2016 is a new opportunity for social progress in Maine and the nation

2016 is a new opportunity for social progress in Maine and the nation

Having reached the end of 2015, politicos, organizers, and activists will mark this year gone by as one of monumental– though monumentally uneven– social progress across the nation.

Certainly, the biggest victories were of historic proportion. The June Supreme Court win affirming marriage equality, for example, marked an achievement thought impossible even as recently as 2009, when Maine fell short of establishing marriage equality when the issue first came before voters. It wasn’t until 2013 that victory was finally achieved in Maine and the steady drumbeat of marriage victories after that in states across the country culminated in the June decision, one that secured the most visible of the national fights for equality for the LGBT community.

Environmental policy, usually a subject filled with feelings of existential dread and frustrated progress likewise saw large and historic victories, both nationally with the decision to scuttle the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and globally with the apparent success of the Paris Climate Conference in bringing virtually all of the world’s countries to the table to commit to the goal of keeping global temperature rise under the critical 1.5ยบ C threshold. Climate activists have been able to consolidate a decade of halting gains in closing nearly a third of the US’s coal-fired power plants in the last decade and we go into 2016 with the momentum of these big, spotlight-grabbing wins to accelerate national and global transitions toward greener economies.

Even here in Maine, victory has been found in the success of the referendum to strengthen our clean elections system and to increase the transparency of political spending, issues that are fundamental to the health of our democratic system. Much like in the fight for marriage equality, Maine has proven a national leader in building movement momentum for campaign finance reform.

These wins are historic and real, reminding those of us who fight for fairness and equality that our work is actively reshaping the world in which we live.

And yet, so much work remains.

2015 also saw the rise to national ascendence of the Black Lives Matter movement; a broadly-based and intersectional grassroots movement that was forged in the protests in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 over the failure to indict the police officer responsible for the death of Michael Brown. BLM, much like the now-canonized and sanitized battles of the Civil Rights Movement, has been attacked by those on the right and even many liberals as overly militant, or too impatient in its desire to protect Black bodies from physical violence perpetrated by the State. Despite dramatically increased media and public scrutiny in 2015 of issues of violence against African Americans that have existed since the dawn of our republic, the crisis continues unabated. Just this week, America witnessed the failure of a grand jury in Cleveland to indict police officers responsible for the shooting death of 12 year-old Tamir Rice, as well as the still-unexplained Chicago police killing of 19 year-old honor student Quintonio LeGrier and 55-year old anti-violence activist Bettie Jones over the weekend.

Likewise, the increasing public visibility of issues of trans rights in 2015 have revealed just how incomplete the June victory for the LGBT movement was, as this year marked a record number of murders of trans people in the US (most of whom were also people of color). Just as with the increased public attention toward the BLM movement, trans people and activists this year have been the targets of verbal and physical violence by a reactionary countercurrent in American society that is openly hostile toward the recognition that one’s gender may not be the same as the sex that one was assigned at birth.

As we look forward to 2016, a year likely equally tumultuous and dominated by the politics of the presidential race, we must find hope in the recognition that the work of generations of activists has been shown to bear fruit, and determination in the recognition that the struggles –both the ones listed above, and the countless others– that remain will not be won without our voices and active participation. Much has been achieved, and yet so much remains to be done.

Onward to 2016!

Photo of Bangor New Year’s ball drop via Jeff Kirlin.

About author

Grady Burns
Grady Burns 40 posts

Grady Burns is an activist on issues involving young Mainers. He serves on the Auburn City Council and is president of the Maine Young Democrats.

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