It feels as though 2016 was the saddest, harshest and most frightening year in the history of the universe. The geopolitical climate continued its downward spiral, with a seemingly hopeless situation in Syria and countless other countries, from CAR to Chad, plagued by violence and war. As a result of this instability, 2016 saw the highest number of asylum seekers in decades. Numerous Western nations reacted to this by electing governments led by some of the most xenophobic, radical political figures in recent history. As civil wars raged and hegemonies disintegrated, the events of 2016 have left us to flounder in the uncertainty of the international refugee crisis, the impending Trump administration, Brexit, and widespread Islamaphobia.
But in the words of Mr. Dress Up, “when there is a crisis, always look for the helpers.” Despite the dark collection of realities today, the helpers have risen. The trans community fought tooth and nail to make its voice heard. Hilary Clinton survived two full years of misogyny from America and persevered with grace and courage. Women of colour blazed their way into the Senate. And so, so much more.
Here is the good, the bad and the bright side of 2016.
Canadian Female Athletes Dominated at the Olympics.
Canadian women absolutely dominated at the Rio Olympics. Of those who took home the hardware for Canada at the Olympics this year, 87% were women. The Canadian women’s basketball, soccer and rugby teams all won medals for Canada. Female athletes like Penny Oleksiak and Rosie MacLennan broke national and international records, encouraging female athletes around the world.
McBride Becomes the First Trans Activist To Speak at an American Party Convention
Sarah McBride, the national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign and trans activist, made history in 2012 when she became the first openly trans woman to work at the White House, interning with the Office of Public Engagement. She again made history again this year at the DNC when she became the first openly transgender individual to speak at a major party convention.
Hilary Clinton - Just in General.
While many were heartbroken that Hilary Clinton didn’t win the election to become the first woman president of the United States, there is much to celebrate about this woman. Not only did she break a major barrier by becoming the first presidential nominee of a major party, but she worked hard to bring forth progressive policies like paid family leave, higher minimum wage, and more comprehensive reproductive rights. Furthermore, she deserves a medal from Mother Theresa for her graceful loss to Trump and commitment to continue serving the citizens of America.
Gen. Robinson Makes History As the First Woman to Lead Military Combatant Command
In the spring, Gen. Robinson was named as the next head of military's Northern Command, making her one of the most senior officials in the U.S. military. This historic appointment made Gen. Robinson America’s first ever woman combatant commander. "Northern Command, created the year after the 9/11 attacks, is also prestigious because it protects our homeland. That is such a tremendous commentary on where we are as a nation," said Rep. Tammy Duckworth of the appointment. For many years women in the military have been barred from senior leadership, but Gen. Robinson’s appointment illustrates that these high ranking jobs are now open to women.
Lady Gaga Performed with Sexual Assault Survivors.
This year at the Oscars, Lady Gaga used her powerful song “Til It Happens to You,” to shed light on sexual assault. She wrote the song for the Hunting Ground documentary about college campus sexual assault. Her performance at the Oscars was introduced by Vice President Joe Biden, who has led a nationwide initiative to combat sexual assault on college campuses. Lady Gaga - a sexual assault survivor herself - appeared on stage with 50 survivors of sexual assault, singing “It gets better, it gets better, in time.”
The Canadian Government Announced Viola Desmond Will Appear on the $10 Bill.
Viola Desmond was chosen as the “bank NOTE-able woman” to be featured on the $10 bill - the first woman (besides the Queen) to be honoured in this fashion. Desmond, a Canadian human rights activist, was selected from a short list of five iconic Canadian women by Minister Morneau, in accordance with the Bank of Canada Act. A successful businesswoman, Desmond gained notoriety for refusing to leave a whites-only area of a Nova Scotian movie theatre in 1946. She was subsequently jailed, convicted and fined. Her court case was the first known legal challenge against racial segregation brought forth by a Black woman in Canada.
WOC Gained Political Nominations.
In 2016 the number of women of colour in the American Senate quadrupled. Before 2016, the only woman of color in the Senate was Marie Hizono, in Hawaii, who was just recently elected in 2012. This year, Nevada’s Catherine Cortez Masto, California Attorney General Kamala Harris, and Illinois’s Tammy Duckworth were all elected to the Senate. Moreover, each of these women made history. Cortez Masto is the first Latin woman in the Senate; Harris is the first Indian-American woman in the Senate; and Duckworth as the first Thai-American woman in the Senate. For the cherry on top, Ihan Omar became the first Somali-American to be elected to a state legislature and Pramila Jayapal of Washington became the first East Indian-American woman in the House of Representatives.
