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8 Things Progressives Can Be Thankful For

Chin up, after all we've got Rachel Maddow, health care, Pittsburgh's f-you to corporate control, and a whole lot more to be thankful for.
 
 
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Unemployment, foreclosures, lunatic elected officials and catastrophic climate change got you down this holiday season? Don't worry, there's ample reason for progressives to give thanks. Here's a few, and I'm sure you can come up with many, many more to add to this list.

1. Rachel Maddow Exists

Every time I have to read, yet again, about the idiotic rantings of right-wing "news" hosts like Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, I remind myself how lucky I am that when I turn on the TV at night I get to watch Rachel Maddow. She's ridiculously smart, her commentary is pertinent, she actually interviews people instead of yelling at them, she's ridiculously smart (did I say that already?), she's anti-establishment in the cable news world (aka a PhD-wielding butch lesbian), and she has a sense of humor. I am as impressed with her coverage of the Gulf oil spill (including doing a "Tar Ball Shot" with Gulf locals at a neighborhood bar) as I am by her economic and political coverage. The segment she did a little while back where she tracks all the Republicans who voted against stimulus (and were outspoken about it to boot) and then went home to their districts and took credit for all the great projects the stimulus money helped create was absolutely priceless. Thank you, Rachel. In addition, we should also give thanks for folks like Bill Maher, Amy Goodman and Laura Flanders: Our people are sane and smart.

2. Marijuana Bests Republicans

The defeat of marijuana legalization in California during the midterm election was definitely a disappointment, but one bright side to the election numbers was the proof that Californians at least prefer pot to Republicans. Also in the losing camp were GOP candidates Meg Whitman for governor and Carly Fiorina for Senate -- both the candidates received less votes than the marijuana legalization campaign. Marijuana turned out 4,504,771 supporters while Whitman garnered only 4,027,661 and Fiorina 4,150,907. Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

3. Pittsburgh Gives the Finger to Corporate Control

Last week Pittsburgh's City Council took the historic step of banning a controversial practice used by natural gas companies called hydraulic fracturing or fracking. Pittsburgh, as well as much of the rest of Pennsylvania and New York state, sits atop the gas-rich Marcellus Shale that has been targeted for drilling, resulting in threats to surface and groundwater, among other concerns.

But the city didn't just ban fracking; it went another important step further and voted to legally protect the rights of nature and ban corporate personhood. The ordinance sponsor, Pittsburgh Councilman Doug Shields, told Yes! Magazine that, "It's about our authority as a community to decide, not corporations deciding for us." Yes! authors Mari Margil and Ben Price explain that the ordinance, "elevates the rights of people, the community, and nature over corporate 'rights' and challenges the authority of the state to pre-empt community decision-making."

At a time when corporations are seizing more and more power, this act of defiance by a sizable city is massive. "Communities, like Pittsburgh, are coming to the shared conclusion that it's up to them to stop practices they disagree with. Their efforts are not just about stopping the drilling, but about who gets to make decisions for the community--corporations empowered by the state, or people and their communities," wrote Margil and Price.

4. Health Care, Duh

Maybe the health care bill that passed wasn't everything we were hoping it would be, but it was a really big deal and also really good for a whole lot of Americans. Nick Baumann has a nice wrap-up of 10 things that health care reform gave us, but here's a few of my favorites: 1) There are no more coverage limits, so you can't "run out" of coverage from your cheap-ass provider, nor can they drop you when you get sick; 2) goodbye pre-existing condition exclusion for kids; 3) big tax breaks for small businesses that insure workers; and 4) help for seniors on drug coverage; and the list goes on. If right-wingers want to try and revoke this giant leap forward they better be ready for a major fight.

5. The Green Economy Comes Alive

While marijuana legislation didn't pass in California, there was some good green news of another sort -- the defeat of Texas oil giants and right-wing billionaires with the trouncing of Proposition 23, which would have suspended California's clean energy and global warming legislation.

The beauty in this defeat is that people are finally waking up to what folks like Van Jones have been saying for years about the potential of a green economy. As I wrote before the election, unemployment in California is over 12 percent and the state has lost 34 percent of its manufacturing jobs in the last decade. But there is one part of the economy that's actually growing: between 1995-2008, the number of clean energy businesses has risen by 45 percent and the number of clean energy jobs has increased by 36 percent -- more than 10 times the average job growth in California. There are over 12,000 clean tech companies in California and 500,000 people work in the industry.

