It seems like everyone is ready for 2016 to be over. It’s been a rough year, and not just because the spectacle of national elections made it plain that our country is deeply divided along the same old and ugly lines that the wealthy have been exploiting for centuries. As war and poverty continued to displace millions of people, rising temperatures across the world broke climate records and politicians reached new lows in their quest for power, 2016 felt like a nail in humanity’s coffin. Still, there were fierce displays of resilience. From a national prison strike and urban uprisings against police violence to the Standing Rock protests in North Dakota, people on the margins found a powerful voice in 2016, even as the dominant media focused nearly all of their attention on poll numbers and demagogues. At Truthout, we worked hard to cover all of it — from the heated debates on the campaign trail to the fertile grounds of resistance. Here’s a look back at five crucial stories from 2016 that we can carry with us as we fight for a better future.
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Perhaps no story has the power to propel us past 2016 like Standing Rock. The Standing Rock Sioux, joined by Water Protectors from tribes across the world, organized a sustained resistance movement to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, the “Black Snake” that would carry oil south from the Dakotas, threatening not only Native lands, but all of humanity with its climate-warming contents. Truthout’s Kelly Hayes, a Native activist herself, took three trips to the protest camps at Standing Rock. Hayes helped us find the frameworks to talk about #NoDAPL and act in solidarity by putting the movement in the context of the US’s colonial and genocidal history — a history that politicians and the dominant media so often ignore. Four Arrows, a Native author and veteran, provided reporting from the ground when the movement faced harsh police violence, and later when thousands of veterans joined the cause. As the movement spread, Truthout explored tactics for supporting the Water Protectors from afar. In Norway, Indigenous activists convinced the country’s largest bank to divest from the pipeline, providing momentum for a growing divestment campaigns at home. Truthout contributor Alexis Bonogofsky covered the organizing effort behind this success, chronicling a story of both resistance and creative community-building. Expect Truthout’s dynamic coverage of this movement to continue. As Hayes wrote in early December, “As long as there is money in this pipeline, there’s a good chance oil will follow.”
2. Prison Life, Prison Strike
On September 9, prisoners in Alabama launched a labor strike that spread across the country in protest of unsafe and slave labor conditions. The unprecedented strike, as covered by Truthout contributor and former political prisoner James Kilgore, crossed race lines and fence lines, but mainstream media outlets were glued to the election and ignored the story for weeks. With voices from the inside and out, Truthout put a spotlight on a prison system that is failing society’s most vulnerable people. Victoria Law revealed how prisons suppress the vote by leading former prisoners to believe they have lost the right, and how parole boards use gender identity to keep trans prisoners behind bars. Law also interviewed survivors of domestic violence who face further abuses in prison as they grow older, and mothers who are looking to President Obama for clemency so they can be with their children once again.
In light of reforms, Truthout examined how people stay in touch through prison walls. Private companies are charging prisoners and their family members hefty fees to use communication technologies that only keep them further apart, as Truthout Editor-in-Chief Maya Schenwar experienced in a virtual jail visit with her sister. Collaborating with interpreters and multimedia journalists, Truthout took an in-depth look at the grim isolation faced by deaf prisoners and the ongoing struggle to win even basic accommodations for disabled people in prison. Finally, we looked into prison’s darkest corner — the solitary confinement cell, a place of torture that formerly incarcerated writer Monica Cosby revisited in a personal piece as calls spread to abolish the practice. “I have heard the cries of women missing their children or losing their loved ones,” Cosby wrote in May. “I have seen and smelled death and despair. I’ve been out of solitary for over 11 years, but I still smell my cell.”
3. Pollution and Climate Disruption
The year began with all eyes on the crisis in Flint, Michigan, where drinking water became contaminated with lead due to a series of poor decisions made by state officials seeking to save a little money. As politicians and the media rushed to capitalize on the crisis, Truthout put the story in context, making it clear that environmental racism is nothing new, nor is it confined to Rust Belt cities like Flint. Long after the major network TV crews left the city, Truthout continued covering the crisis, and we will persist until the water there is safe to drink.
From the Army’s open burn pits and the latest revelations about ocean fracking to Navy war games that threaten the air and ocean with heavy metals and explosives, Truthout exposed pollution and the polluters behind it, whether they be multinational corporations or the very government tasked with keeping polluters in check. This is the type of reporting that has an impact on policy, and our coverage stretched from the glaciers of Alaska to the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean to the bayous of the Gulf Coast. Looming above every environmental concern are the undeniable cycles of climate disruption, which Truthout reporter Dahr Jamail chronicled in detail with his monthly Climate Disruption Dispatches. “Look out your window,” Jamail wrote in November. “It doesn’t take much effort to notice the radical changes happening to the planet, if one only pays attention.” Luckily, people are paying attention, and growing grassroots movements are challenging fossil fuel production at every level.
4. Racial Justice, Surveillance and the Police State
Earlier this year, Truthout published its first print anthology, Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect?, a collection of essays, analysis and reports on police violence and the movements resisting it. With a foreword written by Alicia Garza, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, the anthology chronicles activism and ideas that have sprouted across the country since the 2014 uprising in Ferguson, Missouri, as well as the history and racial context of policing in the United States. From Baton Rouge to Dallas and Minnesota, the uprisings continued this year, and so did Truthout’s coverage of the murderous police state and the movements resisting it.
Reporting by Josmar Trujillo challenged “anti-gang” policing and the media’s coverage of it, which often harms communities of color instead of supporting them. Alison Flowers showed us why Tasers do not solve the problem of police violence. William C. Anderson analyzed the threat of state surveillance and the conversation about Black deaths on the campaign trail, where victims of state violence are politicized by the very people seeking state power. As calls mounted to free Bresha Meadows, the teenaged girl accused of killing her abusive father, Tasasha Henderson explored the historical roots of violence against Black pregnant women, and why Black women and girls are dying in custody.
We also followed the immigrant rights movement, which continues to fight for freedom and families in defiance of Donald Trump. Together, we explored what real justice looks like and dreamed about a world beyond police and prisons, because the system that killed Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and so many others cannot simply be reformed. We strategized about how we can build safe communities and address harm through healing instead of punishment, reaffirming that, as Truthout contributor Ejeris Dixon put it, social transformation begins with building stronger relationships — coming together as people to have a conversation.
5. Voting Rights, Voter Suppression and the Rise of Trump
The fact that voting rights are still up for debate in this country says a lot about 2016 and the struggles to come. While the rest of the media was debating whether election-rigging and voter suppression were really happening, Truthout writers were exploring exactly how these power plays work and investigating the threats to democracy embedded at every level of our voting systems. From the primaries to the post-Election day fallout, Truthout’s election coverage went beyond the talking heads and sound bites.
While every TV station was tuned to Trump, Truthout’s Britney Schultz and Candice Bernd traveled to Cleveland to bring us the protests raging outside the Republican National Convention — an uncanny foreshadowing of things to come. Truthout columnist William Rivers Pitt called the presidential race a “long national nightmare,” but unfortunately, it was not a dream. Race, class and gender dominated the main election, often reducing the national narrative to bare bones sexism and displays of white supremacy. Some of us were left reeling and unable to understand how one country could be so divided. Others were dismayed but not so surprised.
We hope our reporting and analysis on the rise of Donald Trump and a racist, authoritarian right, as well as the glaring inequalities in electoral politics, will provide a platform for understanding the political battles to come. “Trump is too unpredictable. There are too many open questions,” Noam Chomsky told Truthout in November. “What we can say is that popular mobilization and activism, properly organized and conducted, can make a large difference.”