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Is It Possible to Cobble Together 10 Good Things That Happened in 2009? You Better Believe It!

It was a tough year, but there is still much to celebrate -- now a majority of Americans oppose war in Afghanistan, the war on drugs is waning, and more.
 
 
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My almost annual list of ten good things about the waning year has never before posed such a tremendous challenge. In the face of this challenge, I decided to try a minimalist thought experiment, blocking out the many baneful events that colored 2009, and instead seeking out the small, yet powerfully bright notes to inspire and give us hope for the year head.

1. Tens of thousands of people from around the world took to the streets of Copenhagen to call for meaningful action to address climate change, despite continuous attempts to squelch it. Inside Copenhagen’s meeting halls, indigenous peoples from small island nations and the Himalayas spoke powerfully about their rights and their needs. 

2. According to recent polls a majority of Americans now see the war in Afghanistan as not worth fighting, and seventy-five percent say no new troops should be sent to that country. Public opinion is on our side.

3. The creative use of Twitter by protesters in Iran brought thousands of people into the streets of Teheran, including students, young people and thousands of young women.  Their courageous and innovative use of social media kept the rest of the world informed of events, slipping out from under the country’s blanket of censorship.

4. The Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement to pressure Israel to respect Palestinian rights garnered the support of many groups around the world. The growing list of BDS successes is too long to enumerate here, but to choose only one: In February South African dockworkers, remembering the long history of Apartheid in their country, refused to offload an Israeli ZIM Lines ship in Durban.

5. One of Obama’s first acts in office was to lift the Global Gag Rule, which ended restrictions on U.S. funding for organizations that provide family planning services and that are often the first responders for women in the fight against HIV.

6. The Washington, DC City Council voted in mid-December to legalize same-sex marriage, making it the first jurisdiction south of the Mason-Dixon Line to do so.  Same-sex marriage is now legal in Iowa, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut and will be legal in New Hampshire on January 1st. DC Mayor Fenty signed the bill on December 18, 2009.

7. Michelle Obama planted the White House’s first organic vegetable garden, a garden that provided food for her own family’s table and helped to educate the nation’s children about healthy eating.

8. 2009 may go down as the beginning of the end of the failed “War on Drugs”. The Obama administration announced that the federal government would no longer arrest and prosecute medical marijuana patients and caregivers as long as they were following their state’s medical marijuana laws.

9. Last year, CODEPINK launched a campaign calling upon the FBI to add Luis Posada Carilles, a ruthless terrorist who was responsible for downing a Cuban airplane in 1976, to the Most Wanted List and arrest him. On April 8, he was indicted on 11 counts. 

10. Obama’s Nobel Prize victory sparked a global debate about what it takes to be a real peacemaker. While many of us were aghast that a president who has escalated a war was receiving the world's principal peace honor, the aspirational goal of the prize is an added pressure on both the Obama administration and us at the grass roots.  We realized that we are the ones who have to make peace, that the impetus is as much on us to turn hope into action.

I looked around and saw the women of CODEPINK, the impassioned environmental activists in Copenhagen, the young Israeli refuseniks, Afghan parliamentarian Malalai Joya, and all our friends and allies working for peace and social justice around this country and the world, and realized that WE are the hope and change we have been waiting for. 

Even after all the disappointments of this year, the items on this list and our own strength and persistence give me immense hope in the possibilities to come as we greet the New Year. 

So here's a toast to our power and our passion—we have our work cut out for us in 2010!

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK:Women for Peace.