If we learned anything in 2015, it was that activists of all ages and backgrounds are up for the challenges that lie ahead.
We at Rewire are certain not a day went by this year without a Republican presidential candidate or anti-choice public figure saying something awful about already marginalized groups, a person of color being killed or assaulted by the police, an anti-abortion bill being introduced that was more terrible than the last one (not an easy feat), or a woman being prosecuted for her pregnancy. You could say we’re seeing a half-empty glass. But what gives us hope are the dozens of justice movements happening nationwide to fight back against the anti-choice policies, state-sanctioned violence, wage violations, and so much more.
We salute you, grassroots organizers and pro-choice leaders. Here are just ten of the biggest movements we followed this year.
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Writers Lindy West and Amelia Bonow launched a campaign in mid-September to put stories to the statistic that one in three women have had an abortion. #ShoutYourAbortion went viral, drawing more than 150,000 posts on Twitter, even as anti-choice lawmakers sought to defund Planned Parenthood in federal and state legislatures. The women wrote that anti-choice efforts rely “on the assumption that abortion is still something to be whispered about.” By writing about their own abortions, and encouraging others to do the same, they hoped to reframe the national debate. “I have a good heart and having an abortion made me happy in a totally unqualified way,” said Bonow. “Why wouldn’t I be happy that I was not forced to become a mother?” (Zoe Greenberg)
This year marked an important shift in the messaging of Black Lives Matter, one that sought to center the lives of Black women and girls within the larger movement to end police brutality. Using the #SayHerName hashtag, coined in early 2015 by the African American Policy Forum, activists fought the erasure of Black women and girls from protests and discussions around state violence. The hashtag helped amplify incidents like the police attack on a Black teenager in McKinney, Texas, and the violent assault of a Black schoolgirl by a white deputy officer in Columbia, South Carolina, which made clear that Black girls are as vulnerable to police violence as their male counterparts. Activists mobilized around the killing of Natasha McKenna and the fatal shooting of Mya Hall, among others in 2015, which demonstrated how Black women, too, regularly die at the hands of the law enforcement establishment. #SayHerName bolstered efforts in Oklahoma City to bring justice for the 12 Black women and one teenager who accused former police officer Daniel Holtzclaw of sexual assault, and helped frame ongoing protests against the in-custody death of Sandra Bland this summer. (Kanya D’Almeida)
Throughout 2015, low-wage workers organized strikes and marches across the country in a campaign to win a $15 minimum wage and the right to form a union without retaliation. In April, workers in more than 200 cities walked out on their jobs, in what organizers called the largest protest by low-wage workers in U.S. history. The crowds included home-care assistants, Walmart employees, adjunct professors, child-care aides, and McDonald’s cashiers. In November, tens of thousands of workers again took to the streets to demand “$15 and a union.” “There is not a price tag you can put on how this movement has changed the conversation in this country. It is raising wages at the bargaining table. It’s raised wages for 8 million workers,” the international president of the Service Employees International Union told the Guardian. (Zoe Greenberg)
In 2013, the Supreme Court overturned a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, ruling that the federal government had to recognize same-sex marriages if they were performed in states where marriage equality was legal. What followed were two years of state-by-state battles, with more than a dozen continuing to resist by the time the issue made its way to the Supreme Court. On June 26, 2015, the Roberts Court ruled 5 to 4 in Obergefell v. Hodges that bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional, legalizing marriage equality throughout the United States and granting same-sex couples and their children access to thousands of rights already enjoyed by opposite-sex ones. Supporters flooded the Court plaza, chanting “Love has won”; online, millions of people took to Twitter to celebrate using the hashtag #LoveWins, which automatically appended a rainbow emoticon. These included President Barack Obama, who wrote, “Today is a big step in our march toward equality. Gay and lesbian couples now have the right to marry, just like anyone else” in his post, which was retweeted nearly 450,000 times. Ultimately, #LoveWins was one of Twitter’s Top 10 trends of 2015. (Kat Jercich)
In September, ninth-grader Ahmed Mohamed became internationally renowned when he brought a homemade clock to school to show his teachers. Instead of being praised as a budding young scientist, the principal pulled Mohamed out of class and local police arrested him for bringing what they described as a “hoax bomb” to campus. A day later, Mohamed’s story went viral, providing a touchstone for a national conversation about racism and Islamophobia. His story ultimately led to 370,000 Twitter posts, including notes of encouragement from President Obama, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, comedian Aziz Ansari, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “Thank you for your support! I really didn’t think people would care about a muslim boy,” he tweeted in response to his newfound fame. (Zoe Greenberg)
Stand with Planned Parenthood was the health-care organization’s response to the inflammatory dialogue surrounding it and its employees after an anti-choice front group, the Center for Medical Progress, released deceptively captured and edited videos that allege that Planned Parenthood profits from the sale of fetal tissue.
