Sunday, January 1, 2012

12 hopeful trends to build on in 2012

By Sarah van Gelder
Executive Editor 
YES magazine

Who would have thought that some young peo­ple camped out in lower Man­hat­tan with card­board signs, a few sharpies, some do­nated pizza, and a bunch of smart phones could change so much?

The viral spread of the Oc­cupy Move­ment took every­one by sur­prise. Last sum­mer, politi­cians and the media were fix­ated on the debt ceil­ing, and every­one seemed to for­get that we were in the midst of an eco­nomic melt­down—every­one ex­cept the 99 per­cent who were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing it.

Today, peo­ple rang­ing from Ben Bernake, chair of the Fed­eral Re­serve, to film­maker Michael Moore are ex­press­ing sym­pa­thy for the Oc­cupy Move­ment and con­cern for those los­ing homes, re­tire­ment sav­ings, ac­cess to health care, and hope of ever find­ing a job.

This up­ris­ing is the biggest rea­son for hope in 2012. The fol­low­ing are 12 ways the Oc­cupy Move­ment and other major trends of 2011 offer a foun­da­tion for a trans­for­ma­tive 2012.

1. Amer­i­cans re­dis­cover their po­lit­i­cal self-re­spect. In 2011, mem­bers of the 99 per­cent began camp­ing out in New York's Zuc­cotti Park, launch­ing a move­ment that quickly spread across the coun­try. Stu­dents at U.C. Davis sat non­vi­o­lently through a pep­per spray as­sault, Oak­lan­ders shut down the city with a gen­eral strike, and Cleve­landers saved a fam­ily from evic­tion. Oc­cu­piers opened their en­camp­ments to all and fed all who showed up, in­clud­ing many home­less peo­ple. Thou­sands moved their ac­counts from cor­po­rate banks to com­mu­nity banks and credit unions, and peo­ple every­where cre­ated their own media with smart phones and lap­tops. The Oc­cupy Move­ment built on the Arab Spring, oc­cu­pa­tions in Eu­rope, and on the up­ris­ing, early in 2011, in Wis­con­sin, where peo­ple oc­cu­pied the state capi­tol in an at­tempt to block major cuts in pub­lic work­ers' rights and com­pen­sa­tion. Po­lice crack­downs couldn't crush the surge of po­lit­i­cal self-re­spect ex­pe­ri­enced by mil­lions of Amer­i­cans.

After the win­ter weather sub­sides, look for the blos­som­ing of an Amer­i­can Spring.

2. Eco­nomic myths get de­bunked. Amer­i­cans now un­der­stand that hard work and play­ing by the rules don't mean you'll get ahead. They know that Wall Street fi­nanciers are not work­ing for their in­ter­ests. Global cap­i­tal­ism is not lift­ing all boats. As this mythol­ogy crum­bled, the re­al­ity be­came in­escapable: The United States is not broke. The 1 per­cent have rigged the sys­tem to cap­ture a larger and larger share of the world's wealth and power, while the mid­dle class and poor face un­em­ploy­ment, soar­ing stu­dent debt bur­dens, home­less­ness, ex­clu­sion from the med­ical sys­tem, and the dis­ap­pear­ance of re­tire­ment sav­ings. Aus­ter­ity bud­gets just sharpen the pain, as the safety net frays and pub­lic ben­e­fits, from schools to safe bridges, fail. The Eu­ro­pean debt cri­sis is front and cen­ter today, but other crises will likely fol­low. Just as the le­git­i­macy of apartheid began to fall apart long be­fore the sys­tem ac­tu­ally fell, today, the le­git­i­macy of cor­po­rate power and Wall Street dom­i­nance is dis­in­te­grat­ing.

The new-found clar­ity about the dam­age that re­sults from a sys­tem dom­i­nated by Wall Street will fur­ther en­er­gize calls for reg­u­la­tion and the rule of law, and fuel the search for eco­nomic al­ter­na­tives.

3. Di­vi­sions among peo­ple are com­ing down. Mid­dle-class col­lege stu­dents camped out along­side home­less oc­cu­piers. Peo­ple of color and white peo­ple cre­ated new ways to work to­gether. Unions joined with oc­cu­piers. In some places, Tea Partiers and oc­cu­piers dis­cov­ered com­mon pur­poses. Na­tion­wide, anti-im­mi­grant rhetoric back­fired.

