America's Heroes of 2017: The People Who Inspired Us
Donald Trump’s presidency was a week old. Hillary Clinton was in the woods (literally). Women marched on Washington. Then Trump dropped a bombshell executive order immediately banning entry to America from seven majority-Muslim countries, and blocking refugees. Airports erupted in chaos and loved ones were torn apart, before judges intervened. Sally Yates, acting attorney general, instructed justice department lawyers not to defend the order, doubting it was legal or matched her “obligation to seek justice and stand for what’s right”. Trump fired her. It later emerged she had warned the White House about national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was soon fired for lying about contacts with the then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
The actress was the first publicly to name movie mogul Harvey Weinstein as a sexual predator, after years of his alleged crimes being obscured. Others then accused him of sexual harassment, misconduct and rape, professional sabotage and intimidation. His downfall, police investigations and lawsuits followed. He apologized, vaguely, but denies non-consensual sex. The floodgates opened as female and male victims accused men across high-profile industries of entrenched power abuse. Heads rolled and the spotlight is back on other famous accused – including Donald Trump. The #metoo rallying cry went global and “silence breakers” collectively were named Time’s person of the year.
The NFL football star began kneeling instead of standing during the national anthem before games in 2016, in protest at racial injustice, especially police brutality and killings involving young black men. But the effects peaked again in 2017 when Donald Trump chose to stoke the row, rather than address underlying issues. The protests continued to spread, bringing things to a new head. Kaepernick, a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, found himself in the sports wilderness after leaving the San Francisco 49-ers, despite his talent. He was named GQ magazine’s citizen of the year.
Running a marathon is tough. Running one at 70 is tougher. But toughest? A woman barging into a race that’s only open to men and successfully preventing an official from manhandling her off the road. All those achievements belong to the same person. Kathy Switzer ran the Boston marathon in 2017, 50 years after she became the first woman to run the race, after registering only her initials then sneaking into the field. She became a hero of the women’s rights movement. “I knew if I dropped out no one would believe women could run distances,” she said.
Who? The mayor of Pittsburgh. These words may ring a bell: “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.” That was Donald Trump taking the US out of the Paris accord to combat climate change. The Pennsylvania city is, indeed, best known as an industrial powerhouse (“hell with the lid off” was a 19th-century nickname). But Peduto hit back. “We will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement for our people, our economy & future,” he tweeted. He stands out amid a surge of local leaders defying Trump in favor of the environment.
Interactions that American Urban Radio Networks and CNN journalist April Ryan had with Trump and his first press secretary, Sean Spicer, are epic, she as gracious and wry as they were boorish and dishonorable. Trump responded to Ryan asking if he had consulted the Congressional Black Caucus about inner cities by telling her to arrange a meeting. “Are they friends of yours?” he asked her, a rare African American in the White House press corps, moments after declaring himself the “least racist person in the room”. (The CBC had already written to Trump and been ignored.) She pushes back fearlessly and incisively. “Please stop shaking your head,” Spicer demanded during one of his notorious briefings.
Her Facebook photo said: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” The 32-year-old legal assistant from Virginia was demonstrating peacefully against white supremacists in Charlottesville when she was mown down by one of their alleged sympathizers driving at high speed. The civil rights activist had long protested against bigotry and discrimination. “They tried to kill my child to shut her up. But guess what? You just magnified her,” her mother Susan Bro said. Heyer was protesting against a huge rally of neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klansmen and their ilk that marked a low in 2017, deepened by Trump’s equivocal response.
Carmen YulÃn Cruz
If Donald Trump tosses you paper towels when your city’s decimated by storms, you must gush gratitude, apparently. But Carmen YulÃn Cruz forgot the rules when hurricanes Jose and Maria hit Puerto Rico. After Trump said help for the US territory was slow because “this is an island, surrounded by water”, Cruz, mayor of San Juan, snapped. “We’re dying here … if we don’t get the food and water into people’s hands, we’re going to see something close to genocide,” she said. The estimated death toll is many times higher than the official 64.
A very ordinary name. An extraordinary man. Jonathan Smith, 30, is a copy machine repair guy and father from California. When a gunman opened fire from above a country music concert in Las Vegas, killing 59, Smith ran towards danger and helped about 20 terrified strangers to safety. He carried one who had fallen, then took a bullet in the neck, which may be lodged for life. Among almost 500 injured who crowding into hospitals where heroic acts were witnessed, Smith said: “No one deserves to be in that situation and be left like that.”
Part of “the wave” of women running for office in reaction to Trump, Saad announced she will stand for Congress in 2018. She aims to represent her Michigan district, north-west of Detroit, and if she wins she’ll be the first Muslim American female member of Congress. The surge of new candidates nationwide are mostly Democrats and political novices, many are young and people of color. With four-fifths of congressional seats occupied by men and 90% of lawmakers identifying as Christian, Saad has pledged to be a catalyst for change in Washington.
In the worlds of drag and queer theater, Taylor Mac has long been an icon. But in 2017 he burst into the national and international consciousness by touring his astonishing new show, A 24-Decade History of Popular Music. It’s not just singing and prancing in glitter while talking politics, fairies, and smack about bigots – Mac’s fringe fare. The show tells an alternative, underdog’s history of America via an extravaganza of costumes by outlandish designer Machine Dazzle. Mac won a MacArthur “genius grant” and a Kennedy prize.
It may have been spontaneous, and rude, but it was still gutsy, and it had consequences. As Juli Briskman was riding her bicycle she was overtaken by Donald Trump’s motorcade leaving his golf club near Washington, and she raised her middle finger high. The Guardian, whose reporter was on White House “pool” duty, captured the story and the pic went viral. Briskman’s sensible helmet and plain attire encapsulated her everywoman defiance. “Some people have compared that picture to Tiananmen Square and that might be a bit of a reach,” she deadpanned. Briskman was fired, but has no regrets.