The informative campaign shined a light on the ways in which CMP’s practices were unethical, deceptive, and intentionally inflammatory. The organization asked supporters to use a pink filter with the hashtag #StandWithPP on their social media profile pictures, and on September 29, many hit the streets for Planned Parenthood’s #Pinkout. During #Pinkout, protesters wore pink and took to social media to spread their support for Planned Parenthood and its array of health-care services, including abortion. (Jenn Stanley)
7. America in Transition
Transgender Americans live all over the country—in rural areas, cities, suburbs—and have as differing experiences as cisgender Americans. While media attention and presence for trans and nonbinary Americans did increase in 2015, many activists point out that celebrities, like Caitlyn Jenner, who bring national attention to issues facing gender nonconforming people often have atypical experiences themselves and do not represent the lives of trans people across America. This year, Andre Perez, co-founder of the Transgender Oral History Project, took his documentary series to a new level to create America in Transition.
America in Transition is a web series, interactive multimedia map, and mobile app featuring the stories of the often silenced transgender people across the United States. Currently in development, America in Transition will highlight the stories of trans people of color and others with intersectional identities. Unlike the few trans stories highlighted by the mainstream media, America in Transition “seeks to amplify the stories of people from all walks of life and show how their environments—supportive, rural, educated, religiously fundamental, and more—have shaped who they are,” according to the organization’s website.
America in Transition also has a MyTransStory social media campaign, which asks people to add a purple filter to profile photos and write three words that encapsulate their experiences and identities. (Jenn Stanley)
8. Black Youth Project 100
Social change often starts with young people determined to make the world more manageable for themselves and the generations to come after them. The Black Youth Project 100 (BYP 100), an activist organization of Black 18- to 35-year-olds, has been successfully chipping away at injustice since its founding in Chicago in 2013.
BYP 100 celebrated one victory when Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced he had asked for Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy’s resignation for the mishandling of Laquan McDonald’s murder by a police officer.
In November, the group had made headlines for declining a meeting with Mayor Emanuel to discuss the incident, and instead announced it would be “focusing on reaching out to the people who are directly impacted by the occupation of militarized police and community disinvestment.”
“Mayor Emanuel’s decision to fire Supt. Garry McCarthy comes as a result of massive community organizing and direct confrontations between young Black organizers and the Chicago Police Department to expose the ongoing structural abuses of power Black people are subjected to everyday,” reads a press statement from BYP 100.
However, its work on the matter of police violence and systemic discrimination within the Chicago Police Department isn’t done. It is still pushing for the resignations of Mayor Emanuel and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez for their parts in delaying the release of the police camera video that captured Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old McDonald 16 times.
“As young Black people who organize Black communities in Chicago, we are clear that Supt. McCarthy, Mayor Emanuel and State’s Attorney Alvarez represent elements of a system that must not only be reformed, but radically changed,” the statement reads. (Jenn Stanley)
9. College Protests Against Racial Discrimination
Inspired by protests at Yale University, as well as the resignation of Missouri University’s president following a sustained student movement, a hunger strike, and an athletic boycott in November, campuses across the United States erupted this year in a wave of actions calling for an end to institutionalized racism. The hashtag #BlackOnCampus created an online space for students to share experiences of racial profiling and express anger over racist attacks and hate speech at colleges and universities, fueling a nationwide protest movement that quickly garnered the attention of mainstream media. The second week of November alone saw some 22 campuses standing in solidarity with Mizzou and Yale, including groups at Ithaca College, Howard University, Emory University, Brown University, Princeton University, and the University of Pennsylvania. Twice in the final two months of 2015, a group known as the Black Liberation Collective called for a nationwide #StudentBlackOut, which saw student groups speak out against anti-Blackness, white supremacy, and the need for more diverse faculty in colleges and universities. (Kanya D’Almeida)
10. Organizing to Protect the Undocumented
It was a tough year for immigration. Donald Trump’s hate speech against undocumented migrants reached a fever pitch; President Obama’s executive action for the undocumented parents of American citizen children remained in litigation; and the year is ending with GOP presidential candidates blaming immigration for terrorist attacks. But immigrants’ rights organizations have been pushing for more and better. The National Domestic Workers Alliance was instrumental in getting domestic worker bills passed in Connecticut and Oregon this year, protecting thousands of women, many of whom are undocumented. Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project and Familia: Trans Queer Liberation raised awareness for those living at the intersections of being queer and/or trans and undocumented, while fighting for the release of trans women from detention. These grassroots organizations are the reason for Immigration and Customs Enforcement releasing new standards of care for trans detainees, including detaining them according to their gender identity. The UCLA Labor Center’s Dream Resource Center continued to push Undocumented and Uninsured, the first study about and by immigrant youth on health-care access. And the #Health4All movement was influential in the creation of Health for All Act, a bill that if passed, will enable undocumented people in California to participate in the Affordable Care Act. (Tina Vasquez)