Tremen­dous en­ergy is re­leased when iso­lated peo­ple dis­cover one an­other; look for more un­ex­pected al­liances.

Most news sources are funded by cor­po­ra­tions and in­vestors. Their goal is to drive peo­ple to ad­ver­tis­ers while push­ing the cor­po­rate agenda. Na­tionofChange is a 501(c)3 or­ga­ni­za­tion funded al­most 100% from its read­ers–you! Our only ac­count­abil­ity is to the pub­lic. Click here to make a gen­er­ous do­na­tion.

4. Al­ter­na­tives are blos­som­ing. As it be­comes clear that nei­ther cor­po­rate CEOs nor na­tional po­lit­i­cal lead­ers have so­lu­tions to today's deep crises, thou­sands of grass­roots-led in­no­va­tions are tak­ing hold. Com­mu­nity land trusts, farm­ers mar­kets, local cur­ren­cies and time bank­ing, mi­cro-en­ergy in­stal­la­tions, shared cars and bi­cy­cles, co­op­er­a­tively owned busi­nesses are among the in­no­va­tions that give peo­ple the means to live well on less and build com­mu­nity. And the Oc­cupy Move­ment, which is often called "lead­er­less," is ac­tu­ally full of emerg­ing lead­ers who are build­ing the skills and con­nec­tions to shake things up for decades to come. This wide­spread lead­er­ship, cou­pled with the grow­ing reper­toire of grass­roots in­no­va­tions, sets the stage for a re­nais­sance of cre­ative re­build­ing.

5. Pop­u­lar pres­sure halted the Key­stone KL Pipeline — for the mo­ment. Thou­sands of peo­ple stood up to ef­forts by some of the world's most pow­er­ful en­ergy com­pa­nies and con­vinced the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to post­pone ap­proval of the Key­stone XL Pipeline, which would have sped the ex­trac­tion and ex­port of dirty tar sands oil. James Hansen says, "If the tar sands are thrown into the mix, it is es­sen­tially game over" for the planet. Just a year ago, few had heard of this pro­ject, much less con­sid­ered risk­ing ar­rest to stop it, as thou­sands did out­side the White House in 2011.

With Con­gress forc­ing him to act within 60 days, Pres­i­dent Obama will be under enor­mous pres­sure from both Big Oil and pipeline op­po­nents. It will be among the key tests of his pres­i­dency.

6. Cli­mate re­sponses move for­ward de­spite fed­eral in­ac­tion. Through­out the United States, state and local gov­ern­ments are tak­ing ac­tion where the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has failed. Cal­i­for­nia's new cli­mate cap-and-trade law will take ef­fect in 2012. Col­lege stu­dents are press­ing cam­pus ad­min­is­tra­tors to quit using coal-fired sources of elec­tric­ity. Else­where, Eu­rope is lim­it­ing cli­mate pol­lu­tion from air travel, Aus­tralia has en­acted a na­tional car­bon tax, and there is a global ini­tia­tive un­der­way to rec­og­nize the rights of Mother Na­ture. Cli­mate talks in Dur­ban, South African, ar­rived at a con­clu­sion that, while far short of what is needed, at least keeps the process alive. De­spite cor­po­rate-funded cli­mate change de­niers, most peo­ple know cli­mate change is real and dan­ger­ous; ex­pect to see many more protests, leg­is­la­tion, and new busi­nesses fo­cused on re­duc­ing car­bon emis­sions in 2012.

7. There's a new focus on clean­ing up elec­tions. The Supreme Court's "Cit­i­zens United de­ci­sion," which lifted lim­its on cor­po­rate cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions, is op­posed by a large ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans. This year saw a grow­ing na­tional move­ment to get money out of pol­i­tics; cities from Pitts­burgh to Los An­ge­les are pass­ing res­o­lu­tions call­ing for an end to cor­po­rate per­son­hood. Con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments have been in­tro­duced. And ef­forts are in the works to push back against voter sup­pres­sion poli­cies that es­pe­cially dis­cour­age vot­ing among peo­ple of color, low-in­come peo­ple, and stu­dents, all of whom tend to vote De­mo­c­ra­tic.

Watch for in­creased ques­tion­ing of the legal basis of cor­po­ra­tions, which "we the peo­ple" cre­ated, but which now fa­cil­i­tate law­less­ness and in­creas­ing con­cen­tra­tions of wealth and power.

