2014 has been a very strange political year. Major breakthroughs for gay marriage, undocumented immigrants and fast food workers were combined with a midterm election that empowered forces opposed to progress in all three areas. 2014 brought young people into the streets but not into the voting booths, leaving a disproportionately older and whiter electorate to decide control of Congress. Here are my picks for the year’s five best and three worst national and local developments
The Best: Nationally
- Marriage Equality: Historians looking back on 2014 will wonder how gay marriage went from boosting Republicans and the campaign to help re-elect George W. Bush in 2004 to becoming an issue that favored Democrats only a decade later. It’s a remarkable story of political savvy and grassroots organizing. Both contributed to a legal environment that supported federal judicial rulings striking down state gay marriage bans.
- Obama’s Executive Order on Immigration: It fell short of the path to citizenship that millions of undocumented immigrants deserve, but Obama did the most he legally could in protecting an estimated five million immigrants from deportation. That Obama finally felt compelled to act is a tribute to the power of grassroots activists, particularly the young Dreamers. They never stopped demanding that the President to do the right thing.
- The Fight for 15: After decades of inadequate wages, fast food workers finally took to the streets in 2014. Their fight for a $15 wage sparked minimum wage ballot measures across the nation, as government will now mandate the higher wages that McDonalds and other fast food giants refuse to voluntarily grant.
- Black Lives Matter: The Ferguson and Eric Garner protests brought people into the streets across the nation in a way that has not previously been seen around racially based police shootings. The hashtag #Black Lives Matter became an ongoing source of up to the minute information about protests and the three words brilliantly framed the campaign.
- The U.S.-China Climate Agreement: The agreement was the high point of efforts in 2014 to get the United States government to address climate change. Activists took to the streets for the People’s Climate March, creating the largest climate change march in history. Yet climate change was negatively impacted by the disconnect between taking to the streets and going to the polls, as the low turnout midterm election increased the number of Republican Senators and Congresspersons opposed to meaningful action (and whose priorities include cutting funding to the EPA)
The Worst: Nationally
- War on Women: The post-Obama backlash against African-Americans in 2014 was joined by a powerful backlash against women. There were widespread attacks on abortion rights, along with opposition to measures designed to create more women-friendly workplaces. Republican attacks on women’s rights are likely to increase in response to Hillary’s Clinton being the frontrunner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
- Funding War over Human Needs: Despite rising homelessness, family poverty, and college tuition costs, Republicans in Congress continue to shift money from human needs to the defense budget. Last week’s cromnibus spending bill reflected these misplaced priorities, and signalled what is in store for 2015 under complete GOP control of Congress.
- Increased Anti-Obama Media Bias: There is something very wrong with a national news media that gave vastly more attention to Obamacare’s initial website problems than to the program’s successful implementation. 2014 again showed how other media allow FOX News to frames issues with the lack of coverage of Obamacare’s success a textbook example. Even the historically false FOX/GOP view of Obama as unwilling to work with Republicans has been adopted by other media, as they challenge the president’s use of executive orders to overcome Republican obstructionism.
The Best of 2014: San Francisco Bay Area
- Richmond’s defeat of Chevron: The power of grassroots activism was demonstrated in Richmond in November 2014 as the mayor and council candidates backed by the Richmond Progressive Alliance overcame a massive money binge by Chevron. The election signified that Chevron running Richmond as its company town are over, with the city’s voters powerfully asserting a demand for change.
- Overcoming Big Soda: Berkeley’s soda tax measure won by an astonishing 75%, and San Francisco’s got 54% of the vote despite a $9 million opposition campaign. The San Francisco outcome paved the way for a follow-up ballot measure requiring only a majority vote. Both soda tax campaigns also educated the public about the high volume of sugar in a can or bottle of soda, which itself should reduce consumption.
- Minimum Wage Hikes: San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley all passed minimum wage hikes in 2014, with San Francisco enacting the nation’s highest. Kudos to Oakland activists for gathering signatures for a ballot measure and then preventing the City Council from undermining it.
- Giants Win World Series: Three titles in five years is remarkable for a team that had not won a World Series in San Francisco from 1958 until 2010. The Giants run brought joy to the entire Bay Area, as was demonstrated by the Market Street parade.
- Ongoing Revival of SF’s Mid-Market: 2014 saw the groundbreaking for the long delayed Market Street Place shopping center, the opening of The Hall food emporium, and the success of the ambitious Night Market at UN Plaza. Add the imminent opening of the Market on Market and ACT’s continued progress at the former Strand Theater and 2014 saw Mid-Market’s continued comeback after fifty years of decline
The Worst of 2014
- Ellis and Speculator Evictions Continue: The defeat of the city’s Ellis Act reform bill in the State Assembly, the defeat of San Francisco’s Prop G, and a federal court ruling throwing out San Francisco’s law mandating higher Ellis relocation payments all benefited speculators at the expense of vulnerable tenants.
- Attacks on CCSF, UC Students: 2014 saw continued attacks on City College of San Francisco’s very survival and planned tuition increases for UC students. It’s time for a #StudentsMatter movement to broadly challenge these ongoing attacks on young people’s ability to access a quality education.
- Untimely Death of Ted Gullicksen: The sudden October 13 death of this tenant hero was a terrible loss for the city’s tenant movement. Many will long associate 2014 as the year that Ted Gullicksen died.
Feedback on your own best and worst of the year is always welcomed.
Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron. His most recent book is The Activist’s Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century