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10 for 10: Ten Political Moments That Defined The Decade

This decade was filled with tons of sociopolitical engagement. These are just ten of the political moments that defined the decade.

CW: Racism, Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism, Gun Violence, Sexual Violence and Rape, Death

By Anuhya Bobba and Reina Sultan

This past decade has felt like a century. With the 24-hour news cycle pumping realtime news out onto our televisions, computers, and phones, it became hard (at times, painstaking) to keep track of all of the events of the past 10 years. Though it was very difficult, we have chosen the following ten political moments and movements to define the decade. The list is in no way inclusive of every important event — nor is it in any particular order — but the chosen moments help to remind us of the wins and losses for Q/T BIPOC worldwide. In covering news and politics through this anti-capitalist, anti-colonialist lens, we hope to remember our history, while pushing forward into the next decade with more wins for Black and brown people globally.

Ferguson, Missouri and Black Lives Matter

Anti-Blackness murdered Mike Brown by way of at least six bullets after he was stopped by a white police officer named Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. His death at the hands of Wilson became emblematic of a wider evil: police brutality against unarmed Black persons. “Hands up, don’t shoot” became a rallying cry that ignited the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement — which should not necessarily be conflated with the organization and hashtag itself, as both were founded in 2012 after the murder of Trayvon Martin — which calls for accountability and justice for the murders of individuals like Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, and Eric Garner. Brown’s death and BLM reminded many, especially those that chose to remain ignorant, of the white supremacy that built and sustains the country and its law enforcement to this day. 

Eat and Tax the Rich

In Where We Stand: Class Matters, bell hooks summarised the mainstream perception of the elite, which has started to unravel as the decade unfolded. “Largely through marketing and advertising, television promoted the myth of the classless society, offering on one hand images of an American dream fulfilled wherein any and everyone can become rich and on the other suggesting that the lived experience of this lack of class hierarchy was expressed by our equal right to purchase anything we can afford,” explained hooks. 

The 2011 to 2012 Occupy! Wall Street protests tried to confront the stark wealth inequality symptomatic of capitalism, but it soon dissipated under a lack of a clear objective coupled with an absence of racial analysis and Q/T BIPOC representation. Thanks to the work of anti-capitalist organizers, the 2016 presidential election cast a realistic light on the rich, not as benevolent or rightly successful, but as undeserving profiteers of an inherently exploitative capitalist system. The Overton window (ideas that were once considered as obscure, which then become relevant), as it ties to obscene wealth and the underlying social inequality and oppression that it remains representative of, shifted in the mainstream with Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with proposals of marginal tax rates that attempt to address calls for wealth distribution.

The American dream is now increasingly seen as the fallacy that it has always been. The United States is recognized as the classed (rather than classless) society that it is constitutive of. 

Israel as an Apartheid State

At the start of the decade, the discourse that existed to critique Israel remained largely stifled. Accusations of antisemitism were weaponized and then leveled at any individual that condemned the state-sanctioned violence enacted against Palestine. These accusations were specifically leveled at college-based chapters of the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement. Pro-Palestine activists were quickly blacklisted until a culture of fear surrounded any public disapproval of Israel. Earlier, Operation Protective Edge and Israel’s bombing of the Gaza strip exposed  the American public to Israel’s indiscriminate retaliation against Palestinian civilians. Now, Ilhan Omar’s censure of Benjamin Netanyahu and Rashida Tlaib and Omar’s refusal to participate in an American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) sponsored-trip to Israel for new members of Congress became catalysts that now permit a freer speech related to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

The Rise of White Nationalism and the Fall of White Centrism

White centrism is an allegiance to the white supremacist nationalist patriarchy and resulting privileges and rights disguised as a progressive politic. On the surface, white centrism avows itself to the principle of decency. Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and even Barack Obama are centrists; they align to protect the establishment, even if its structures have been built to stifle marginalized people at-large, and more specifically, BIPOC. The election of Donald Trump demonstrated the many pitfalls of white centrism; its refusal to overhaul the very systems that have proven to be classist, discriminatory or racist led to years and years of policy stagnation. As the flaws of white centrism became increasingly obvious, white nationalism arrived more visibly to the forefront. Charlottesville, VA and Trump’s “both sides” denunciation proved that white supremacy remains strengthened and unchecked. 