While GOPers are busy trying to kill high speed rail projects, smarter people are putting two and two together and realizing that what's good for the environment can also be good for business.

6. Grassroots Victories Driving Progressive Change

One of the things I'm most thankful for is a reminder that there is lots of amazing work going on out there to fight for progressive change -- and believe it or not, we're winning a whole bunch. I get regaled at the dinner table with stories of success from my partner who works for Change.org -- an organization that has created a social change platform driving a lot of terrific campaigns, much of them important work at the grassroots level. Here's a few examples.

Clint McCance, a school board member with the Midland School Board in Arkansas, made some of themost hateful statements I've ever seen. In response to a purple ribbon day that was created to memorialize queer students who have been victims of bullying or suicide, McCance posted to his Facebook page: "Seriously they want me to wear purple because five queers committed suicide. The only way I'm wearin' it for them is if they all commit suicide ... Being a fag doesn't give you the right to ruin the rest of our lives. If you get easily offended by being called a fag then don't tell anyone you are a fag. Keep that shit to yourself ... It pisses me off though that we make a special purple fag day for them. I like that fags cant procreate. I also enjoy the fact that they often give each other aids and die." Yeah, that's a school board member -- or he was. Through Change.org over 14,000 people sent letters asking for his resignation, which he gave.

In efforts to prevent human trafficking, Change.org, working with leading child protection organization ECPAT, got an agreement from Choice Hotels to help prevent trafficking. Amanda Kloer writes that Choice Hotels, parent company to Comfort Inn, "will take proactive action to prevent child prostitution in their hotels." This comes "shortly after 5-year-old Shaniya Davis was sold into prostitution and taken to a Comfort Inn in North Carolina."

And the listof victories goes on. The best part is that anyone can take part in Change.org's site -- if there's something wrong in your school, your community, your state -- you can help fix it.

7. It Gets Better and Then Some

Despite losers like Clint McCance, after a spate of teen suicides resulting from anti-gay bullying this fall, the national response was largely heartwarming. For those of us who know that queer youth are four times more likely to take their own lives than heterosexual youth, the suicides weren't shocking, but they were public, and opened the eyes of a whole lot of people. For starters, it prompted this evangelic bishop to come clean to his congregation and encouraged a useful conversation among the members of his church who stuck around long enough for him to explain both his faith and his sexuality.

It also sparked the It Gets Better Project, which first began as a video created by Dan Savage and his partner to let queer youth know that things, do, in fact get better. In only a few months, the project has grown to mammoth proportions, with over 5,000 videos created and over 15 million views. People who have contributed videos to the project include President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Adam Lambert, Anne Hathaway, Colin Farrell, Matthew Morrison of "Glee," Joe Jonas, Joel Madden, Ke$ha, Sarah Silverman, Tim Gunn, Ellen DeGeneres and Suze Orman, to name a few. Here's a recent one from the highest ranking openly gay man in our government:

And as good as It Gets Better is, it's still not enough, which is why the also-awesome Reteaching Gender & Sexuality project is so important. Why should youth have to wait and hope that one day, when they're older, maybe people won't be so mean and stupid? Reteaching Gender & Sexuality was "generated to contribute additional queer/trans youth voices to the national conversations about queer/trans youth lives. Reteaching Gender & Sexuality intends to steer the conversation beyond the symptom of bullying, to consider systemic issues and deeper beliefs about gender and sexuality that impact queer youth." Things only really get better if we all work to make them better -- and that begins by examining our perceptions of both gender and sexuality. Let's be thankful for the youth who are helping us to see that and let's help make this a better place for them to live.

Reteaching Gender and SexualityfromSid JordanonVimeo.

8. The Food on Our Table

I'd be remiss at this time of year to not give thanks for one of the most basic things of all -- the food we eat. While we may have a supply chain dominated by big business, if you get past the fluorescent glow of the supermarket and hit some real markets, there is so much good food to be found. We have an incredible network of farmers markets and restaurants that help to support small farmers, food producers, ranchers and fishermen and women. If you need help finding a farm or good food near you, check out the Eat Well Guide.

Tara Lohan is a senior editor at AlterNet and editor of the latest title from AlterNet books, Water Matters. You can follow her on Twitter @TaraLohan.