I have always been interested in social justice, and it has always been an integral part of this column. But from the time, nearly three years ago, that I first spoke with Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, I knew that the tenor of the column was forever altered. I am still haunted by the ache in her voice on that first phone call, by the first time I interviewed her in person and saw how the grief draped over her body and bent it.
Since then, there have been too many stories like Trayvon’s, and this year the pace seemed to quicken. I covered so much pain that I nearly lost myself in it. Maybe I’m getting too close. So, to round up this year in social justice I asked other people who operate in that area to give me their top stories.
Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harvard professor and scholar of African-American literature:
1. Massacre at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina; the victims’ families’ willingness to forgive the killer; President Barack Obama’s eulogy a few days later; and the consequential vote by the South Carolina Legislature to remove the Confederate flag from the State House as part of a large national debate over the flag as a symbol of heritage versus hate.
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2. The death of Sandra Bland in Texas and the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement to curb police violence, including the launch of the political phase of the struggle with Campaign Zero.
3. Campus unrest, principally at the University of Missouri and the stand the football team took in refusing to play, a stand that led to the resignation of the college president. This is unprecedented in my experience, I have to say! I call this “The Revolt of The Talented Tenth.”
4. The Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, to guarantee the right to same-sex marriage under the Constitution.
5. The immigration debate and the Syrian refugee crisis, especially as they have intersected with the Republican primary race.
Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”:
1. The uprisings in Baltimore proved that the Black Lives Matter movement would not be contained to a handful of cities – nor would it be limited to situations in which unarmed black men were killed by white police officers in cities run by whites.
2. Fast-food strikes widen into social justice movement. As wealth inequality reached a new zenith and austerity programs were debated around the world, what may have been the largest ever demonstrations for fair wages in the United States occurred and the protests went global.
3. Supreme Court rules in favor of gay marriage. The triumph of an extraordinary human rights movement in the United States with ripple effects around the world.
4. Hunger strike and protests force resignation of president at Mizzou. The resignation of the president stunned the nation, focused public attention on old Jim Crow racism still prevalent on college campuses, and inspired national solidarity protests and debate about free speech and racial climate on college campuses.
5. Trump and Bernie. A billionaire demagogue who proudly and openly stokes racial and religious fears, divisions and animosities surges in popularity within the Republican Party as he threatens to shred the Constitution, deport millions of immigrants and close our borders to Muslims. Meanwhile, a Democratic socialist attracts record crowds as he argues for a political revolution against the oligarchs, full employment, fair wages and universal health care.
Dan Savage, author, columnist and co-founder
of the “It Gets Better” project:
1. The Black Lives Matter movement. Democratic presidential candidates are responding with solid policy proposals, not platitudes, and some bad cops – homicidally bad cops – may actually face justice, all thanks to a new generation of activists, black Twitter and cellphone video. But there’s still a long way to go.
2. The fight for the $15 minimum wage. Thousands of fast-food workers revive the labor movement by taking the streets to demand a fairer wage – and a bigger share of the profits their labor generates for giant corporations.
3. Obergefell v. Hodges. The Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in the United States v. Windsor – which overturned the odious Defense of Marriage Act – set the stage for the court’s 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which found that the Constitution protected the right of same-sex couples to marry. A one-two punch that secured the right to marry for all in the United States.
4. Caitlyn Jenner. At first it appeared that Jenner’s coming out as a trans woman would be both reality-showy and tabloid-y. But while Jenner herself has been “problematic,” as the kids on Twitter say, her surprisingly informative and sensitively produced reality show, “I Am Cait,” transcended both its genesis and its network, helping to educate millions of Americans on trans issues.
5. The Republican nomination contest. Donald Trump’s vicious attacks on immigrants, Carly Fiorina and Mike Huckabee’s lethal lies about Planned Parenthood, Chris Christie’s cowardly pants-crapping about Syrian toddlers, Marco Rubio’s promise to force women to give birth to their rapists’ babies, every single thing that comes out of Ben Carson’s mouth – the collective effort of activists, journalists, fact checkers, and pundits to counter the demagoguery, lies and delusions of this field of GOP candidates.
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