2013 was a difficult year to say the least, with the government shutdown, ongoing wars, NSA spying, pervasive police brutality and much more. But there was plenty of pushback, protest and agitation against corruption and abuse of power on the part of progressives to make change and protect people's basic rights.
Here is a list of 10 activist highlights that certainly rocked the boat.
10. Moral Mondays rock North Carolina.
Thanks to funding by the mega-wealthy right-winger Art Pope, North Carolina went very conservative in the 2010 election, with the GOP dominating the entire government. Republicans proceeded to dismantle the state's safety net and pass extreme laws. There were attacks on education, women and the environment that would have been unimaginable even a short time ago. But North Carolinians fought back, raising their voices in an on-going protest called Moral Mondays, led by Rev. William Barber that caught the imagination of people across the country.
For many weeks, roughly 2,500 people from across the state gathered in front of the state capitol in Raleigh to stand up against the extreme legislature. Protesters peacefully entered the legislature building, where several arrests took place. Ultimately, more than 1,000 people were arrested, and later more than 10,000 people rallied in Asheville as the protests moved to different regions throughout the state. There is a sense that the movement might be spreading as a group called Moral Monday Georgia plans its first action in January .
9. Wendy Davis and supporters stop anti-abortion law.
It's rare for one woman—especially a little-known state legislator—to capture the imagination of an entire country. But that is what happened when Texas State Senator Wendy Davis conducted an 11-hour filibuster, refusing to allow the ultra-conservative Republican majority to force a vote on restrictive abortion legislation. She generated huge support in Texas, as thousands gathered and many shouted their support in the state legislature. Across the nation, millions who support women's right to choose cheered her on.
While she stopped the legislature on that momentus day, the right-wing Texas legislature eventually got its way. Now Wendy Davis is fighting an uphill battle to become governor of the state, getting broad support from women all over the country.
8. Outrage against U.S. drone use grows.
Resistance against U.S. drone strikes reached a new level in 2013, led by a powerful documentary and campaign by Brave New Films and Robert Greenwald. Working with Congressman Alan Grayson, Greenwald brought the families of drone strike victims who appeared in the film to a congressional briefing. Rafiq ur Rehman and his two children, ages 9 and 13, spoke about a drone attack that killed Rehman’s 67-year-old mother.
Increasing the pressure, CodePink hosted a drone summit in Washington in November. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch released reports on how drone strikes kill civilians in Pakistan and Yemen, and Jeremy Scahill’s Dirty Wars further exposed the civilian causalities of drone attacks overseas. Charlottesville, VA, became the first city to ban domestic drone use in the United States. In Pakistan, thousands have protested drone strikes, even bringing U.S. military cargo shipments to a halt.
7. People around the world say “frack off!”
People around the globe have united against fracking—the removal of natural gas and oil deep in the ground by hydraulic fracturing. In October, anti-fracking activists in 26 countries took part in a Global Frackdown to demand a halt to the dangerous procedure. Locally, these fractivists have worked to ban fracking in their communities: four ballot measures to ban or suspend fracking in Colorado passed in November.
Numerous anti-fracking laws passed throughout the nation, and activists continue to put their bodies on the line to stop the process. From forming human chains to the arrests of high-profile activists like Sandra Steingraber, fractivists have participated in various acts of civil disobedience. Other feats: Josh Fox released Gasland 2, further documenting the hazardous effects of fracking, and the Pope held up an anti-fracking T-shirt alongside activists.
6. Prisoners go on massive hunger strike to protest conditions.
In July, more than 30,000 California state prisoners in 15 prisons refused meals in a historic hunger strike in protest of solitary confinement. The prisoners spoke out about being isolated in cells, and being denied calls and visits and adequate food and healthcare.
One prisoner died during the strike, and in August, guards began force-feeding the strikers. The hunger strike lasted nearly two months, ending after two legislators promised to hold hearings to address prisoners' concerns. In October, California’s Public Safety Committee began the hearings, while about 100 supporters rallied outside the state capitol demanding an end to solitary confinement.
5. Largest climate rally demands Obama reject Keystone XL.
In February, the climate change movement staged its biggest protest yet, when 50,000 people descended on the National Mall to demand that President Obama take action to address climate change. The protesters particularly focused on the Keystone XL pipeline, calling for the president to reject its expansion. Since then, activists have continued to rally nationwide as well as document the anomalies found in the southern leg of the pipeline, where oil is beginning to be injected.
4. Thousands rally after Zimmerman verdict.
When George Zimmerman was found not guilty of fatally shooting Trayvon Martin, protests erupted nationwide. An estimated 10,000 people rallied in New York City, while other rallies took place in more than 100 cities. Government officials, celebrities, civil rights leaders, and in an unprecedented speech, President Obama, all spoke out against racial profiling. Activists organized a sit-in at Florida Governor Rick Scott’s office to demand a review of the “stand-your-ground” law, while those in other stand-your-ground states criticized the law. The verdict also sparked Florida boycotts and a federal investigation into the case.
3. Supreme Court ends Prop 8 and DOMA.
In a huge victory for the LGBT movement, the Supreme Court overturned California’s Prop 8 law, lifting the state ban on same-sex marriage. The court also ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, allowing gay couples in states that allow same-sex marriage the right to the same federal benefits as heterosexual married couples.
In addition to repealing these discriminatory laws, eight other states besides California, including Rhode Island, Delaware, Minnesota, New Jersey, Hawaii, Illinois, New Mexico and Utah gave same-sex couples the freedom to marry this year. These successes could not have taken place without the strong coalitions of the LGBT movement, including significant grassroots support. In addition, public opinion has shifted significantly—58 percent of people polled said they support gay marriage, an all-time high.
2. Low-wage workers fight for living wage.
Workers across the nation rose up this year, protesting their low wages and disrespect from employers. Walmart workers took center stage, organizing several protests and strikes throughout the year. In early November, more than 50 Walmart workers in L.A. were arrested. The campaign culminated on Black Friday as tens of thousands of workers and supporters gathered around the country in 1,500 rallies. Some Walmart workers who were fired and disciplined for taking action received support from the National Labor Relations Board, which found the corporation guilty of illegal retaliation.
A few days after the Black Friday rallies, fast-food workers took part in a Fast Food National Day of Action, striking in 100 cities for better working conditions. Their demands include a $15 minimum wage and the right to collectively bargain. Meanwhile, living wage fights and the battle to raise the minimum wage continue to brew nationwide. At the same time ROC, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, continued to agitate against the National Restaurant Association. ROC has a series of actions planned for early 2014 on behalf of tip workers, who are often left out of negotiations for a minimum wage.
1. Snowden leaks NSA documents.
The biggest political event in 2013 was undoubtedly the exposure of the massive NSA global spying operations via leaks by whistleblower Edward Snowden, who gathered more than 50,000 documents before fleeing the country. The result was a firestorm of outrage throughout the world and a global dialogue on privacy and our national security state that at times spilled into the streets, like the Restore the Fourth protests on July 4.
Snowden exposed America's massive spying, from capturing and storing digital communications at home to surveilling leaders around the world. Snowden is now living in Russia under temporary asylum. Recently, a panel reviewing the NSA program offered President Obama 46 recommendations on how to change its operations, including an end to the systematic collection of phone calls.