For the dominant media, the biggest political story of 2019 was undoubtedly the impeachment of President Trump. After all, impeachment is an all-consuming force on Capitol Hill, where the debate over Trump’s dealings with Ukraine devolved into partisan blood sport over the past few months. Meanwhile, the world continues to turn, and it would be a disservice to the millions of people doing remarkable things to simply remember 2019 as the year the Trump Show finally aired its impeachment episode.
Outside the beltway, the world was on fire. Popular uprisings challenged governments across the world, and police responded with deadly force. Youth and Indigenous activists turned to strikes and direct action as scientists warned that the climate crisis is becoming a global emergency. From Hong Kong to Santiago and Port-au-Prince, borders could not contain a new generation of activists loudly confronting neoliberalism and state power. Whether scrawled across a wall or posted on social media, inspiration and solidarity proved contagious in 2019 — and a threat to the established order.
To celebrate everyone who took action this year, we’ve compiled four stories of resistance in 2019 that refuse to be overshadowed by Trump.
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Native Hawaiians Block Telescope Construction on Mauna Kea
For nearly six months, a blockade organized by Native Hawaiian activists has prevented construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope, an observatory planned on top of the Mauna Kea mountain on the island of Hawaii. For Native Hawaiians, Mauna Kea and its summit are sacred sites, and activists say further development of the mountain will damage sensitive environments. From the blockade grew Pu’uhonua o Pu’uhuluhulu Maunakea, an “ecological university” on the mountain, where healing and learning is centered around Indigenous knowledge. The fight to stop the telescope has become a potent symbol of Indigenous resistance to colonialism and displacement, and it has challenged environmental activists to rethink modern science from a decolonial perspective.
Uprisings Set the World on Fire
Sudan. Lebanon. Hong Kong. Iraq. Haiti. Iran. The list goes on. Revolts and uprisings erupted in more than a dozen countries in 2019. Each movement has its own spark, but common themes emerged from the images of tear gas and flames: People everywhere are fed up with inequality, with corrupt and authoritarian governments, and with the police. In Chile, a transit fare strike caught wind of the popular imagination and morphed into all-out class war, immobilizing the country for weeks and winning major concessions from conservative leaders. In Haiti, a tax on fuel ignited a pro-democracy uprising against a neocolonial government that has been propped up by the U.S. and Canada for decades. In Hong Kong, Chile and elsewhere, the police responded to protests with deadly force.
Recently, the United Nations issued a report predicting that climate change would exacerbate a growing gap between the rich and poor globally, and protests across the world are clear evidence that current political systems are failing large numbers of people. And that means uprisings are bound to continue.
Indigenous Activists and Youth Take the Lead on Climate Change
Fossil fuel emissions continue to reach record highs with no end in sight, but COP25, the latest international conference on climate change, was widely considered a failure. In 2019, the people taking decisive action on climate were in the streets. Youth organized climate strikes across the world, including a massive global strike in September. Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager and outspoken climate activist, traveled the world and tussled with its leaders. Indigenous and environmental justice activists are now leading a global, grassroots movement to stop climate change, challenging governments and launching fierce campaigns to halt the construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure. Indigenous activists face repression for their environmental activism in the U.S. and beyond, even as researchers increasingly recognize that Indigenous knowledge about crucial ecosystems could be the key to saving us all from the collapse of a warming planet. While humans have “significantly altered” about three-quarters of land-based environments and two-thirds of marine environments, these trends have been less severe or avoided altogether in areas held or managed by Indigenous peoples and local communities, according to the UN.
Oakland’s Squatting Moms Defend Their Home
Gentrification and rising rents are problems in cities across the U.S., where the gap between the rich and the poor has been growing for decades. The affordable housing crisis is particularly dire in Oakland, California, where the number of people living with unstable housing has skyrocketed despite there being nearly four vacant properties for every houseless person in the city. Thanks in part to a long history of racist housing practices such as redlining and predatory lending, Black families in Oakland and other cities have been hit the hardest by the housing crisis. Now Black mothers are fighting back. In December, Truthout’s Candice Bernd interviewed Dominique Walker, a member of Moms 4 Housing and one of four mothers who reclaimed a vacant, investor-owned house in an Oakland neighborhood where developers are known to flip distressed properties for profit. The effort has provided their families with a place to live — and drawn public attention to the city’s “displacement machine.”
Resistance Will Continue in 2020
Climate change and environmental destruction. Authoritarian governments and brutal police. Growing global inequality and the failure of neoliberal economics. These challenges sparked fierce resistance across the world in 2019, and they are not going away any time soon. The same can be said for the increasingly international movements confronting the rich and powerful. Trump and U.S. elections will surely dominate the news in 2020, but if 2019 is any evidence, history will be written by people in the streets.