive powers to change that. His immigration reform plan, announced in November, means that more than four million undocumented immigrants have the opportunity to apply for work permits to live in the country legally. The President said that the reform does not count as amnesty, but mass deportation is also against our country’s character. The executive action allows undocumented parents of children who are U.S. citizens to apply for three-year work permits, so long as the parents have lived in the U.S. for at least five years.
Net neutrality isn’t all that controversial unless you’re part of a telecommunications giant that provides Internet access. Net neutrality is the idea that media giants such as AT&T and Verizon shouldn’t be able to manipulate your Internet data by changing what you can see on the web, or how quickly the connection loads, creating Internet fast lanes for big corporations that can pay more for access. Corporations have a stake in shushing net neutrality permanently. As the American Civil Liberties Union put it:
“Imagine if the phone company could mess with your calls every time you tried to order pizza from Domino’s, because Pizza Hut is paying them to route their calls first.”
In November, the Federal Communications Commission’s chairman, Tom Wheeler, said the commission won’t vote on new net neutrality rules before 2015, which gives corporations with more time to convince the commission to impose more restrictions on how we navigate the World Wide Web.
Between the Justices flat-out refusing to hear cases from states wanting to uphold their gay marriage bans and the Supreme Court ruling that married same-sex couples are entitled to federal benefits, this year heard an annoyed ‘next’ from the American judiciary when it came to discriminating against same-sex couples. Now, 35 states have legalized same-sex marriage. The trend from the SCOTUS seems to be one of granting rights and benefits to lesbian and gay people across the nation, following in the footsteps of Minnesota. The fact that so many appeals to uphold same-sex marriage bans weren’t even heard suggests that the Court is firmly on the side of marriage equality.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a corporate-funded group that allows state lawmakers and big corporations to craft legislative agendas that promote measures to deny the existence of climate change, defund public services, oppose net neutrality and limit workers’ rights. This year, ALEC lost its partnerships with eBay, Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Yelp, among others. Tech companies began dropping ALEC in September because the group was “literally lying” about climate change by opposing its existence. The chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, said:
Everyone understands climate change is occurring and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place. And so we should not be aligned with such people — [ALEC is] just, they’re just literally lying.
The en masse dropping of ALEC hints to a growing consensus that climate change isn’t something to be debated, and those who say otherwise do so to propel their own best interests.
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