White centrism breeds space for white nationalism to thrive, especially in white centrism’s refusal to condemn or address forms of oppression. Their impartiality then becomes a silent approval of the same oppression. In this decade, we have been reminded time and time again that white centrism and white nationalism are fruits of the same tree.

Despite the growing threat of white supremacist violence, American politicians and voters still hold up the moderate as a political ideal and unifying force. But centrists’ refusal to completely disrupt this country’s systems strengthens the status quo through which capitalism, mass incarceration, imperialism through policy and militarization, and racism are nurtured. The status quo in the United States is violent. By upholding it, so are white centrists. 

Recommended: Why Standing Rock Will Always be About Natives

Standing Rock and the Continued Fight for Indigenous Rights

This decade witnessed a powerful demonstration by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, as they protested in an effort to halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in April of 2016. The pipeline had not only posed a threat to the environment, but would infringe upon sacred Native American space in its construction. Protestors, who arrived by the thousands, were brutally attacked by state forces. The brunt of the violence was unduly directed at Native American women. The oil corporation presence in North Dakota is shown to have increased “human trafficking, assault, rape, and drug crimes,” perpetuated mainly by “the influx of highly paid oil workers living in so-called ‘man camps’” — or non native men that then attack indigenous women. 

In an unsurprising but considerably violent approval by the Trump regime, the pipeline finished construction in 2017. Indigenous communities of this country continue to remain visible; reservations are largely under-resourced. Native American women disappear or are murdered at disconcerting rates, but their plight, like that of Indigenous America, is bypassed. Native lives matter, but can we trust the American settler state to care? 

The Arab Spring

Mohamed Bouazizi supported his entire family by selling fruits and vegetables in a rural town in Tunisia without a permit. After an altercation that ended in him being slapped by a policewoman, Bouazizi — who was only 26 at the time — marched to a government building and self-immolated. The flames that engulfed his body also set the Arab world aflame. Protests broke out in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and more — mostly protesting against corrupt leaders backed by western powers.

In Tunisia, protesters were successful in ousting Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his regime from power. An autocrat who ruled Tunisia for two decades, Ben Ali was famous for having an extravagant lifestyle despite high unemployment and economic instability for young Tunisians. Political dissent was silenced completely until protests organized entirely on social media forced him out of office. Because of the bravery and commitment of these protestors, Tunisia just held its second free election since Ben Ali’s removal. 

Other countries in the Middle East were not as lucky. In Syria, peaceful protestors took to the streets to protest the killing of a 13-year-old boy who had written graffiti in support of the Arab Spring. President Bashar Al-Assad’s military forces responded with force, killing hundreds. Since then, the violence continued until a full-blown civil war began. In Yemen, a similar situation unfolded after Arab Spring protests forced out the authoritarian president there. The transition to his deputy failed and the Houthi rebels took over Sanaa. Now, Syria and Yemen are the homes to huge humanitarian crises, exasperated by foreign intervention by Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, and the United States. 

Though the duration of the Arab Spring seemed to only be at the start of the decade, the revolution lives on through the continuing protests in Lebanon and Iraq which started earlier this year

Gun Violence, White Terrorism, and Incels

Gun violence is an epidemic perpetuated by misogynists and white supremacists. 

In 2014, Isla Vista residents heard that an assailant killed Katharine Cooper, Veronika Weiss, Christopher Michaels-Martinez, David Wang, James Hong, and George Chen. The reasons for his rage were revealed in a manifesto and YouTube video, where he detailed his desire to kill the women he felt owed him sex. He has since become the involuntary celibates’ (incels’) prized martyr. 

The tragedy in Isla Vista is not an isolated incident, but the result of a culture in which toxic and hegemonic masculinity goes unchecked. In fact, in an analysis of 22 mass shooters, Mother Jones found that a whopping 88% of them had a history of domestic abuse. Though there are laws that prevent domestic abusers from having access to firearms, a loophole exists in over 20 states. This loophole doesn’t only cause mass shootings, though. Misogynistic gun owners and weak laws also mean that an average of 52 women a month are shot and killed by an intimate partner in the U.S.

