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(Photo: Sarah Ackerman/flickr/cc)

(Photo: Sarah Ackerman/flickr/cc)

Reasons to Celebrate: Key Progressive Gains in 2015

From booting Stephen Harper to highlighting racial injustice, progressives can take heart in these outcomes

Andrea Germanos

As the year draws to a close, it's worth noting a handful of progressive gains that people-power made possible:

Feelin' the Bern
Despite the lack of coverage in corporate media about the Vermont Independent and his presidential bit, Sen. Bernie Sanders and his call for a political revolution have resonated nationwide.

Sanders, who's put a spotlight on economic inequality, has also slammed the U.S. incarceration rate as an "international embarrassment," called for free higher education  lambasted Wall street as "out of control," and advocated for a single-payer healthcare system, has been speaking to record-breaking crowds

He now holds the record for highest number of contributions for a White House bid, breaking the record held by President Barack Obama in 2011, and a Quinnipiac University poll this month found that, if the 2016 U.S. presidential election were held today, Sanders would win by a landslide over GOP frontrunner Donald Trump.

Black Lives Matter
The Black Lives Matter movement has put a spotlight this year on the rampant racial injustice plaguing the nation.

It's been able to shift public opinions on racism, and as Campaign for America's Future Terrance Heath writes, its because of the movement we know the names Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Laquan McDonald. Sandra Bland. Walter Scott. Rekia Boyd. Tamir Rice.

It's the movement of the year, commentator Sonali Kolhatkar declared. "What the past two years have shown us is that killings of African-Americans by police is continuing to happen, continuing to be recorded, continuing to be protested and continuing to be condoned by a justice system hellbent on absolving the killers of black folk. It has also shown us that the movement that this injustice has spawned is shrewd, adapts quickly and is here to stay," she writes.

Hello, Corbyn
When anti-war, anti-austerity socialist Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the British Labour party in September, Salman Shaheen of Britain's progressive Left Unity party said, "British politics will never be the same."

Corbyn's victory, Shaheen said, "shatters the main parties' consensus on austerity, war and many other issues. This victory is part of a new kind of politics that is rising across Europe, as people reclaim hope and mass movements grow for real alternatives."

In November, as British Prime Minister David Cameron stated his desire to escalate the UK's military campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS) in both Iraq and Syria, Corbyn said  that it is "vital" to learn from history and "not to be drawn into responses that feed a cycle of violence." World governments, he said, "must not keep making the same mistakes" in their fight against terrorism.

Ahead of his election, Corbyn also said that his party would "apologiz[e] to the British people for taking them into the Iraq war on the basis of deception and to the Iraqi people for the suffering we have helped cause."

Bye-bye, Harper
Canadians brought an end to nearly a decade of rule by right-wing Prime Minister Stephen Harper this fall when they elected Justin Trudeau of the Liberal Party.

In his victory speech, Trudeau called the win a repudiation of "negative, divisive politics" in favor of "a positive vision that brings Canadians together."

Days after the election, progressive commentators Seth Klein and Shannon Daub wrote that "it feels like a month's worth of catharsis, in the form of profound relief that after almost ten years of policies harmful to the environment, public services, social cohesion and democracy, the mean man and his bullies are gone."

Author Shawn Katz wrote that Trudeau's swearing in "unleash[ed] the rush of a collective catharsis as the weight of a traumatic decade lifted like a sombre fog."

Trudeau, who earlier this month offered a personal welcome to a group of Syrian refugees arriving in Toronto, garnered praise for appointing a diverse cabinet but has also been pushed by campaigners to "walk your talk on climate change" and reject corporate-friendly trade pacts.

(Photo: Rainforest Action Network/flickr/cc)
Keystone XL Pipeline
After years of people-powered organizing, the Obama administration rejected the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

As Common Dreams previously reported,

Through years of unprecedented campaigning, ordinary people in the United States and Canada turned what could have been an unremarkable rubber stamping of yet another fossil fuel pipeline into an internationally-watched fight to stop climate change. Since 2011, communities across the United States have staged over 750 direct actions and protests across the country—from mass sit-ins at the White House to a tens-of-thousands-strong march on the National Mall. Farmers, workers, students, Indigenous peoples, and communities on the frontlines of oil refineries and extreme weather put their bodies and relationships on the line—risking arrest, talking to their neighbors, and taking to the streets.

Highlighting the achievement, climate group writes: "When we started fighting this thing, they said it was a done deal. It was a long, hard fight, but it was worth it. Let that be a lesson to all the pipeline builders, coal financiers, and frackers of the world: Don’t bet against the climate movement. We’re playing for keeps."

Minimum Wage
Among the progressive issues that won on local ballots this fall, November 4th, voters approved every initiative to raise the minimum wage in the five states where they appeared.

The year also saw decisions to have phased-in minimum wage hikes in Los Angeles, Seattle, Oakland, and San Francisco.

And the Huffington Post points to a recent analysis showing that workers in 14 states will see the minimum wage go up.

Contributor Erik Sherman wrote previously at Forbes: "With 28 states now supporting minimum wages higher than the federal level, pressure on Congress will increase, while states with lower figures could find themselves economically uncompetitive for workers and, therefore, businesses."

Marriage Equality
 The U.S. Supreme Court issued a historic ruling this year that same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states.

The decision in the Obergefell v. Hodges case, the ACLU noted, was 50 years in the making.

The ruling marked "a transformative triumph decades in the making, a momentous victory for freedom, equality, inclusion, and above all, love," said Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry.

Failure of Global Elite's Austerity

(Photo: RonF via The Weekly Bull/flickr/cc)
An anti-austerity coalition took power in November in Portugal, while in the recent election in Spain, the conservative People's Party lost significant ground to the anti-austerity Podemos party led by Pablo Iglesias. The results, some observers said, matter not just to Spain to the whole of Europe as well.

The New York Times reported that "A backlash against austerity has helped crack the club of parties that had a lock on politics, and ushered in a new generation of challengers."

And in Greece, Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, noted, voters "rejected austerity in January and again overwhelmingly in June in a nationwide referendum, only to get it rammed down their throats by the European authorities. But Greece’s economy is less than 2 percent of the eurozone, and its new leaders from the leftist Syriza party — although they vociferously opposed austerity — made it clear that they would never leave the euro, no matter how much they were punished."

In that country, still in the grips of "financial terrorism by the European authorities," as Weisbrot put it, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and former finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, both cheered the outcome in Spain, with Varoufakis calling it "a small step that may turn into a large faultline shattering the eurozone’s crisis-denial and austerian contempt for democracy." Tsipras for his part, tweeted: "austerity has now been defeated politically in Spain, as well."

The UK's Corbyn went to Portugal following their election, and said, "We’re building an anti-austerity coalition across Europe."

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