The bad news streaming through our media in 2017 has been relentless. However it doesn’t tell the full story. Beyond the headlines, there have countless amazing social movement struggles in different regions of the world that deserve to be celebrated. Here are ten stories showing that people power works:
1. El Salvador bans mining
In a classic David and Goliath tale, this small Central American state took on a vast Canadian transnational corporation to become the first country in the world to ban metals mining. Farmer communities led the struggle when they came together in 2004 to save the Lempa River watershed. They built a national coalition in the face of massive repression (including the assassination of several activists), formed alliances internationally, took on the Canadian corporation OceanaGold and finally secured a mining ban in March 2017.
2. #Metoo campaign challenges impunity for sexual harrassment
Sexual harassment has been a constant reality for women everywhere for generations, but in 2017 the wall of impunity was suddenly breached. Revelations of Hollywood mogul Weinstein's repeated sexual abuses prompted 1.7 million #metoo tweets in 85 countries, prompting many women in every walk of life to come forward publicly to denounce sexual harassment. Many men have been forced to resign and there seems to be finally a consensus that sexual harassment must stop. This shift is not an accident or down to the work of a few journalists, it was the result of decades of tireless campaigning by women's organizations worldwide fighting for equality.
3. French law on multinationals
At a time when corporate power has become seemingly impregnable, French campaigners have shown that transnational corporations can be defeated. In a four year campaign, they mobilized for a new law approved in March 2017, which recognizes the responsibility of parent companies for human rights violations committed by subsidiaries, subcontractors and providers. The law was passed in the face of considerable corporate opposition and is a major step forward in the fight against impunity of transnational corporations (TNCs), addressing the legal complexity of their supply chains that has made it so difficult for affected communities to get justice. The law has also given a boost to ongoing efforts to create an international binding treaty on TNCs at the United Nations.
4. Privatization is being rolled back, community by community
After many years where privatization of services was the dominant trend, a wave of communities worldwide is successfully fighting off privatization and bringing formerly privatized services back under control. In 2017 in Cali, Colombia, for example, a public sector workers union succeeded in defeating the proposed privatization of the municipal owned telecommunications company and then set up a public-public partnership (PuP) with a Uruguayan national public enterprise to improve the public service. In another case, Indonesia's Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that privatization of water is a violation of human rights and annulled an agreement between Jakarta’s city-owned water operator PAM Jaya and two private companies. More than 835 communities worldwide have brought their public services back under public control in recent years.
5. Trump's agenda faces massive popular resistance
Trump’s election in 2017 was one of the most disturbing days in 2016, but it hasn’t gone so well for him since. From the very first day of office, Trump's presidency has faced unprecedented popular resistance. In the first week, his blanket ban on Muslims from six nations was met with spontaneous protests at more than 20 major international airports across the USA - and has been blocked repeatedly by courts ever since and is now only temporarily enacted. Popular movements involved in fighting the white supremacy, corporate greed, and militarism that the Trump regime represents have reported a massive surge in engagement and support.
6. Gambia autocrat overthrown
Military ruler, Yahya Jammeh, who ruled Gambia with an iron fist for 22 years was forced to step down at the beginning of 2017 after he lost the 2016 election. Jammeh predicted he would rule for a billion years, but young Gambians came out in large numbers and used social media to mobilize votes for his opponent, Adama Barrow. Jammeh tried to overrule the election results, but fierce opposition from trade unions, professional associations and pressure from outside states forced Jammeh to relinquish power.
7. Almost two-thirds of Australian voters say yes to marriage equality
Australia became the 25th country to legally embrace marriage equality in 2017 after voters overwhelmingly voted in favor of changing the definition of marriage to include same sex relationships in an advisory referendum. Australia's parliament then approved a bill almost unanimously. Popular and legal support for gay rights may seem unsurprising now, but it is worth remembering that just 20 years ago there was not one nation that treated same sex relationships as legally equal to heterosexual ones.
8. Farmer rebellion in India
In November, tens of thousands of peasants and rural laborers from 20 states representing more than 180 peasant organizations gathered in Delhi for an unprecedented show of strength against the reactionary Modi Government. Facing rising production costs, increased droughts and falling incomes, the farmers demanded debt relief, better prices and effective crop insurance schemes. While the government did not immediately respond to their key demands, the united platform is likely to have an impact as it takes its campaign across the country in 2018 and 2019.
9. Guatemala rises up against institutionalized corruption
Since 2015, a series of mass protests against corruption have rocked Guatemala. These came to a head in September when President Jimmy Morales attempted to expel a Colombian investigator of the U.N.-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala. Indigenous communities have played a leading role in the protests and are also in a fight with Congress to approve a constitution that would recognize greater indigenous autonomy. In October, a national strike led by a coalition of social movements in twenty cities demanded the resignation of Morales in addition to calling for land reform and nationalisation of the energy sector.
10. Rise of Momentum and transformation of UK Labour Party
In 2017, Momentum, a grassroots movement in the UK, defied the odds and brought a left candidate Jeremy Corbyn close to government. Focusing on door-to-door conversations and a sophisticated social media campaign, they substantially increased Labour’s vote in the General Elections and almost ended the ruling Conservative party’s majority. The movement, Momentum, made up of 30,000 active members showed how a mobilized grassroots operation could defy massive media hostility and win seats. The movement has made the Labour Party the biggest membership party in Europe with a platform committed to bringing privatized services back under public ownership, abolishing university tuition fees and ending fracking. Momentum is now widely recognised as the most vibrant part of the party and is advocating greater participation in the party’s decision-making.
These stories and others are taken from a recap of the year by Transnational Institute, a progressive research institute committed to building a just, democratic and sustainable world. Read the full rundown of social movement victories here.
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Nick Buxton is a communications consultant, working as a publications editor and supporting online learning and support of activist scholar communities for TNI. He works actively on issues of climate change, militarism and economic justice and is co-editor of The Secure and the Dispossessed - How the military and corporations are seeking to shape a climate-changed world (Pluto Press, November 2015). He has been based in California since September 2008 and prior to that lived in Bolivia for four years, working as writer/web editor at Fundación Solón, a Bolivian organisation working on issues of trade, water, culture and historical memory. His previous publications include “Politics of debt” in Dignity and Defiance: Bolivia’s challenge to globalisation (University of California Press/Merlin Press UK, January 2009).