But it’s not just men who hate women who’ve been terrorizing us this decade, it’s also white supremacists. Far-right world leaders and growing white supremacist movements have led to further normalization of white nationalist ideologies. The targeting of Black people at an AME Church in Charleston, of Jewish people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, of Muslims at the mosque in Christchurch all stem from the same hate. Anti-immigrant hate speech and xenophobia continue spreading. These white men — emboldened to kill — continue to listen. 

The Climate Crisis

The climate crisis is already here. BIPOC have, for years, felt the effects of climate change more than their rich, white counterparts. Environmental racism is the system through which white politicians think change is realized when plastic straws are banned by Starbucks, but Flint still doesn’t have clean water. 

Though media has been focusing on white climate activists like Greta Thunberg, climate activists of color have also been doing this work during the past decade. This is not to say that Thunberg is not doing good work, but rather that the system that ignores BIPOC’s environmental problems is also ignoring the BIPOC trying to find solutions to them. You can read about the Black and brown youth fighting against climate change here. 

If the world doesn’t collectively make the changes necessary, the climate crisis will continue to wreak havoc on developing countries and on Black and brown communities in developed countries. To stop climate change, we must follow the lead of the BIPOC activists who are fighting to protect the world from the capitalist, imperialist, colonialist forces which caused it in the first place. 

Recommended: It’s Transgender Awareness Week And Trans People of Color Are Still Being Erased

Trans Visibility and Trans Rights 

This decade was transformative for transgender visibility in the United States. With shows like Pose and Orange is the New Black, we saw trans people — specifically Black trans people — portrayed in honest, informed art. We saw the election of the first openly trans woman when Danica Roem ousted the most conservative state lawmaker in Virginia in 2017

Unfortunately, with this (hyper)visibility came heightened death tolls and other forms of violence against trans people — especially Black trans women. Threatened by the liberalization of the country after the passage of marriage equality, conservatives began passing bathroom bills to prevent trans people from using the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity. Trump banned trans people from serving in the military. Though the U.S. military is a corrupt murder machine, disallowing trans people from enlisting is a blatant message from the Trump administration that trans people are not actually people to them. Meaning: it is a lot less about the ban itself and is much more about what the ban implies.

Black trans women are still being murdered. At least 22 were killed in 2019 alone. There is work to be done to stop this deadly violence, but also to end the daily violence trans people face. The dehumanization and abuse of trans and nonbinary people must end in the coming decade. It is on cisgender folks to spend our privilege to listen to and protect trans people as they fight for equality and for their lives.

#MeToo and the Failures of the Carceral State

In October 2017, a New York Times piece revealed what Hollywood had whispered about for decades: Harvey Weinstein is a sexual predator. This exposé prompted a social media explosion of people sharing their stories of sexual assault and harassment with the hashtag #MeToo — a phrase created by activist Tarana Burke in 2006. 

The allegations came pouring in. Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Larry Nassar, James Franco, Kevin Spacey, Roy More, Donald Trump, Louis C.K., Brett Kavanaugh all had credible accusations brought forward against them. Some men faced consequences like being ousted from jobs or being defeated in elections. But many are doing just fine. Carceral feminists claim that the justice system is meant to hold men like Weinstein and Kavanaugh accountable. Instead, police, judges, and prisons are doing what they were actually meant to: target, incarcerate, and enslave Black and brown people. It’s time to think about a new way to give victims and survivors of sexual violence real justice and lasting change. To do that, we must look to prison abolition and the end of the carceral state as we know it.

To those who fear what might happen to rapists in a world without prisons, Mariame Kaba reminds us of a simple truth.

She says, “What are we going to do with all the rapists?” I’m like, ‘what are we doing with them now? They live everywhere. They’re in your community, they’re on TV being outed every single day. So the fact [is]… You think that that system is doing a deterrent thing that it’s actually not doing’.”

And she’s right. Harvey Weinstein is still free to attend comedy club shows and to give interviews lamenting his current state. Donald Trump is still the President of the United States. Brett Kavanaugh still sits on the Supreme Court, making decisions that will affect people in this country for years. 

The system is doing exactly what it was designed to do and thus it is failing us. In the decade that comes, will liberal Americans finally demand something better?

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