Donald Trump was Elected President of the Unites States.
Donald Trump is president-Elect of the United States of America. This means many things to many different people. For minorities, women, LGBTIQ folk, immigrants and refugees, this means social exclusion, fear, danger and potential violence. For all citizens though, this means uncertainty. No one truly knows what Trump will do from one minute to the next. His tweets about nuclear war, baiting China, hating Mexicans, antagonizing the Middle East, siding with Putin, and demeaning women seem to just be the tip of the iceberg. While 2016 was a horrible year in history, in which a nation elected a racist reality TV star as its President, things could get much worse in 2017, with the USA in his (tiny) hands.
In the face of the growing refugee crisis, a concerned Britain surprised the entire world by voting to leave the European Union. Prime Minister David Cameron stepped down, the Dow Jones fell 611 points in a day, and even pro-Brexit British voters seemed stunned. “I’m a bit shocked to be honest,” one Leave voter told the BBC. “I’m shocked that we actually have voted to Leave, I didn’t think that was going to happen.” The long-term effect of Brexit is unclear. Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute thinks Brexit is a sign of the sun setting on Europe. On the other hand, Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, believes Brexit could set Europe on a path of high employment and healthy growth. One thing is for sure, Brexit had an appreciable impact on the American election, and these xenophobic right-wing political events are like dominos, giving permission to other countries to close their doors to refugees and immigrants.
While the war in Syria has been going on since 2012, 2016 saw escalated violence and nationwide destruction. Countless civilians have lost their lives, with the violence moving beyond Aleppo into Damascus and other cities. Furthermore, violence that was once confined to rebel held Eastern Aleppo has now made its way into government-controlled Western Aleppo, leaving those remaining even more vulnerable. The international community, including the UN, has failed to adequately respond to these atrocities.
Prevalence of Police Violence towards African Americans.
The police shootings in Dallas, Baton Rouge, Minnesota (and so many more) highlighted the persisting problem of racially charged violence within the United States. These shootings, in which young black men are killed by police at the highest rate, have further divided a nation torn over race. While BLM and other movements have done an amazing job of raising awareness and pushing back against the system, to date no nation wide policy reformations have been made.
Sweden’s Immigration Policies.
As a nation regarded as one of the most progressive societies in the world, it was noteworthy for Sweden to change its immigration and refugee laws this past summer. The right wing political party in power delivered on its promise to ‘crack down’ on refugees and newcomers, making more restrictive laws to limit admissibility and eligibility.
Increasing Terrorist Attacks.
Numerous attacks occurred around the world this year, with seemingly no geographical, political and socio economic limits. We suffered the Orlando nightclub attack that killed 49 people, suicide bombs in Istanbul killing 45 people, the truck massacre in Nice, France, that claimed the lives of 77 people, the Brussels attacks taking 35 lives, and the Christmas market attack in Berlin. These attacks demonstrate that the ‘western’ world is not insulated from the horrifying, violent outbursts that were historically confined to the MENA (Middle East North Africa) region.
All of Our Favourite Celebrities Died.
While it is inevitable that celebrities die (they’re just like normal people!), never have so many important icons passed away in the same calendar year. Musicians David Bowie, Prince and George Michael all changed the outlook of North America towards gender and sexual orientation. Each of these artists pushed the envelope both creatively and politically. Muhammad Ali was arguably one of the most significant boxers of the 20th century, but he also made an impact as a civil rights activist.
The Bright Side.
In this giant pile of fear, mistrust, bigotry and chaos, what is the bright side, you ask? Basically, the good is the bright side. The good shows us that no matter how severe or how pervasive the bad is, the good will always exist. The good will always fight.
What 2016 has shown us is that we all need to step up. This is how bad things have to get in order for us actually something about it. It has been the wake up call to the world, telling us we can no longer be ignorant nor complacent.
And the helpers are stepping up. Billionaire George Soros is funding a project with the UN and Canadian Government to help countries around the world implement models to privately sponsor refugees. Obama passed a bill to make it virtually impossible to cut funding to Planned Parenthood in the future. And thousands of women will march on Washington the day after Trump’s inauguration to send a strong statement of opposition.
Will 2017 be any better? TBD. Our favourite celebrities will still die, the refugee crisis will rage on, and disconcerting politicians will still be in power. But if citizenry and leaders around the world commit to fighting for systemic change, there may just be hope for 2017 (and humanity) yet.