8. Local gov­ern­ment is tak­ing ac­tion. City and state gov­ern­ments are mov­ing for­ward, even as Wash­ing­ton, D.C., re­mains grid­locked, even as bud­gets are stretched thin. Towns in Penn­syl­va­nia, New York, and else­where are seek­ing to pro­hibit "frack­ing" to ex­tract nat­ural gas, and while they're at it, de­clar­ing that cor­po­ra­tions do not have the con­sti­tu­tional rights of peo­ple. Cities are ban­ning plas­tic bags, link­ing up local food sys­tems, en­cour­ag­ing bi­cy­cling and walk­ing, clean­ing up brown fields, and turn­ing garbage and wasted en­ergy into op­por­tu­nity. In part be­cause of the hous­ing mar­ket dis­as­ter, peo­ple are less able to pick up and move.

Look for in­creased root­ed­ness, whether vol­un­tary or not, along with in­creased focus on local ef­forts to build com­mu­nity so­lu­tions.

9. Dams are com­ing down. Two dams that block pas­sage of salmon up the Elwha River into the pris­tine Olympic Na­tional Park in Wash­ing­ton state are com­ing down. After decades of cam­paign­ing by Na­tive tribes and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, the re­moval of the dams began in 2011.

The as­sump­tion that progress is built on "tam­ing" and con­trol­ling na­ture is giv­ing way to an un­der­stand­ing that human and eco­log­i­cal well-be­ing are linked.

10. The United States ended the com­bat mis­sion in Iraq. U.S. troops are home from Iraq at last. What re­mains is a U.S. em­bassy com­pound the size of the Vat­i­can City, along with thou­sands of pri­vate con­trac­tors. Iraq and the re­gion re­main un­sta­ble.

Given the ter­ri­ble cost in lives and trea­sure for what most Amer­i­cans see as an un­jus­ti­fied war, look to greater skep­ti­cism of fu­ture U.S. in­va­sions.

11. Break­through for sin­gle-payer health care. The state of Ver­mont took ac­tion to re­spond to the con­tin­u­ing health care crises, adopt­ing, but not yet fund­ing, a sin­gle-payer health care sys­tem sim­i­lar to Canada's.

As soar­ing costs of health in­sur­ance drain the cof­fers of busi­nesses and gov­ern­ments, other states may join Ver­mont at the fore­front of ef­forts to es­tab­lish a pub­lic health in­sur­ance sys­tem like Canada's.

12. Gay cou­ples can get mar­ried. In 2011, New York state and the Suquamish Tribe in Wash­ing­ton state (home of the au­thor of this piece) adopted gay mar­riage laws. Navy Petty Of­fi­cer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta won a raf­fle al­low­ing her to be the first to kiss her part­ner upon re­turn from 80 days at sea, the first such pub­lic dis­play of gay af­fec­tion since Don't Ask Don't Tell was ex­punged. The video and pho­tos went viral.

2011 may be the year when op­po­si­tion to gay mar­riage lost its power as a ral­ly­ing cry for so­cial con­ser­v­a­tives. The tide has turned, and gay peo­ple will likely con­tinue to win the same rights as straight peo­ple to marry.

With so much in play, 2012 will be an in­ter­est­ing year, even set­ting aside ques­tions about "end times" and Mayan cal­en­dars. As the world­views and in­sti­tu­tions based on the dom­i­nance of the 1 per­cent are chal­lenged, as the global econ­omy frays, and as we run head­long into cli­mate change and other eco­log­i­cal lim­its, one era is giv­ing way to an­other. There are too many vari­able to pre­dict what di­rec­tion things will take. But our best hopes can be found in the rise of broad grass­roots lead­er­ship, through the Oc­cupy Move­ment, the Wis­con­sin up­ris­ing, the cli­mate jus­tice move­ment, and oth­ers, along with local, but in­ter­linked, ef­forts to build local so­lu­tions every­where. These ef­forts make it pos­si­ble that 2012 will be a year of trans­for­ma­tion and re­build­ing — this time, with the well-be­ing of all life front and cen­ter.

Sarah van Gelder wrote this ar­ti­cle for YES! Mag­a­zine, a na­tional, non­profit media or­ga­ni­za­tion that fuses pow­er­ful idea with prac­ti­cal ac­tions. Sarah is YES! Mag­a­zine's co-founder and ex­ec­u­tive ed­i­tor.

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